Zootopia: It Was A Long Road

Kim Masters, host of the film podcast The Business, interviewed Byron Howard and Rich Moore, the creators of Zootopia, an animated feature released early 2016 that is now nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 89th Academy Awards. The film centers on an optimistic bunny, Judy Hopps, who wants to be the best police officer in the civilized world that is the city of Zootopia. Her entire perception of the city changes when she runs into a fox, Nick Wilde, who shows her the ugly side of Zootopia. In this interview the creators discuss the continuous development of the film throughout the arduous process.

Initially, Howard says, the city of Zootopia was much more broken and depressing than in the final version and Nick was the main character, not Judy. The city itself was an important character that the creators felt was too grim. They realized that no one could cheer for the city. It was so unlikable that it beckons the viewer to support Nick’s escape from the city. In the end they changed it to be much more imaginative and bright while still showcasing the darker sides in several scenes.

This and many other changes were made to the film before it was released. They actually spent years on the idea of a tame collar, a device that the predator characters wear that shocks them if they get too excited. They had much support from their animators and the executives when they drafted a scene that perfectly exhibited their vision. However, they eventually decided to scrap this idea because they didn’t feel it was the story they wanted to tell. The scene and the idea eclipsed all of the other avenues they wanted to explore. Personally, I think they realized this idea was too powerful and dark for a younger audience. Even though I think this idea is great, they made the right choice by axing the idea. It allows for subtler political and sociological commentaries, which are more effective when marketing. Older generations can appreciate the political statement of class distinctions from a kid’s movie while children can enjoy the light-hearted comedy without being confused by such an intense display of oppression.

On the point of making drastic changes to a film, Howard and Moore mentioned how difficult it was to not only make these changes to ideas they adored, but also the challenge of breaking the news to their teams of animators and designers who spent years working on these ideas, only to realize it had all been for naught. I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned from these two creators. It is important to look back at the whole puzzle rather than just one piece to see if the film in general is cohesive and exactly what they want to communicate. Sometimes that means making great sacrifices, and I appreciate that Howard and Moore had the maturity to make these sacrifices to create a better film.

Zootopia is one of my favorite films, and this interviewed proved that making a great film, such as this, is a pain-staking process that requires objectivity, not an easy attribute to attain in the creative field. I sincerely hope it wins best animated, although I know that all the nominees are exceptional films.

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