When it comes to talking-animal films, I’d have to agree Walt Disney Animation Studios does it best. After all, they’ve been creating them for almost a century! Audience members are now invited into the massive mammal metropolis known as Zootopia. The main character, Judy Hopps, introduces us to the core of what Zootopia is all about from the very first scene of the movie. Whether they are the largest elephant or the smallest shrew, “in Zootopia, anyone can be anything.” Our family had the opportunity to enjoy an advance screening. We are grateful to have had the chance to experience this film up close and learn so much about the cast and the creative process that made it a reality.
On her way from her home in the Bunnyburrow countryside to Zootopia’s downtown hub of Savanna Central, Judy rides through very different districts that make up the expansive city. She gets a glimpse of ritzy Sahara Square (made up of sandy dunes and a nocturnal oasis), Tundratown (a snowy expanse that never thaws), Rain Forest District (a lush and humid tropical forest), and Little Rodentia (where everything is adorably miniature). This ride was one of my favorite landscape scenes of the movie and I couldn’t help but think that the city of Zootopia could be the perfect inspiration for a new experience at one of Disney’s parks someday (hint, hint!).
Even though the reputation of the city is of cooperation and inclusiveness among all mammals, the two main characters begin their relationship with preconceived ideas about one another. According to director Rich Moore, “At its core, ‘Zootopia’ is a buddy movie. Judy and Nick—a rabbit and a fox—are natural enemies by definition. So these characters don’t exactly get along at first. They come to the relationship with ideas about each other—beliefs that aren’t informed or accurate.”
The characters are voiced by fabulous actors such as Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Alan Tudyk, and Tommy Chong. Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Don Lake, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Maurice LaMarche, Tiny Lister, Kristen Bell, and many others also lend their voices to this tale. Even singer Shakira makes several appearances (some of my favorite scenes were those of animals acting exactly like humans such as dancing and taking video on their cell phones at a pop concert!). The leading characters Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde are voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, respectively.
As a kid my favorite pets were rabbits so it was exciting and endearing to watch a rabbit as the main character of this movie, including all of the foot stomping and nose twitching rabbit lovers know so well. According to animation supervisor Kira Lehtomaki, real-life rabbits gave them a lot to work with. “We looked for moments in Judy’s performances for her rabbitness to come out: her ears might tune in and turn toward a sound before she does, or her nose twitches when she’s on high alert.” Ginnifer Goodwin brings Judy’s enthusiasm and optimism to life throughout the film. “I was told that Judy’s a glass-half-full kind of bunny,” says Goodwin. “She’s a spark plug.”
Jason Bateman provides the voice of Nick Wilde, a charming and sly con-artist fox with a big mouth. According to co-head of animation Tony Smeed, “We use the curl of his tail to push the fox silhouette on Nick. But unlike a real fox, who’s timid and skittish, Nick is very casual and laid back.” He’s the bad boy you can’t help but like.
One of my favorite characters in the film didn’t get as much air time as the others but played a critical role. Mrs. Otterton, a mother of two and wife of the missing Mr. Otterton, is voiced by the marvelous Octavia Spencer.
In the end, Zootopia takes a step closer to the utopia Judy always expected it to be. “We talked to an incredible bias expert, Dr. Shatki Butler,” says producer Clark Spencer, “who said that it is hard to be biased against someone once you get to know him. That fundamental idea folded beautifully into our story of a bunny and a fox, natural enemies, both assuming something about each other, but learning their assumptions are completely wrong once they are forced to team up.”
Take a look at Judy’s (AKA Officer Hopps) first day on the job. I laughed hard at this scene and can’t wait to watch the entire movie again. If you’ve seen Zootopia, let us know your favorite scene or quote!