By MANTA KLANGBOONKRONG
IF US HUMAN types aspire to Utopia, then our fellow animal species are dreaming about “Zootopia”, and it all comes true in the latest feature film from Disney Animation Studio, arriving in Thai cinemas next week.
In their first collaboration, co-directors Byron Howard of “Bolt” and “Tangled” fame and Rich Moore of “The Simpsons”, “Futurama” and “Wreck-It-Ralph” have erected a metropolis of mammals where predators and prey manage to live together in harmony.
Supplying the voices in this kindly kingdom are actors Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Kristen Bell, Josh Dallas, Octavia Spencer and Oscar winner JK Simmons, plus singer Shakira.
Apparently there’s this bunny girl called Judy Hopps. Well, we’ll let the directors explain.
Howard: She’s a rabbit from a small town called Bunnyburrow who wants to be a tough cop in the big city. But the rabbits in Zootopia are normally resigned to staying on the farm and tending to their crops, whereas the cops are the big animals, like buffalo, bison, rhinoceroses and elephants. Judy’s voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin.
Her buddy in this movie is the rabbit’s natural enemy, a sneaky fox called Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman. Jason is the most charming and funnily sarcastic character you could find and these two characters have amazing chemistry in the movie.
DID YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR CITY IN MIND WHEN YOU BUILT ZOOTOPIA?
Howard: We did about eight months of research before we even started on the story. We knew it would be a mammal metropolis and a big city but, even though the animals built this world, if it didn’t feel like a city people would live in, they’d be lost. We wanted to make sure it didn’t look like an American city, so we looked at Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Barcelona and even Brasilia, which is very modern. We tried to mash all these cities into one incredible town, and we take architectural cues from all over the world, especially big Asian cities, which are just amazing with all the incredible buildings that have gone up in the past decade. That really inspired out art director.
WHY ONLY MAMMALS IN THE POPULATION?
Howard: One reason is because the movie is all about predators and preys and the mammal world is where that relationship is at its greatest.
We didn’t put any monkeys in the movie because they’re too much like humans. If you see a monkey, you think that’s the smartest guy in the room, and we didn’t want that. We wanted all the mammals to be pretty much equal in intelligence, so, from a mouse to an elephant and all the sizes in between, they’re quite equal.
WHAT ABOUT THE SLOTHS?
Moore, laughing: Have you been to a government office lately? I don’t know about in Thailand, but in the US they can be a little slow sometimes. What’s a good animal to work at the Department of Mammal Vehicles? Sloths!
WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE?
Howard: It’s different every day and I can never really choose one. Today my favourite is Clawhauser, a cheetah working at a front desk in the police department. He’s just adorable, covered in spots – and icing, because he loves doughnuts. He’s just this big, loveable glutton.
He loves Gazelle, the biggest pop star in
the city, played by the lovely Shakira, who also has a song in the movie.
Moore: I like Mr Big – he’s the most notorious gangster in all of Zootopia and Judy thinks he must be one of the big polar bears that are Mr Big’s bodyguards. But it turns out that he’s a tiny little Arctic shrew who looks and talks like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”.
We chose a shrew for Mr Big because they’re the meanest predators on earth – worse than lions or tigers. Shrews are absolutely ruthless. Put four of them together in a bucket overnight and you’ll find only one shrew left in the morning – the baddest one!
ZOOLOGICAL LESSONS ASIDE, IS THERE A MESSAGE TO THE MOVIE?
Moore: It’s a comedy with lots of great characters, and we didn’t want to make a movie that was too message-y. There is one thing Judy learns, though: It’s the differences among us that make the world a lot better. The more you open your eyes to what’s unique about other people, the richer life becomes.
THESE ANIMATED FILMS USUALLY CONTRIVE SOME EXCITING NEW TECHNOLOGY.
Howard: We cracked the code on how to depict fur onscreen very realistically. That may sound strange, because we’ve had characters in the past covered in fur, like Bolt, but never before have we had them with fur that’s exactly like they have in nature.
This was the challenge our technology department cracked because we wanted to depict each species as unique. We spent a long time looking at the fur of a fox, a rabbit, lions and bears. We examined them at the microscopic level and replicated them in our characters. It was totally new for us at the studio.
WHAT ELSE CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO FROM DISNEY ANIMATION AS IT ENTERS ITS SECOND DECADE?
Howard: We have a slate of different kinds of stories coming up, and we aim to surprise the audience with something new every time.
We’re not just making fairytales – we’re making all kinds of movies. Like “Hero 6” from last year, where we took the superhero genre into animation. You’ll see more of that diversity and every one of the stories will have the things people look for in a Disney film – the characters, the fantastic world, the heart, the comedy and engaging stories.
We’ll always do that, but wrapped in surprising stories.
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“Zootopia” opens cinemas next Thursday.
For clips and more details, check www.Facebook.com/WaltDisneyThailand.