Finally hitting U.K. cinemas this week is the superb Walt Disney animation Zootropolis. We saw the film a little while back and well in love with it immediately. The feature is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and we caught up with them when they visited London a little while ago to talk about their film.
The film’s humour isn’t childish – it’s more juvenile and even for adults. Was this always the intention?
Byron Howard: It started that way because we were doing a movie about a contemporary world. A lot of the humour that we find as adults making the film comes from these parallels that we find with our own reality. The sloth thing is a good example. It’s not necessarily something that a kid would get because they probably haven’t been to the DMV, but every adult on the planet gets it. No matter what country you go to, it is universal.
Rich Moore: But the kids do get it because they see that Officer Hopps is in a hurry and is at the mercy of the sloth so..
Byron: They’ll have to wait until they’re nineteen or twenty to fully appreciate it. We had a great experience in Brussels, which was one of the first places we visited in the last couple of weeks. We were at a screening and this small boy was watching his father laugh. It was wonderful how much joy this kid was getting from watching his dad.
Rich: The kids didn’t get the DMV joke but he was having so much fun. It was really sweet and very heart-warming.
Can I ask you about the title, because the title is Zootopia in the U.S. and Zootropolis in the U.K (and Zoomania in Germany). What was the reasoning behind the different titles? Do you think it will cause problems?
Byron: Hopefully, no. It’s the same movie, with just a different title, and if we had our way it would be called Zootopia all over the world, but sometimes when you go out an investigate the legalities of a name, or a title. We found with this one that are copyright issues with other markets using that name so for the U.K. we thought that we can’t call it Zootopia, so we’ll call it Zootropolis. We though that was good. Germany said well ‘we can’t call it Zootropolis or Zootopia’.
Rich: They said, ‘how about Zoomania?’
Byron: I thought that it was supposed to be, like some crazy, mental problem. Someone who likes Zoos?.
Rich: I’m suffering from ‘Zoomania!’
Bryon: And then France said, ‘we want Zootopie…’ So we said, well, you can have that. Any time the name Zootopia came up, our actors would have to re-record their dialogue.
The signs in Germany say ‘Welcome To Zoomania?’
Byron: Yes, but its the same movie and hopefully, if we did our job right…
It’s just confusing because on social media…
Rich: Yes, we know…. ‘I never know what to hashtag it!’ Just hashtag all of them.
The idea is very original. Who had the initial idea? I think that it’s the best animation/ comedy of the last ten or fifteen years. How did it come about?
Byron: Well, I pitched the first little spark of this movie five years ago, right after I finished up on Tangled. I had always loved Disney’s great animal films; The Lion King, Jungle Book.
Rich: That was the first film that I ever saw.
Byron: I grew up on Robin Hood. It’s not the most popular Disney film, but it made a huge impression on me as a kid, so there’s a lot of Robin Hood’s DNA in this movie. There’s that great Disney appeal. John Lasseter and I were talking and I said we haven’t done a film like this for a long time with animals that wear clothes and stand up, and wouldn’t it be great to do that in the contemporary world where animals stand up and use iPhones? He was very excited about it and so we really dove in and started to think about what this world would be.
Rich: He got very excited. He’s down playing it.
Byron: Super excited. He hugged me.
Rich: Oh yes, when John likes something, his eyebrows do this [signals them raising]. If it’s a really good idea his mouth will pop open too. So, he’s not a very good poker player.
Byron: But he really loved the idea of doing this because he grew up on Wind In The Willows. He did say, if we are going to do this, we are going to have to make this film very, very different from other talking animal films, and so we really needed to figure out how this city was going to work. When you look at it, it is engineered to actually work. We have multiple scale doors that you see on the train, there’s a huge air-conditioning heating wall that actually would work if you had enough money and time to build it…
And the juice bar…
Byron: And the juice bar! There’s just layer upon layer of things that would really, really work.
Rich. It makes the world authentic and well thought out – lie you’re going to some place real. We would talk about when we were kids. I knew that I would read books, or watch cartoons about these kind of anthropomorphic animal worlds where they all lived in a city that just looked like New York or something. I was always like… ‘isn’t the polar bear really hot?’ We thought, we could do it differently, we can make this into something that people haven;t seen before by doing different neighbourhoods that make the animals comfortable from where they’re from – the way that you would have ethnic neighbourhoods in any big city. It make it feel like this is a place which has history and a legacy to it, and there’s old buildings and new ones and things for mice and things for big animals.
Can you tell us about the research that you did?
Byron: One of the things we do before we start any big project, and this was true with Wreck-It-Ralph where Rich had to become the foremost expert on video games…
Rich: I had a lot of time in my youth… I started at age ten.
Byron: Nobody knew more about video games than Rich…
Rich. I don’t know about that; there are some super-obsessed people.
Byron: With this, we had to look at how the animal world really worked. We spent almost a year really looking at how animals behaved. We brought in tons of animal experts – we went to our own Animal Kingdom, the most amazing artificial habitat ever built for animals and we learned a ton there. We went back to John and told him what we learned there, and he was like, ‘well, you guys haven’t gone far enough. We need to send you where the animals live and eat each other.’
Rich: And sometimes eat humans.
Byron: He said, you’re going to Africa. He put us on a plane and we flew to Nairobi, and then they flew us in tiny, little planes out into the middle of nowhere where we spent two weeks among herds of 60-70,000 wildebeest. We saw herds of 300 zebra… I had only seen one zebra or two zebra in a zoo in my whole life and now we’re looking out and there’s 200 or 300 zebra… One of our first camps was right next to a watering hole and the it was about ten metres from us. We would just sit there, and during the day, lions would come in a drink from the watering hole, right next to a gazelle and zebra, which are their food. Nobody was eating anyone. Everyone was behaving and they would drink and go their separate ways, and we thought that this was an interesting kind of parallel to how humans are in cities. Cities are where we all gather and different groups need different things, but we all have to find a way to get along and that’s where a lot of the social layers of the movie started to develop.
Rich: I was not involved in the research trip. I came on right after they went. I just want to use this opportunity to lodge a complaint…
Zootropolis is released in the UK on March 25th, 2016, and you can read our review of the film over here.