Directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore Talk “Zootopia” On Blu-Ray – Animation Scoop

Directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore Talk “Zootopia” On Blu-Ray

If you didn’t know that Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, The Simpsons) were directors of one of this year’s biggest movie hits, you might think they were a successful comedy team. The chemistry between the two is evident in the bonus features on the new Zootopia Blu-ray (on sale now) and in the repartee to follow. But between the lines, there’s always a sense of artistry and integrity to their approach to classic Disney storytelling.

zootopia-blu-ray_200gGREG EHRBAR: I enjoyed your comedy stylings. It must have been a lot of laughs working on Zootopia, as well as half a decade of work.

BYRON HOWARD: A sense of humor always helps.

RICH MOORE: I think that’s a good rule for life.

BYRON: It’s a good crew and we all love this place. They can ask crazy things of us on these films, so you have to have a good sense of humor to survive. Animation, in general, is a crazy business, as you know.

GREG: The Blu-ray extras go into a lot of detail about the early versions of Zootopia, especially the concept of a “1984” society where predators were made to wear “tame collars.”

BYRON: The spy movie idea preceded the 1984 story, with the collars, when I pitched the movie to John Lasseter about five years ago. We knew it was going to be an all-animal world. I love spy movies, like the Bond films, so I kept pitching this. Rich and the rest of the Story Trust would hear these pitches and John would, too. They were saying that the spy thing had been done a lot lately, but what was really interesting was the first act, which takes place in the all-animal city. They said, “What if you took that first act and just made it the whole film?

So we threw away the spy thing and did about a year of research that led us to the whole predator-versus-prey thing and how these two groups don’t get along. That led us to the bias issues that the movie revolves around. The collars that you see in those older versions on the Blu-ray are examples of how we were experimenting with how to tell this story the right way.

That’s why the Blu-ray is such a great experience, specifically for this film. You can actually see how we tried new things over a period of time and how we arrived at what we were saying in this film.

Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Byron Howard and Rich Moore

GREG: You know, they were right about the spy movie being done a lot. And let’s face it–it’s pretty hard to top The Man Called Flintstone.

(Gales of laughter.)

BYRON: I agree with that!

RICH: I remember that opening theme was so jazzy–

(They both start singing the movie theme song.)

GREG: Need I say more?

BYRON: No, you do not!

RICH: There will never be a better spy movie than The Man Called Flintstone.

GREG: So anyway, another thing about the journey in making Zootopia involved several characters that ultimately didn’t make it into the film. Of course, that happened in Walt Disney’s day, too.

RICH: When we’re crafting the story and the characters, who can tell who’s a good foil up against Judy at one moment or Nick the next? For the longest time, there were “gerbil jerks” in the story that we talk about on the Blu-ray. Their job was to make Nick’s life miserable–when the story was more from Nick’s point of view. You would have bet good money that those guys would have been in the final film.

BYRON: Oh yeah. We were so sure these guys were in the movie. At the point where the story changed to Judy’s point of view and wasn’t as much about the hardships that Nick had in his life, these characters suddenly didn’t apply anymore. And as filmmakers, we have to make the tough decisions. Sometimes you have people on your team that have fallen in love with these characters and it’s like going to your family and telling them we’ve made this decision, to trust us on this. Every second of screen time counts and if these guys aren’t adding something to the total, we have to set them free. It’s always difficult.

zootopia-model-450jpg

GREG: Let’s talk about Judy Hopps. Byron, you worked on Mulan. It seemed to me that Judy and Mulan were very similar in their representation of what being a “strong” female protagonist means. Their strength is defined by their inherent character and values, rather than from being stereotypically aggressive and throwing things around.

BYRON: That’s really true and it’s a really good parallel. Both Judy and Mulan both have strong similarities. Both are really connected with their families. There’s a lot of family strength and support that comes from Mulan’s family and Judy’s—even though Stu, Judy’s dad, has a kind of backward way of giving fatherly advice (and we love that about him). One of the things Rich and I love about Judy is that she’s not perfect; she has a big flaw. She attempts to do good but she goes out into the world a little naïve, not knowing how tough it is out there. By the end of the film, she’s really grown. At the point where she can step up to Nick, she owns it and apologizes. That’s a very mature move for a character. I think that’s why people believe her character. She layered, like a real person that we might know. When we find something in a character that makes them feel this much depth and dimension, that’s when we know we have something good.

RICH: I agree with Byron on that—in that scene where she apologizes, you’ve long forgotten that you’re watching a cartoon rabbit. She seems like a real person that you’ve gone on a journey with. You’ve invested yourself in her hopes and dreams. That’s what I love about the art of animation. That’s the magic.

GREG: There were several points in the story where you saw someone say, “You’ll never be a this or that.” It’s something a lot of us have heard in our lives and whether a person chooses to ignore those voices can make all the difference. Zootopia has become such a hit, you have to wonder how many kids will get that message.

RICH: I agree with you. If the movie achieved nothing else but that, it’s huge. When I was a kid, stories like had a positive takeaway–that told you that, if you can persevere through tough times, you could come out the other end safe, sound, and a better person. It really helped shape my life. Someone wrote, “I was in a situation like Judy’s at a particular moment, and the movie came out just at the right time. I was having a tough time and after seeing the adventures of Judy and Nick, it really helped me through. These are real people taking the time to compose a letter to a complete stranger. It’s absolutely humbling.

GREG: One last thought I must share with you: when Judy first is all excited to arrive in the big city, gets to her own apartment and happily flops onto her bed, it reminded me of that episode of That Girl where she arranges all her sweaters on her apartment floor.

(Laughter ensues.)

BYRON: We should have had a sweater scene!

RICH: (laughing) I know! I remember as a kid when That Girl was in syndication. She reminded me of my older sister and I used to think, “Wow! That’s what real life is all about! That must be what being an adult is like! That Girl and Donald!”

BYRON: (laughing) “And wow! There’s a mannequin that looks just like her in that store window and—“

BOTH: “It WINKS at you??? Wait a minute!! What?! How?”

RICH: I don’t know it meant, but it sure seemed pretty cool.

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a two-time Grammy-nominated and Addy-winning writer/editor/producer, celebrating 30 years with The Walt Disney Company. Greg’s projects include national advertising, network TV, commercials, magazines and thousands of print ads and publications. Greg’s books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records; Jimmy Johnson’s Inside the Whimsy Works: My Life with Walt Disney Productions; as well as Disney Parks merchandise; movie adaptations and records. Greg also appears on TV, home video, radio’s TV Confidential, Disney Parks Blog, cartoonresearch.com, Greg-O-Vision.blogspot.com and disneymusicemporium.com.
Greg Ehrbar
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