Zootopia has an adorable mix of characters to make a great story. At the heart it’s a story about finding your place to fit in. But how do a fox and a bunny get along?
At its core, ‘Zootopia’ is a buddy movie,” says director Rich Moore. “Judy and Nick—a rabbit and a fox—are natural enemies by definition. So these characters don’t exactly get along at first. They come to the relationship with ideas about each other—beliefs that aren’t informed or accurate.”
According to Howard, the fact that the buddies don’t get along fuels the film’s comedy. “Judy is the eternal optimist who believes anyone can be anything—it’s the city’s motto, after all,” he says. “Nick is the complete opposite. He’s a cynic. He believes we are what we are. So we put this country bumpkin who’s full of vim and vigor in the middle of the big city alongside Nick—the realist—and he gets to have a lot of fun messing with her. But she has a few tricks up her sleeve.”
Before I get into each individual character here, I wanted to share with you a little more about the research that went into the movie.
“We did about 18 months of really solid research into animals,” says director Byron Howard. “We studied how they interact in the wild, how they socialize and how their individual communities are built in the natural world.
“We found that the majority of animals—90 percent—are prey,” continues Howard. “Only 10 percent are predators. So while we always assumed that predators ruled the animal world, they’re actually the minority. We talked to anthropologists and sociologists and took a look way back through human history—any time you have a majority and minority, social issues arise. We learned and observed that animals of all kinds tend to stay with animals that look like them; they find refuge and protection within their individual groups and tend to avoid animals that are different.”
So they developed cities for each animal.
Sahara Square is made up of sand dunes and buildings that are shaped like sand dunes. “The heart of Sahara Square is inspired by Monte Carlo and Dubai,” says Matthias Lechner, art director of environments. “We learned that desert animals are mostly nocturnal because it’s too hot during the day. So we built lots of nighttime activities—casinos and a giant palm-tree hotel with an oasis surrounding it.”
Sahara Square features a warm palette of reds, oranges and yellows.
Tundratown, constructed mainly of snow and ice, features a cool color palette with blues and teals. “There are giant snow blowers,” says Lechner. “They go off periodically—they’re part of the climate control. Nothing ever thaws. We have floating blocks of ice instead of moving sidewalks. Cars are on skis.”
Designers added spots of color with strategically placed neon lights, playing with reflections and shadows to add interest and dimension to the area.
The Rain Forest District is home to hundreds of giant, bright, jungle-green steamer trees—artificial trees that mechanically suck up water from a river to create the steamy atmosphere required by the locals. “The rain forest is a vertical environment with walkways, bridges and gondolas,” says Lechner.
According to Goetz, the sheer number of trees—more than half a million—illustrates one of the many major advances in technology that allowed the artists to create the incredible detailed environments in Zootopia.
Bunnyburrow, Judy Hopps’ hometown, is inhabited mostly by carrot farmers like Judy’s parents. Vast, sprawling open space contrasts with the busy city streets of Zootopia.
“It’s a very rural part of this world,” says Howard. “It’s about 200 miles away from the city of Zootopia. If Zootopia were Manhattan, Bunnyburrow is like Yonkers—way out in the country. Bunnies are born there and live out their lives there. Nobody quite understands why in the world Judy would want to leave—and move to the big city of all places.”
Savanna Central houses Zootopia Police Department (ZPD), City Hall and Central Station, the bustling train station where Judy Hopps lands when she first arrives in town. Modeled in part after Disneyland’s hub-and-spoke design—Savanna Central is Zootopia’s central hub. “It’s our version of the watering hole,” says Goetz. “Animals from each of the districts converge here.”
Details include a central water feature and a savanna theme with acacia trees and warm tones: oranges and grays with olive foliage.
Little Rodentia is where Zootopia’s smallest mammals reside. “It is an entirely tiny town with rodent-sized housing, shops and streets,” says Lechner. “It’s surrounded by a big fence so that big animals can’t walk through it.”
It may be small, but Little Rodentia has all of the big-city luxuries, including a chic hair salon that caters to tiny high-end clientele.
So animals don’t usually mix, but Judy Hopps wants to be a cop in the big city. So she moves from Bunnyburrow to Zootopia. Judy is tenacious, sweet and wholesome. And because she’s a bunny she’s assigned to be a meter maid instead of a cop.
Judy’s boss, Chief Bogo, is a no-nonsense cape buffalo who’s unimpressed by her academy record. He doesn’t want a bunny on his force. So instead of giving her a high-profile assignment, Bogo puts her on parking duty. “But she decides to be the best meter maid ever,” says Howard. “By using her incredible hearing to her advantage, she issues 200 parking tickets before noon on her very first day.”
Nick Wilde is a con artist fox filled with sarcasm and still likable appealing and oddly charming.
The animators were all very excited about the sloth character. And the preview I saw with the sloth in it was quite funny.
There will be other characters that we will meet in this story but that’s for another time.