One of the more intriguing projects announced at the Disney D23 Expo event on Friday was Zootopia, from Tangled director Byron Howard and Wreck-It Ralph producer Clark Spencer. A buddy comedy set in a world entirely populated by animals, it’s a chase film and a conspiracy thriller starring a fox, a rabbit and an entire ecosphere of other creatures who can walk and talk, but aren’t simply anthropomorphic.
It’s certainly a promising idea, made all the more mysterious by being kept so under wraps until now. Howard is working this time with writer Jared Bush to bring the story of smooth criminal Nick Wilde (the fox) and copper Lt. Judy Hops (the rabbit) to life.
After the presentation, Howard talked about how the spark of the idea first came to him. “I think all of us have a strong connection with animals," he explained. "When Jared and I started working together on the movie that was one of the key things that we bonded over. We love this animal world. John Lasseter is all about research. He wants you to do not just the first thing that comes into your mind, the expected thing, but to really dig into this world and find out real facts about what you're putting on screen.
“So Jared and I undertook about 18 months' worth of research, really diving into the world, which fed the story. We knew we wanted to do a comedy, we knew we wanted it to be smart, and modern, and a world no-one has ever seen before.” Added Bush: “The research actually pushed the story, as opposed to the other way round. The way we attacked it was, 'Let's let the research tell us where to take the story', which led to interesting designs and the way our characters interact with each other.”
And don’t go thinking that these are simply animals with personalities grafted on. “Usually in animal movies, people just make them all human and give them human abilities,” said Howard, “but we wanted to bring the animal abilities into the movie. In the same way we pushed human animation in Tangled, we want to show an animal movie the way no-one has seen before. Animals in our world are beautiful and amazing and we wanted to capture that and tie it to what we are as humans.”
They did, however, admit to one issue when they were busy researching. “We watched a lot of David Attenborough,” said Howard, prompting Bush to add, “I watch his shows almost constantly.” “It’s sort of messed him up a little bit,” laughed Howard.
No voice casting has been announced for Zootopia, although it should be out in 2016.