Zootopia Guide: How Disney’s New Film Builds a Different Kind of World

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Go behind the scenes of Walt Disney Animation's latest with our new Zootopia guide.

Explore the sights and sounds of Disney’s Mammal Metropolis, right here in our Zootopia Guide

“People have done animals in the animal world,” says Zootopia director Byron Howard. “Like ‘Lion King’ or ‘Ice Age.’ They’ve done animals in the human world. ‘Jungle Book,’ ‘Madagascar.’ Those types of movies. But we’ve really never seen animals in the modern world, where humans never existed. That was the twist that got John [Lasseter] very excited.”

Howard, who co-directs the Walt Disney Animation feature with Rich Moore and Jared Bush, previously spoke with ComingSoon.net about crafting the wild world of Disney’s latest. In this, our Zootopia guide, we’re going behind the scenes of the March 4 release and exploring the incredibly-detailed and pun-riddled world of the animated “Mammal Metropolis.”

Our Zootopia guide explores the mammal metropolis.

Zootopia Guide: Mammals Only!

When you think of all the animal designs we’ve seen so far in the Zootopia trailers, it’s easy to have completely missed the fact that the film deals entirely with mammals. You won’t find any birds, reptiles, insect or sea life in Zootopia. That’s a decision that was made to highlight Zootopia‘s central theme.

“It’s a mammal metropolis,” Howard explains, “because the film is about predators and prey. After a lot of research, we found that the predator and prey divide was the widest in the mammal world.”

That’s one of the reasons that it makes sense for Zootopia‘s story to follow two animals facing opposite directions on the food chain. Ginnifer Goodwin voices Officer Judy Hopps, an optimistic young rabbit from the Bunnyburrow countryside who has come to the big city to prove her worth. It’s there that she meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly confox who tries to take advantage of Hopps’ good hearted naïveté.

This Zootopia guide is about keeping a different point of view.

Zootopia Guide: A Different Point of View

Even as the elaborate Zootopia city and culture grew around the still-developing Hopps and Wilde characters, the filmmakers came to the decision that the story wasn’t living up to its potential. Although Wilde had initially been conceived of as the film’s protagonist, the story was reimagined so that audiences could visit Zootopia through Hopps’ eyes.

“She’s a starry-eyed country girl,” says Howard, “coming in with all these ideas about how she’s going to make a difference.”

One of the obstacles that Hopps has to overcome is the stereotype that bunnies aren’t as capable of serving in law enforcement as some of Zootopia‘s larger species. She’s going out of her way to dismiss all stereotypes, which is part of why she’s initially fooled by Wilde. She doesn’t believe the stereotype that all foxes are sly and mischievous. By playing with animal stereotypes, the filmmakers are able to take on an important issue on a strictly allegorical level.

Zootopia Guide: The Big Six

This Zootopia guide explains the six different areas of Zootopia.

Zootopia was conceived of as a city from the ground up. At its center is Sahara Square. Once, long ago, it was a watering hole and, like actual cities, the design grew outward from that central location.

“What we wanted for this city to look like it’s been lived in,” explains Art Director of Environments Mathais Lechner of where audiences are catching up with Zootopia’s long fictional history. “It has garbage lying around. It has streets, trees and buildings of different kinds and architectures. All the details that a real city entails.”

Envisioning the way Zootopia functions as a city meant imaging the ways different types of species would spread out into their own five areas. In Zootopia, they’re known as Tundratown, The Rain Forest District, Bunnyburrow, Savanna Central and Little Rodentia.

“What feels different about how Chinatown borders Little Italy?” Howard says of the research that went into getting Zootopia‘s layout just right. “How do the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn all interact?” 

Zootopia Guide: A City of the World

This Zootopia guide explains how the film was built on an international scale.

It was important for the Zootopia team to keep the film function on an international scale. Even though elements of several US cities were examined for Zootopia‘s ultimate design, they scoured the world looking to incorporate city design that meshed with animal patterns. The zebra crossings in Zootopia are one obvious example, but eagle-eyed moviegoers will appreciate how every element of life in Zootopia is envisioned as something that would have actually been built for a specific purpose by animals.

“We asked, ‘How do you put a tundra and a desert next to each other?”  says production designer David Goetz. “Well, the answer is rather simple. You build a massive air conditioning wall that separates the two environments. Just like our own air conditioners, one side blows out cold air, cooling Tundratown, while the other side blows out hot air to heat Sahara Square.”

Zootopia Guide: A Matter of Scale

This Zootopia guide covers the movie's scale difference.

One of Zootopia‘s tricky elements was the decision to keep all of the animals their actual relative sizes. That means that certain parts of the city are designed to accommodate animals ranging from mice to elephants. That means that certain species have equal access in civic areas, (extending to the subway systems), while other areas may tend to be more or less off limits.

There’s one unique sequence in Zootopia that has a lot of fun with the audience’s sense of scale. A chase scene, at one point, has Judy Hopps crossing the border into Little Rodentia. A town built for mice, Little Rodentia lets Hopps suddenly become a relative giant and the chase to continue like a Kaiju showdown.

Zootopia: What it All Means

Enter Bunnyburrow in our Zootopia guide.

As much as Zootopia‘s story looks to explore some pretty relevant societal issues, it’s meant to play first and fur-most as a family adventure.

“We never want to preach in any of our entertainment,” says Rich Moore. “What we like to do is take an issue and examine it… What I would take away from this film, if there’s a message or a theme to it, it’s that you define you. The world has an opinion about who you are, but you ultimately define yourself.”

Also featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Jenny Slate, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Don Lake and Raymond Persi, Zootopia arrives in theaters March 4. 

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Weekend: Jan. 24, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019

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