In February 2016, ‘Zootopia’ was released in theaters, directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, who would later make ‘Charm’, and Rich Moore (‘Wreck-It Ralph!’). It was a spectacular box office success, topping $1 billion worldwide, and took home the Oscar for best animated film the following year. Almost all critics agreed that the city populated by mammals was one of the settings with the greatest potential in recent Disney classics, but we have had to wait six years to return to the neighborhoods of Little Rodentia or La Madriguera. We do it with ‘Zootrópolis+’, a series of six short films starring some of the film’s most beloved supporting characters, such as the charismatic police officer Clawhauser, Judy Hopps’ parents or the great favorite: the lazy Flash.
But how does ‘Zootopia’ end up becoming a series? It all happened a year and a half ago, when Disney launched an ideas contest among all its employees: “It’s great, for anyone from the studio to submit their idea as a blind nomination. You think of a story, you pitch it, and a team assesses it” explains Josie Trinidad, director of ‘Zootrópolis+’, who worked as an animator on the original film (she was in charge of Flash, which she considers “highest moment of his career”) and was also part of the narrative team. He was looking forward to working on the streets of Zootopia again, so he was overjoyed when one of the submissions that made it to the final stages of the selection process was Trent Correy: “He was the one who thought that the stories were connected to the film, something that seemed brilliant to me, almost like a ‘Choose your own adventure’. All of that was Trent, who came up with about ten ideas for various shorts. We are left with the six episodes that we have done. It was also Trent’s idea for each episode to be a different genre, including action, romantic comedy, noir thriller and heist movie”.
Correy, whose biggest job at Disney to date had been directing Olaf’s short ‘Once Upon a Snowman’, came up with a very ambitious idea: introducing interactivity to Disney+. “The initial idea was that it was a ‘Choose your own adventure’, that you could see the movie and that these shorts were inserted and that you could press a button to follow the story of a character, but that limited us a bit narratively“ Explain. Although from the name it might seem that ‘Zootrópolis+’ would be made up of the contents that the animals of Zootrópolis would see on their favorite streaming platform, in reality it is about stories that are happening at the same time as Judy and Nick’s adventure. “On the movie we had quite a bit of just focusing on Judy and Nick. It was difficult to create the main story, as ‘Zootopia’ changed so much in the process. But it was full of great characters that you would want to see again. We knew we had a setting and some incredible characters because of the amount of material they gave us that we wanted to explore. Working on ‘Zootopia+’, everyone wanted to continue that journey, they kept making suggestions” says Josie Trinidad, and Trent Correy adds: “We talked a lot about meeting the characters again, but for me it was also an opportunity to explore other places more, like Little Rodentia, Mr. Big’s mansion or the traffic office. The world building is incredible and I wanted to go back. Also I worked on the short ‘Once Upon a Snowman,’ where we get a behind-the-scenes look at a major moment, and I took inspiration from that as well”.
With Judy and Nick living their adventure in the background, it was time to give prominence to the characters who only had a few scenes to shine. In the process of creating the chapters, Trent Correy and Josie Trinidad asked each week which characters from the film were the team’s favorites. “Every time it was different. It shows what Josie and the original film crew achieved” Correy says. Josie Trinidad explains that they decided to focus on the most important ones. Trent Correy explains to us that the inspiration for the chapters, in fact, he already had when he saw ‘Zootrópolis’: “I already had the titles of each chapter, the genre and the characters. Mr. Big and the episode of ‘The Godfather’ was obvious because you want to know its origin, that immigrant story style ‘The Godfather 2’. Who would not want to see Stu and Bonnie in an action short on a train, as we see Judy leaving on the train and it’s a perfect way to introduce us to Zootopia? The concepts came very early and very fast”. That’s not to say there weren’t casualties. Of the ten ideas that he presented, they decided to focus on six. “We explored a lot in the story room, trying to make each other laugh. We thought from The Flash jumping out of a plane to a sloth horror movie to a nature documentary. We also had a naturist cooking contest with Flash and Yax. A lot of ideas ended up scrapped and I think the best ones and the ones that made us laugh the most are the ones that ended up in the series” says Trent Correy.
He and Josie Trinidad were not only in charge of directing, but also of captaining the history department. Together they came up with a race against the clock starring Bonnie and Stu Hopps, a parody of the reality show ‘The Real Housewives‘ centered on the Godfather of Little Rodentia’s daughter and her bridesmaids, a short-form musical starring Duke Weaselton, a mob movie classic about Mr. Big’s past, Clawhauser and Police Chief Bogo, and the most express date that Flash and his girlfriend can have. Precisely the latter was the one that gave them the most problems: “Flash is one of the favorites. We love him very much and we want to support everything he does, but by design he is a bit slow. Creating a short with such a slow character was a challenge. It was hard to come up with something that was entertaining and fit the timing of a short“ explains Nathan Curtis. It was also a special chapter when it came to the technical section, because ‘Zootopia+’ was used as a testing ground for Walt Disney Animation Studios to make the transition to Presto, the animation software created by their colleagues at Pixar. “Funny tidbit: the new software is supposed to speed up animation and we use it to animate sloths. Slower characters with faster tool doesn’t make much sense” laughs Trent Correy. The software change was also used to update the models and virtual structures of the characters, which had been outdated in the six years since the film was released. It is not a minor project at all, but they had to do it remotely (we were still in the worst moments of the pandemic) and in the short space left by the productions of ‘Raya and the last dragon’ and ‘Encanto’. “We had a very small margin and we thought it was going to be hard for everyone, still stuck at home and with a lot of emotions, so we said: let’s have a good time. Let’s not put too much pressure“ Correy says. They did not have a scriptwriter, the episodes were created by Josie Trinidad and Trent Correy, selecting the ideas that made them laugh the most.
Artistically, the one they enjoyed the most was Duke’s musical number, which has an original song composed by Michael Giacchino alongside Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson. Correy wants to highlight in this case the enormous work of the producer to carry out seven such ambitious minutes: “I’m going to bring Nathan out a little bit. Nathan Curtis is a wonderful composer, and a great musician. A musical was a challenge for the length of a short. Nathan made sure we had a full orchestra and everything we needed. Nathan He knows what he’s doing and he worked really hard so we could have a musical number worthy of Disney, because we’re not Disney if we don’t have a musical.”. Curtis explains the intent behind the episode: to find out what’s going on in the head of Nick’s sneaky henchman: “It was crazy and so much fun to see how he thinks his world is compared to how other people see it”. Kate Anderson tells what was the inspiration behind ‘Big Time’, the song performed by Alan Tudyk: “You know it’s going to be a special day when you get an audio note from Michael Giacchino with the idea of a piano tune and the offer to turn it into a song. It was a lot of fun. We wanted Duke to be able to let loose, so we thought of a song inspired by Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, and fits the character”. Just as ‘Zootopia’ winks at ‘Breaking Bad’, this chapter has a certain inspiration in ‘Better Call Saul’: “Duke is a bit Saul Goodman. He has a similar personality, a part of him could do good, but he is always overtaken by that little voice inside that wants him to take advantage of the system”.
Watch out for Easter Eggs
Speaking of winks, the series is full of Easter Eggs that will invite us to watch it several times to catch them all. Trent Correy reveals one: “If you look closely, when we go to the wedding dress store in ‘The Real Rodents of Little Rodentia’, the store is the princess room from ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’. You can see princess dresses like Bella or Tiana but the size of Fru Fru“. Nathan Curtis adds that just in the animation section we may see certain connections with other studio films: “We were able to work with artists who worked on ‘Zootopia,’ and also ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet,’ ‘Charming,’ and many other movies. We were able to take advantage of not only the artists but we were also able to introduce Easter Eggs that, if you look closely, are borrowed from other projects and from other worlds like Zootopia that add fun things from an animation point of view”. The director hopes that the film will have a resurgence after the premiere of the series: “‘Zootopia+’ makes you want to see the movie all over again now that you’ve seen it from a different perspective”.
It’s been six years since we returned to Zootopia, but the ‘Zootopia+’ team hopes that we’ll be back soon for more adventures: “I’m such a fan of the world and the characters that I would always love to see more of it. What I like about the original movie is the themes it deals with, like discrimination and prejudice. Our series focuses more on the supporting characters and their lives.” . Josie always says that it’s like New York: you can knock on any door and you’ll always find a different and interesting character. As a fan of ‘Zootopia’, I would love to see more“. Josie Trinidad strongly agrees: “I think people ask for it, because it’s such a rich world, with so many environments and neighborhoods. Shanghai Disney Park is building a theme area and that’s very exciting! Let’s cross our fingers that there will be room for more stories in the Zootopia universe”. Definitely. That naturist cooking contest sounds like a ratings hit.
The six chapters of ‘Zootrópolis+’ are released on Disney+ on Wednesday, November 9.