If there is one thing that makes Disney stand out in all of it’s animated films, it’s that they are masters of creating stories with messages that apply to people of all ages. I know I can walk in to a Disney animated film with my 8 yr old daughter and come out having both of entertained, moved and at times, teary eyed. Coming this March, Zootopia will become one of those such films. Truth be told, I was a little wary of an animated “animals that can talk” movie, especially since kids today are much brighter and forward thinking than ever before. But, at an early lead press day in October, I got to see a few clips and now, I am eagerly anticipating seeing the full film. I got a chance to talk exclusively to Director and Co-Writer, Jared Bush, Writer Phil Johnston and Head of Editorial Fabienne Rawley about creating believable animals yet humanizing them, and how this movie represents diversity to children.
Earlier in the day, you all spoke a little bit about not overly humanizing the characters, wanting to keep them believable as animals. What limits did you set for yourselves to not over human the animals?
Jared Bush: It was a process to figure out where that balance felt the best, and how much human/how much animal is in them. If there’s too much human, then why are they animals. and if there was too much animal, there was this weird distancing, where you felt you weren’t watching characters you could relate to. The great thing about the animators and the character designers is that they are able to bring that animal in there, and infuse it directly with human actors playing those parts and bring those little bits of personality into them. It’s really just an interesting combination of both of those things at just the right ratio.
As a writer was that difficult?
Phil Johnston: I think that as you think about characters, to be honest, I always think about in hman terms, because that’s what I relate to. When you’re talking about the wants, and the needs of the characters it’s stuff that we can relate to- the need for love, the need for affirmation, the goals that you would have. Like Judy moves to a big city and wants to prove herself, clearly that’s a human emotion that someone from a small town would move to New York City and want to prove herself, I can plug into that emotionally. I think you always have to, whether it’s animals in this or video game characters in Wreck It Ralph, or whatever, you have to personalize it to make sense of who these characters are as humans.
One of the big things I noticed, and loved, while watching the clips earlier was that you touched on a lot of diversity issues, but you did it in a manner that even small children could understand. Did you take any specific events to touch on and explore in a manner that would be universal to anyone watching it?
Phil Johnston: To do a movie that’s about something, you don’t want to be preachy or didactic, we have to first and foremost tell the story we want to tell but it has to entertain, so it’s funny- it’s a comedy, we’re doing all that. The thing that I am most proud of in this movie is the idea that Judy recognizing within herself, that there are flaws, that there are bias. I think that until we start realizing that this ugliness can exist within us, within everyone, no matter how open minded you are, when you see the bias exists in you in that ugly, weird dark part in your belly, that you wouldn’t think is there, when you figure that out, then you can start to make a change, then you can make a difference and change the way you see the world. It’s a very nuanced idea, and we’re not hammering it over your head, but I’m really proud of that message because it’s something I can talk to my kids about, I have a 3 and 5 yr old, and I think it’s going to help the way the think and the way they see the world and, God willing, help make the world more harmonious.
Fabienne Rawley: And you experience it in the film, because you love Hopps in the beginning, you’re just so connected to her and love her so much but then there’s this moment in the film, where you see that she has this bias inside her, and it’s devastating but you love her anyway. Then you yourself are conflicted for a moment, and then she comes around
Phil Johnston: The idea that real people are messy, that it’s not black or white, that there’s shades of grey in the way all of us behave and even the best of us has flaws.
Jared Bush: We didn’t want to specifically reference any particular event but there are so many big and small things that we do everyday that feed into that. It’s a lot of life experience of our own, I think seeing this thing within ourselves is a huge part of that.
Fabienne Rawley: Also, all the animals in the film are from around the world, the city is composed of every different kind of animal and stories about every different kind of human being. It’s not specific to any kind of person, no animal is supposed to be a particular type of person or from a particular country, it’s just humanity.
Zootopia opens March 4th, 2016.