The great thing about composer Michael Giacchino is that he can go from melancholy to high-octane action as a natural progression. But for his first Disney animated feature, “Zootopia,” he got particularly percussive with an array of exotic sounds, perfect for this timely buddy comedy about diversity and inclusion that has already become an instant global hit.
“The general expectation about animated films is that they’re just bouncy, fun, but what really hit me the most after seeing [‘Zootopia’] was that idea of disillusionment and bias and disappointment, both in yourself and in the world around you,” Giacchino reflected. “And what do you do in order to make things better?”
“Zootopia” pits newbie bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) with sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve a disappearance that could tear the metropolis apart, where predator and prey have co-existed in such accommodating zones as Sahara Square, Tundra Town, Little Rodentia, Rainforest District and Bunny Burroughs.
“He’s got the biggest percussion section he’s ever worked with before with exotic instruments like onglongs and gamelans, African drunms and South American drums,” said director Byron Howard.
“There’s a great retro vibe to it without trying too hard,” added director Rich Moore.
Giacchino likes to first write a suite that sums up his emotional response to a film. In the case of “Zootopia,” it was a melancholy piano piece about Judy that morphs into the meaning of the mammal metropolis.
“I like to write a piece of music that reflects how I felt about a film as opposed to here’s this action scene, here’s this set piece,” the composer continued. “I wasn’t sure what Byron and Rich were expecting, but to me it sounded a little somber and a little sad.”
When Nick and Judy are being chased in the jungle, you can hear the composer playing a very familiar sounding steel mixing bowl. Likewise, later on when he plays a ram’s horn as well.
“And Emil was responsible for so many of those sounds and would go around collecting things like mixing bowls and ram’s horns. If it made an interesting sound, he’d either steal it or buy it. And on the past film we had worked on, ‘Dawn,’ he had given me a mixing bowl and a ram’s horn that had been used on the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ as a gift,” he added. “So I used them on ‘Zootopia,’ which was the perfect combination of sounds and weirdness that we can throw in there.”