How does Disney tell its ‘Zootopia’ message without getting preachy?

01.20.16 3 years ago

In “Zootopia,” bunny Judy Hopps journeys to the mammal metropolis literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: She”s ecstatic to leave her quaint suburb and follow her dream of becoming a police officer in the big city.

Soon Judy (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) finds that she”s the odd one out on the police force,  a squad of hardened buffalos, elephants, hippos and rhinos. Little animals don”t do dangerous police work – big ones do. So Judy”s relegated to meter maid duty.

Jason Batman”s fox character also finds himself facing Zootopia”s limited perception of his kind: Everyone knows foxes are sly tricksters not to be trusted, right?

With “Zootopia,” Disney takes on the issue of stereotypes. Co-director Rich Moore hopes the movie tells kids, “You ultimately define yourself, not the world.”

For story artist Marc Smith that message was part of what got him interested in joining the film.

“That was a big attraction,” Smith, father of a three-year-old and a five-year-old, told HitFix. “If we can get kids and their parents talking openly about bias in our world and how you can recognize that not just in others but in yourself, it opens so many doors.”

But there was also some finessing to do to keep the movie”s themes from gettting too didactic.

“We never want to preach in any of our entertainment. We like to take on an issue and examine it but not beat it over the audience”s head,” Moore told reporters on the Disney lot last fall.

Smith said that took some reeling in of the ideas of stereotype in story revisions.

“In early drafts, you overstate themes in the dialogue but then as you go along you realize, ‘Oh we can pull back. They don't have to say this. The filmmaking is doing its job,”” Smith said.

“Zootopia” opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.

More HitFix coverage of “Zootopia”:
Disney”s ‘Zootopia” went from spy movie to noir film
Disney”s character spoofing ‘The Godfather”: Here”s your first official look

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