This week, Zootopia will given us an immersive world rich in detail, and there’s a lot of exotic wildlife you might miss on first viewing, and a lot going on behind the scenes, too. This may be the film that finally knocks Deadpool off its perch come this weekend: early signs are good for its debut in the U.S. box office (it was already selling ticket-for-ticket in some European markets).
If you’re anywhere near the target audience for this film, chances are you’ve seen a trailer or two… or maybe you’re reading this article long after it was published and have seen the movie twice. Even so, chances are you didn’t know all this about Disney’s city of sapient non-Homo sapiens.
Here are 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Zootopia.
11. Alan Tudyk now has a four-weasel streak at Disney
The actor, who made Firefly fans laugh (and eventually weep) as Wash and has played Superman and Green Arrow in other cartoons, has been in the last four consecutive Disney Animation films, in far less sympathetic roles. In Wreck-It Ralph, he was the weaselly King Candy, who tricks his way into power. In Big Hero 6, he plays the weaselly Alistair Krei, whose willingness to cut corners and refusal to own up to the consequences earns him a vendetta from a revenge-crazed supervillain.
10. Kristen Bell got her cameo thanks to Ellen Degeneres
Tudyk isn’t the only Frozen alumnus making an appearance. Kristen Bell (the fast-talking Anna in Frozen) got a bit part as a sloth (she… speaks… two… words… slooowwwlllyyy). You might be forgiven for thinking Disney asked her because it just wanted to throw as much love as possible to its highest-grossing movie ever, especially since the movie also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them pair of elephants dressed as Anna and Elsa.
But the creative team was actually inspired by an interview she gave on Ellen, where she described a birthday surprise that reduced her to tears: her then-boyfriend (now-husband) arranged for a sloth – her favorite animal – to visit her. (In a follow-up, Kirsten got to meet one on-camera.)
9. The movie had (at least) two stealth promos in Big Hero 6
Zootopia itself might be Disney’s most Easter egg-packed movie to date, and film fans will be some time unpacking all the references it makes to many other films in the animation studio’s 79-year history. But Disney animators like to look forward as well as back, and they embedded a couple of little hints about what they were working on into BH6, their last major feature.
When Baymax and Hiro fly under the train tracks, a Zootopia poster briefly comes into view (look for the black-on-orange silhouette to the far right). And Honey Lemon’s smartphone case happens to look just like Nick Wilde. Of course, that could’ve been a reference to an older film as well, because…
8. Nick Wilde looks a lot like Robin Hood
Disney has played with talking animals since its first animated feature, and even in the days when Uncle Walt was putting out nothing but short cartoons. Some of those animals wore pants and walked like people and some of them didn’t. Maybe you’ve heard of a mascot called Mickey and a deer named Bambi. But it didn’t do a full-length animated film with animals in clothes until 1973’s Robin Hood, which transformed the familiar characters of Sherwood Forest into foxes, bears, lions and such.
7. It’s already riffed the whole entertainment industry
The talents behind the film knew they could build a little anticipation by riffing on one hot topic of conversation in the weeks leading up to its U.S. release, so they worked up a few mock posters and promotions for several Oscar nominees: Bridge of Sloths, The Hibernant, Mr. Big Short, Mad Yax, Ex Yakina, Cinderelephant.
But with less fanfare, the producers had already released a “Zoo Year’s Eve” with similarly “animal-filtered” versions of 2015’s most talked-about movies, singles, travel destinations, and entertainers. The best reference? Probably “Miss Piggy” in the entertainers list. The most unsettling? Definitely “Fifty Shades of Prey.”
6. It’s more grown-up than you think
This will come as less of a surprise to those who’ve actually seen the movie, but there’s more going on here than the big-hearted colorful fun you see in the trailers. Zootopia is definitely fun, but it also does what ambitious fantasy does best – use a drastically altered world to get a better look at our own.
Zootopian society is divided by species to some degree, and even though nobody eats anybody else anymore, predator and prey species are particularly prone to sticking together. That’s a problem for Officer Judy Hopps, the first bunny to join the police force, and a bigger problem for Nick once an incident sets off a wave of “racial” (special?) profiling.
5. It’s hairier than Tangled
CGI continues to take great leaps forward in Zootopia. One giraffe in this movie has 9 million CGI hairs on his body. That’s more hairs than rendered in all the characters of the last three Disney animated features. Even Rapunzel’s hair in Tangled was only made up of 100,000 to 200,000, but it still demanded the attention of 20 animators and 10 software engineers just to get it to behave.
Admittedly, no one in Zootopia has fur quite as prominent as Rapunzel’s hair was for most of the movie, but almost all the characters are covered in millions of tiny hairs and they all have to be convincing on their own terms.
4. Canadians will find one character eerily familiar
Peter Mansbridge, Canada’s rightly celebrated chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National, gets to more or less play himself as Peter Moosebridge, a co-anchor of Zootopia’s ZTV News. “I leapt at the chance” to cameo, Mansbridge said, “and the CBC did too. Why did I want to do it? Well, I didn’t want to do it for me, I wanted to do it really for my kids and grandkids.”
Because when you’re seven, you don’t care if Granddad met Bill Clinton, but you care a lot if his voice was in your new favorite movie. However, in some foreign versions of the film, Moosebridge gets a species change: Brazilians will see a jaguar, Japanese a tanuki, Australians a koala and Chinese people a panda.
3. Its marketing may have a “furry underbelly”
Like many fan communities, the furry community has a range of intensity. Some of them just enjoy pictures of Robin Hood and Nick Wilde enough to collect them. Others have a more libidinous interest. Disney has generally had no interest in acknowledging such a community, as doing so might tarnish its clean, wholesome image. But Katie Notopolous of Buzzfeed has uncovered some correspondence that seems like pretty conclusive evidence that Zootopia‘s marketers have been reaching out to that community a bit (inviting people to send selfies in costume).
2. Shakira asked to be curvier
Shakira jumped at the chance to play Zootopian pop star Gazelle, loving the character’s strong opinions and sense of responsibility. Even though the character’s name appears to be a riff on Adele, the animators took a lot of cues from Shakira’s mannerisms and dance numbers when building her up.
But the “Hips Don’t Lie” chanteuse had one big request after seeing early designs: hips. “She was a little too skinny for me, so I asked them to give her bigger hips. I said, ‘Come on, guys. Give her some meat!’ And they did.” You can see the results for yourself in her showstopping dance number.
1. It’s the longest cartoon story Disney has ever told
At 108 minutes, Zootopia is the second longest Disney animated film ever. Only its first collection of largely plotless, classical-music-themed shorts, Fantasia, is longer, at 126 minutes. That length is a sign of ambition: Zootopia seems to be more or less the right size for the breathless story it’s telling and the rich world it’s developing.
Animated Disney movies have, in general, gotten longer over time: while 2011’s Winnie the Pooh was a mere 63 minutes, the last few have also pushed old boundaries upward slightly: Wreck-It Ralph was 101 minutes and Frozen and Big Hero 6 were both 102.
Is there anything else that fan’s of Disney films should know about Zootopia? Let us know in the comments!
Zootopia is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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