While talking with The Huffington Post, directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore revealed they were originally unsure about how successful a socially conscious animated movie would be when they started making “Zootopia” five years ago. They knew it could be controversial and “a little risky.”
Earning more than one billion dollars at the box office, and now a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards, the risk was obviously worth it. Howard said the fact that people got behind the social messages of the film is “terrific.”
“We had no idea that the United States or the world would be where it is today that long ago, but I think we were aware that bias and discrimination, unfortunately, are evergreen issues, like Rich says sometimes. And we really wanted the film to not be a preachy film, to not be a message movie so to speak, but to speak to hope because that’s really all that we have,” said Howard.
Howard also reflected on the worldwide Women’s Marches last weekend, saying they represented the “spirit of hope,” adding, “The fact that people can ban together like that and show support for one another to challenge really difficult issues makes me feel better about being a human being.”
Among the most memorable things from the marches were all the different protest signs people carried. With that in mind, what would Judy Hopps’ sign have said?
“I was just thinking [Judy] definitely would’ve been in a Women’s March if there was one going on in Zootopia,” Moore said. “I think it would say something to the effect of, ‘Not just a cute little bunny,’ or, ‘Don’t grab this bunny.’ I need to kind of beat it up a little bit, whatever it is. It would be super clever and animal-themed in some way. And now for the rest of the interview, I’m going to be thinking, ‘What would that sign say?’”
After much thought, the directors emailed HuffPost to reveal what Judy would have written on her sign. Without further ado ...
“Free Meowlania.” Judy Hopps' Women's March sign.
Meow that’s what we’re talking about.
During the interview, the directors even said they may bring Judy’s sign onstage if they win the Oscar, with Howard joking that they’d make it bunny-sized and bring a real bunny, too.
The pair continued chatting with HuffPost about “Zootopia,” saying it originally featured much more “overt racism.” They also discussed how a sequel would finally address the relationship between Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps.
(”Free Meowlania.” Lol. Nice one, Judy.)
How’d you find out about the Best Animated Feature nomination?
Rich Moore: I did the old fashion way. I turned on the TV. It was either that or watch it on my phone. It was like, “No, I’m going to watch the local news,” so I went to my ABC affiliate [ABC7’s George Pennacchio] ...
Byron Howard: [Laugh] That’s a good plug.
Moore: ... [the] entertainment guru, to kind of break the news, and I watched it on the big screen in the home. How did you watch it Byron?
Howard: I found out on my phone at around 5:30 a.m. I can’t remember who posted it first on the internet, but I heard that, then I told Rich and [publicist Amy Astley] that moments after that my local skunk blasted my house, so my house wreaks of skunk musk [for] the last two hours. I’ve been burning candles for two hours, but it’s in my mouth, and it’s making my eyes water, so Rich was saying the skunks are making sure that we know to put the skunk in the sequel.
[Laugh] I was gonna say. That’s perfect.
Moore: They are underrepresented. They weren’t represented. There were no skunks in “Zootopia.”
Howard: Message received, skunk.
Have you thought about what would be in a sequel?
Howard: If we do another one, it’s going to have to be at that same level. I don’t think we’ll ever be happy with a “Zootopia” film that doesn’t have something significant to say at its core. I think we’d love to see the world explored more because it’s so vast. We only got to show you a small fraction of what we designed for the film, and there’s so much that we didn’t put in the film because we didn’t have the room.
What weren’t you able to include, and what changed? I know there was a “Taming Party” scene that was cut?
Howard: That was a key one, the “Taming Party.” I was trying to figure out how to talk about this message of bias, and so as we figured it out, we made it be Judy’s story. Then we swung that around the other way. But all the other districts in the city: we had an Australian one called Outback Island, which was full of crazy creatures like platypus; we had a nocturnal district underneath the city. And it all was kind of catered to the story. Once we figured out it was Judy’s story and her journey, everything around it, including where we went with the characters, had to reflect on that.
Was there another character you were going to focus on?
Moore: Yeah, it used to focus more on Nick as a very oppressed citizen predator in the city of Zootopia. The city really wore its bias on its sleeves in that early version. From Frame 1, it was very obvious that this is a very broken city that discriminates against half of its citizens of predators.
Going that way, it really presented a world that was hard to relate to in a way. It didn’t feel like the bias that we experience in our world. It was a very dystopian place. We didn’t like the city at all. It didn’t feel like a place in the United States or in free countries around the world. It felt more like we were telling the story of South Africa during apartheid or something like that, and we said, “Well, this is supposed to be an examination of unconscious bias,” and it did feel like a heavy handed polemic about discrimination and racism. What we really wanted to tell was a story of how bias resides in everyone, that we all have a piece of that to some degree, no matter who we are.
So then you went with Judy?
Moore: We said, “Wouldn’t it be more artful to tell the story through the eyes of Judy, the more kind of Eagle Scout character, this wide-eyed, naive dreamer who wants to make the world a better place and who thinks bias is something from her parents generation?”
“They think that way, but not me. I’ve got it right. I’m not like that. I’m better than to look down and judge other people or other animals in my community,” in her case, and through going to the big city and uncovering this crime, and at the same time uncovering aspects of her character, she discovers, “Oh my God, this is something that’s in me. And because I tried to ignore it and think that I’m better than this, it’s flourished, and I’m hurting someone I loved because of it.” That way we were able to examine the topic as something that we can say is a journey for each of us as individuals to attack this.
Judy doesn’t cure racism in the movie, but she realizes it’s an inside job. The person she can address is herself ... It’s a big shift in story from very overt racism to how it sits with the individual instead.
Before you go, I don’t know if you’ve seen the fan fiction out there, but people are really into the idea of Judy and Nick. What can you say about their relationship?
Howard: We always say we’re really glad that people see that there’s chemistry there [Laugh].
Moore: We love the ‘shippers, the WildeHopps ‘shippers out there. They love the relationship between Judy and Nick, and some people like them platonic as friends. Byron and I always say, if we do a sequel, we’re gonna have to make a decision where that relationship goes, and half the fan base isn’t going to be happy whatever that decision is. There are very passionate fans who are like, “No, they’re just friends.” Then there are other ones that cannot wait to see them get together and have babies, whatever those look like.
Howard: I’d love to do the “Star Trek” reboot thing where we split off into a different universe, and we could do both.
Moore: [Laugh] We’re very aware of it. Where does it go? Where do we take this? How do we do what’s best for the fans and what’s best for the story and the characters? I don’t envy our job going forward.
So you haven’t made a decision yet?
Howard: We kind of like the tension. We like not knowing yet.
Oh, stop it, you two. Just kiss already and get over it.