While Disney’s “Zootopia,” which crossed the $1 billion dollar mark just in time for Tuesday’s Blu-ray/DVD release, definitely had a tough time finding its story, the animated feature eventually captured the diversity zeitgeist, turning racial stereotyping on its head.
Here’s what we learned from the Blu-ray bonus features:
Director Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and the animation team flew to Africa to study mammals up close, realizing that it was important to convey truth in scale. But what they discovered at a watering hole was a revelation: There was no aggression among species. “Everyone comes in,” Howard said. “Cities are where people congregate and everyone has to figure out how to get along.”
That became key in designing the form and function of Zootopia along with the notion of predator co-existing with prey. That is, until prejudice makes an ugly return. At first, “Zootopia” was too dark for its own good. That’s because con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) dragged the movie down as the cynical protagonist. You just didn’t care about the future of Zootopia.
But director Rich Moore and screenwriter Phil Johnston (“Wreck-It Ralph”) joined the team to help turn it around. Moore further emphasized how people are different, while Johnston flipped newbie bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as the protagonist. Now we invested in her dream and root for Zootopia to succeed, while also paving the way for the hilarious, sloth-stealing DMV scene.
There were some noteworthy characters that were deleted along the way, though, because they became excess baggage, including the Gerbil Jerks, who make life miserable for Nick; the Honey Badger who’s paranoid of sheep; a recurring Old Goat; the Razorbacks, an elite police force; and Mayor Swinton, a villainous swine that’s just too pig-headed.
And, finally, there were some deleted scenes that are instructive. In an alternate Jumbo Pop when the focus was on Nick, he took hustling to a new level. And in “The Taming Party,” Nick and Judy observe the horrifying ritual of a father polar bear bestowing a shock collar on his son. This allows Judy to understand the dark underbelly of Zootopia that needs to be eradicated.
But as much as it pained the directors to cut such an emotional scene, they found better moments of discovery for Judy, who falls prey to her own racial profiling.