Zootopia is now finally in theaters and the reviews are leaning on the extremely positive side. It's an incredible feat for Walt Disney Animation Studios and their 55th animated feature because Zootopia could have been very different. It's evolved quite a bit through its years of development, which included 18 months of research on animals.
I sat down for a video conference interview with star Ginnifer Goodwin who voices Zootopia's protagonist Judy Hopps at the fitting location of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Judy enters the fold as Zootopia's first ever bunny rabbit police officer and Goodwin reveals that she had been recording for the role for a few years, and that Judy wasn't originally the audience's entry point into the film's mammal metropolis. We also talk about realizing the toughest scene of the film and what she hopes to see from Zootopia 2.
First of all, I want to say congratulations. Your performance as Judy had me tear up not once, but twice. So thank you for that.
Ginnifer Goodwin: I’m sorry to make you cry, but awesome!
Yeah, in front of my wife, too. So that was awesome.
Ginnifer Goodwin: [laughs] Yes!
But in all seriousness, this film, I loved it. I think it’s very special. It does a very important things, I think, in how it touches certain themes, and also how it touches on those with very relatable, likeable characters. And Judy is very much like that. She’s good-natured. She’s optimistic. But she also makes a very big mistake. And in that moment in the film it takes kind of a dark turn. It’s a shocking moment. I wanted to get your reaction to the first time you read that moment in the script and your reaction to reading the script as a whole.
Ginnifer Goodwin: When I filmed the scene, I didn’t quite understand. The truth is I didn’t quite understand its impact. It’s like I understood theoretically what it was that she…the effect that it could have on their world, because I knew what it said in black and white. I knew what was explained to me. And I definitely felt its impact on her relationship with Nick. So when she goes back to Nick to address the problem and takes responsibility for it, I was…I mean it was a really hard scene to record. For me, selfishly, self-indulgently, it was a really emotional experience. But seeing the movie, it surprised me so much what they did with, frankly, just animation and music to tell the story of the mistake that she made. I feel like it’s less something that I even, as an actor, contributed to. It’s more the story that they were able to tell visually. I was really surprised. And it really punched me in the gut.
When voicing these very upbeat, witty scenes, or maybe these emotional dialogue scenes, how important is it to have a costar in the sound booth with you so you can deliver that?
Ginnifer Goodwin: I would have thought that it would be vital because I have never acted any other way before. I’ve done a little bit of voiceover animation before, which I feel like was all sort of boot camp for this experience. I recorded Zootopia for more than a couple years.
But the truth is usually we’re kept separate from our costars. And I got to work with Jason several times. And the truth is I think I wasted a lot of everybody’s time because I laughed so hard at everything that he did, even sometimes over his lines and ruined his recordings. But I always had two directors and a writer in the booth with me and they are all great actors.
So I think a lot of the dynamic between Judy and the other characters that is onscreen is actually just what was happening…it really is the dynamic between the directors and that writer and me, because we just had that much fun and really tried to go as far as we could in all of those scenes. So I did have like sparring partner, as it were.
How was Judy the character pitched to you? And did the story change much since when you first joined?
Ginnifer Goodwin: It did. It changed a lot. Or I shouldn’t say the story changed. I should say that the situations that tell the story changed. Zootopia was a very…not very different. I shouldn’t say that either; it’s an exaggeration. But was a different kind of place. It was a much more black and white, bleak world.
Also, the story was told through Nick’s eyes for the first year and a half that I was recording. So it was more his hustler world than it was her optimistic world changing world. And so, those changes did…I mean it’s not that we had to start over, start over as actors as much as everybody else had to start over, start over, because a lot of the dynamic between the characters was still very similar, so we were able to save a lot of the scenes that we originally had recorded, and they just fell sort of seamlessly into this new situation.
My last question: If we have a chance to revisit Zootopia in a sequel, what would you like to see Judy do next?
Ginnifer Goodwin: I feel like there must be further to go because she and Nick specifically went so far the first time. Maybe I’d like to see them switch places a little bit. I’d love for Nick to have to be the one to convince Judy that the world is worth fighting for.
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighbourhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.
Directed by Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, The Simpsons), co-directed by Jared Bush (Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero), and produced by Clark Spencer (Wreck-It Ralph), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ comedy-adventure Zootopia opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.