Just when it seemed like animated movies were done surprising audiences, Disney’s Zootopia arrived to blow the doors off of Disney’s opening weekend numbers, proving how hard it is to judge an animated book by its cover. But most audiences will never know about the work that goes into these films months, or even years ahead of time.
To help solve that problem, we’re back with another rapid-fire dose of movie trivia, giving a peek behind the scenes of some of Hollywood’s biggest animated hits in the latest installment of Know Your Movies: 20 Awesome Facts About Animated Movies.
Zootopia – Emmet Otterton
The movie begins when Emmet Otterton is reported missing, but most viewers are too young to realize that the writers are quietly concluding the story of the star of “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,” a children’s book published in 1977, and adapted into a TV special with help from Jim Henson.
Frozen star Kristen Bell only appears for a single scene, but her cameo as a sloth working Zootopia‘s DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) is probably one of her favorite roles to date, since the actress’ crippling love of the slow-moving mammals is well-documented – she even owns one.
As a young police officer out to prove her skills, Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) does her namesake proud. The inspiration is obviously Officer Judy Hoffs, Holly Robinson’s character on 21 Jump Street, the late ’80s TV show following an entire cast of fresh-faced young cops.
Tangled – The Sort-Of Sequel?
The first CG fairy tale from Disney was a massive hit, but it actually began as a sort-of sequel to Enchanted, a movie about a cartoon Disney princess thrown into the real world.
Rapunzel would have been turned into a squirrel just like Enchanted‘s Pip, with a girl from the real world being thrown into her place in the animated one. Thankfully, some changes were made.
Big Hero 6 – San Fransokyo
Most fans won’t realize that Big Hero 6 isn’t just set in a futuristic city, but an alternate future dreamed up by the writers. In the movie’s version of history, the 1906 earthquake that destroyed 80% of San Francisco was rebuilt by Japanese immigrants, explaining the architecture, and the new name: San Fransokyo.
The robot hero of the movie, Baymax, manages to emote even with an expressionless face. But his look actually comes from the Japanese bell known as suzu – the same bell that the Pokemon Chingling is inspired by.
The Little Mermaid – In Real Life
The movie, and Disney as a whole, owed most of its renaissance and success to one of its most lovable leading ladies: Ariel, The Little Mermaid. But most fans don’t know that her quirks, ticks, or endearing personality came from copying actual scenes performed by Sherri Lynn Stoner, whose natural improvisations wound up being etched in Disney stone.
The Lion King
The name of the movie seems pretty straightforward, but its original title was actually “King of the Jungle.” Marketing materials and merchandise had even been made before the studio realized… lions don’t live in the jungle.
Since the movie was pitched to the screenwriter as “Bambi in Africa Meets Hamlet,” there as another working title, too: “Bamlet,” for short.
Frozen – Bark Side Down!
The production team headed for Norway to do all their research before creating Frozen‘s kingdom of Arendelle – including some stranger local stories. You might just ignore the two subjects arguing over the right way to stack firewood, but it’s a nod to a real controversy that struck Norway in 2013. When a TV live feed of a fireplace received dozens of complaints that the wood was placed incorrectly, the complaints were evenly split between bark up, or down. Talk about an inside joke.
Kung Fu Panda – A Faithful Tale?
It’s fair to say that this martial arts movie turned out far better than most expected, and that’s mainly due to the years of research the team put into learning martial arts filmmaking, and Chinese history in general. The result was so respectful and accurate, the movie actually urged heads of Chinese cultural and government groups to try to find out why they hadn’t made something close to it themselves.
Wreck-It Ralph – A High Score Memorial
There are almost too many video game easter eggs to count in the movie, but one stands apart. Pay close attention to the Fix-It Felix arcade cabinet, and you’ll notice the high score of 120501 – or December 5th, 1901 – the birthday of Walt Disney himself. Who knew?
For all the video game companies that gave rights to Disney for this retro adventure, the makers of the Mortal Kombat series weren’t as willing. From the red eye, robot arm and tribal tattoos, fans may think they spot the classic character Kano in the Bad-Anon meeting, but he’s actually credited as “Cyborg” for legal reasons. Even though he still executes the fighter’s signature finishing move, tearing the heart from a nearby zombie.
How To Train Your Dragon – Feline Fury
Audiences didn’t know what to make of Toothless, the movie’s titular dragon, since he doesn’t fit the usual design of the flying fire-breathers. He was originally going to look more like a wolf, and closer to a traditional dragon – but when a team member’s screensaver of a black leopard popped up, the design was changed immediately.
A Pass From Pixar
It’s no surprise that Toothless looks more than a little like the alien star of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. But for all the movie’s fans, Pixar boss John Lasseter wasn’t among them. When he took the reins for Disney Animation as a whole, he let the directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois go. DreamWorks swooped in, landing the duo, and one of their most successful properties to date.
Despicable Me – Name That Villain
Against all odds, the reformed supervillain ‘Gru’ wound up becoming a household name for young fans of the movie. But the movie actually reveals, thanks to his adoption paperwork, that Gru is his last name – his first name is “Felonius.”
Considering how famous the character really is, and what a catchy name it is in total, Felonius Monk might have some competition in the pop culture conversation.
The language of the Minions might sound like gibberish, but the production team really did write out all the dialogue, translating each and every word into Minion-ese. Since the crew spanned the United States, France, Spain, and beyond, the blend of languages that seem to be spoken by the yellow goons makes perfect sense.
The LEGO Movie – Wondrous Whistling
Nobody predicted that this toy-turned movie would be as good as it was, but the people actually making it didn’t cut any corners. When it came time to record music for the movie’s Old West Land, composer Mark Mothersbaugh didn’t settle for just an homage to legendary director Ennio Morricone, but tracked down Alessandro Alessandroni, the man who delivered the famous whistling notes to record some for the movie.
There were a ton of jokes that only adults could appreciate, but one actually had to be cut from the original cut. Lord Business runs a tight operation, but one scene showed that a team of Scuba Cops was spending their time getting… romantic with mermaids instead of doing their job. It was one of the only things test audiences thought was a little too adult for kids, and was cut (along with… not much else).
Happy Feet – Famous Feathering
Everyone knows the story of Mumble, the penguin who couldn’t sing, but could dance like a regular Fred Astaire – literally. Plenty of Fred Astaire’s footwork was drawn upon for the motion capture dancing, but even Mumble’s design was tweaked to resemble the famous dancing actor. There’s the suggestion of a bowtie on Mumble’s neck, and even three black spots on his ankle to subconsciously pay homage to the spats worn in old Hollywood musicals.
The Iron Giant – The Musical?
It eventually became one criminally underrated sci-fi story, but The Iron Giant was almost a musical from The Who’s lead guitarist, Pete Townshend. Townsend had been working for years on an adaptation of the same novel upon which the movie was based, “The Iron Man,” planning a concept album to be released alongside it. His producing partner thought animation might be better, and successfully pitched the story to Warner Bros., with Townsend staying on to executive produce.
Those are the bits of trivia, easter eggs and behind-the-scenes secrets we found for some of our favorite animated films, but which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos like this one.