Posted on Friday, March 4th, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
Earlier this week we told you how Zootopia was going to be a different movie, originally following Jason Bateman’s character Nick Wilde and featuring an more-in-your-face message. Well you might be surprised that the original idea for Zootopia was a James Bond parody featuring talking animals. How the that idea evolve into whats now on the screen? Read my exclusive interview with directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and discover how a story like this evolves within the Disney Animation Studios creative process.
Zootopia Directors Interview: The Evolution Of The Story
Peter: Okay, so I’m very interested in the evolution of the animation process of how like stories get created and abandoned. I wanna talk a little bit about how this evolved into what it is. Which starts with how you came onto the project. Like what was your initial idea?
Byron Howard: The very first place, well when John [Lasseter] asks you to pitch movies, new ideas for movies, he asks you to come in with at least three ideas, because he doesn’t want you to just put all your eggs in one basket. And I think Nathan Greno and I who just directed Tangled came in and we pitched I think six ideas to John. And what a lot of those movies had in common were these anthropomorphic animal characters. And John got very excited about that. He said, well I don’t know about this one, but I like the animal characters and he got very excited about this idea that he said, “I will fully support any movie that shows animals running around in tiny clothes.” That’s like exactly what he said. And he said he was on board.
Peter: That sounds exactly like John.
Byron: Yeah. He just got very excited about it. And he said, “well guys have gotta really make this something different.” So we did about nine months of research.
Peter: You said that at the screening last night. I’m curious what did he mean by that?
Byron: Oh well I think because he said there’d been a lot of these talking animals films. And it’s something that people have seen before. So how are you gonna make this different? How are you gonna go beyond what everyone has done before? And if it is gonna be a world of talking animals, it has to make sense. And you guys have to figure out if these animals actually evolved and built a world, what would it look like? And you gotta make it work. And I think that just meant, we need to really know our stuff before we dove into the story.
Peter: But it didn’t initially take place in Zootopia, right? Like it–
Byron: No, but it was an all animal world. I think like he really charged us with sort of just figuring out. It started off as a spy movie. The first version that I pitched after that was–
Peter: Who was the spy?
Byron: His name was Jack Savage. And he was a Jackrabbit a la James Bond. And this rabbit worked at something like MI6. And his boss was a little tiny mouse kind of like Judi Dench. And that kind of thing. And so there was a size conflict there. But after the first act, the spy character left the big animal city to go into the South Seas. And the title of the movie was Savage Seas. And I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I had a whole plan of other movies like Savage Earth and the Savage Land and the Savage Times and things where it would just be a series of movies. So I had big plans.
Rich Moore: The Savage Chronicles.
Byron: The Savage Chronicles. Isn’t that cool? That sounds so cool.
Rich: Sunday nights on ABC, The Savage Chronicles.
Byron: It sounds awesome and I made posters and everything. And the more I pitched this, giving people…
Rich: It was a hubris.
Byron: Even though people liked the posters, they didn’t really like the spy idea. I’m like uh… Kind of like–
Rich: They’re like I don’t like the Roger Moore James Bond movies.
Byron: Oh I like Roger Moore, he’s cheeky. But so I quickly abandoned the spy idea because everyone said the most interesting thing about your pitch is this first act where everyone’s in this animal city all together. And if you could make that the whole film, that would be a really interesting thing that no one has ever done before. So that’s when I chucked the spy thing. And that’s when it sort of morphed into this crime procedural kind of hard boiled detective slash cop thing that kind of evolved into that. That’s where the pair of Judy Hopps and the rabbit and the fox really sort of started to exist in the primordial form right there. And then it evolved from that point.