EXCLUSIVE: Filmmakers, Cast Talk Appeal of ‘Zootopia’
ZOOTOPIA. (DVD Artwork). ©Walt Disney Studios.

ZOOTOPIA. (DVD Artwork). ©Walt Disney Studios.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—“Zootopia,” one of the most popular and financially successful films of the year, arrives Tuesday June 7  in a Blu-ray Combo Pack that includes the DVD and Digital HD formats, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere.

The Walt Disney Animation Studios’ comedy-adventure, released in theaters earlier this year, has broken box office records worldwide earning more than $1 billion in global receipts. With its timely themes of acceptance, equality and inclusion, it also is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, beloved by both critics and audiences.

Set in the innovative animal metropolis of “Zootopia,” the story revolves around a rookie rabbit officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and scam-artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who team up to solve a case of missing animals. Along the way, they are helped in their investigation from a variety of species from a tiny Arctic shrew to a slow-talking sloth. Viewers not only will be able to enjoy the vibrant world of Zootopia and reunite with their favorite onscreen characters, but also discover more about the evolution of the tale through several in-depth bonus offerings, including deleted scenes, story origins and more.

During a recent press day held at Disney’s Glendale, Calif., animation studios, the animated feature’s directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph”), along with two of the voice talent, Maurice LaMarche, who voices tiny but intimidating Mr. Big, and Raymond Persi, who voices the slow-talking sloth Flash, who help Judy and Nick with their investigation, spoke about their experiences on making the film.

Q: Maurice, you’ve done so many animated characters in your career. Did the filmmakers tell you what kind of voice they wanted you to do?

LaMarche: Rich Moore and I have known each other for 21 years. We met on a show called “The Critic,” where we did a whole bunch of movie parodies and involved a lot of clips of celebrities, so he knew what I could do in terms of my facility for mimicry. He called me up after we’d just finished work on “Wreck-It Ralph,” and he said, “Could you do a ‘Godfather’ thing?” And I said, “Yeah!” And he said, “You’ll be getting a call from your agent in a couple of days. So I came down here (to the Disney recording studio) and here was Big. I had read the script but I didn’t know what he’d look like. I knew he was this little tiny creature, which was a big reveal when I finally saw him on the night of the premiere.

Q: How did you come up for the voice of a crime-boss like Arctic shrew?

LaMarche: I just (he starts to do a Marlon Brando as the Godfather impression) “You come to me on the day my daughter’s getting married, unannounced. Oh, you disappoint me, Nicky.” Then, in the next session, they told me, “He’s an Arctic shrew. He’s only this big.” We kept infusing him with more and more humor. The most important thing we played is how much he loves his daughter. When she comes in, Big’s whole attitude softens, especially when (SPOILER ALERT) he discovers Judy Hopps saved his daughter’s life. They become best friends and he actually helps them crack the case.

Cracking the case is only part of the picture. Nobody sees the reveal coming—the actual solving of the crime. The story blossoms like a flower. There are messages for people and a great philosophy behind the film, a terrific mystery and hilarious characters. And the film is beautiful to look at.

Q: The whole idea behind “Zootopia” is a place you can go and be anything you want to be. Was there someone in your life that told you you could be whatever you want to be?

LaMarche: My father told me to follow my dreams and don’t let anyone tell me I can’t do something. My mother said, “Why don’t you try voiceover work,” and introduced me to a friend she knew named Nick Nichols. He told me to go to Los Angeles and be a stand up comic. It was exactly the message my mother didn’t want because she didn’t want me to get thrown to the wolves in Los Angeles. I packed up and six months later I was in L.A. Nick told me to give it my best shot. Shoot for the middle and if you don’t hit the target, you’re still in the game. With that, I came here and went for the gold. Originally, I was a comedian. I couldn’t break into voiceovers. One day I was at the Comedy Store (in Hollywood) and a voiceover agent from the William Morris Agency said, “You could do voiceovers with all the impressions you do.” I said, “OK.” And she started sending me out on auditions. I just went along for the ride. I kept doing my standup comedy, which was honing my sense of comedy. It was a year before I got my first voiceover job. Here we are 31 years later.

Q: Are there Mr. Big extras on the DVD?

LaMarche: I think the extras will show a little more of the making of Big. Those extras are phenomenal. I just got my advance copy and I can’t wait to watch it. There are Easter eggs throughout. There’s a whole other movie they planned and it took a turn and became what it is now. I can’t wait to crack it open and see all those special features. I love special features. If a DVD doesn’t have enough special features, I don’t do it.

Q: Byron and Rich, at what point did you think, “We’ve got a mega-hit!?”

Howard: When we were working on it, I don’t think we knew how it was going to go over. We had some moments when the film came out where the critics gave it great reviews. Now, how’s it going to do at the box office? And then, after opening weekend, we saw that people liked it, and the following weekend, we were like, “Oh, they really really like it.” China really surprised us. It was crazy how much that audience loved the film so much so that they actually extended it there. Usually, they only keep a movie (on screen) for a month and without us even soliciting them, they said, we’d like to keep it two more weeks.

Q: The DVD and Blu-ray have tons of extras. How do you decide what to include and not include?

Howard: They asked us on the deleted scenes, they asked us what we thought should be in there. We were surprised the deleted characters. There’s a bonus feature on the characters that didn’t make it into the movie for whatever reason. We talk about each one and how they figured into the story when we were making the movie. That’s kind of fun.

Moore: There’s a special segment about Easter eggs because the movie is full of Easter Eggs. Our crew snuck a bunch of stuff in there, hidden Mickey (Mouse), other film references and other stuff. Cory Loftis is our character designer and he’s a huge fan of “Roadhouse,” the Patrick Swayze movie. One of the evil sheep is wearing a t-shirt that is a play off one of the bars in “Roadhouse.” It’s so obscure.

Q: The idea behind the city of Zootopia is that it’s a place you can go and become anything you want to be. When you were young, who told you that you could be whatever you wanted to be?

Moore: I had a teacher in sixth grade that was very inspiring. She was an English teacher. She was all about economics. Every grade was going to be worth a certain amount and you’d build up this bank account. I was like, “I don’t get this.” I felt so left out of it. But she loved humor and the Marx Brothers and I’d write these stories and she’d say, “These stories are great.” I felt like there was finally someone in my corner. She’d tell me I could write stories for a living and encouraged me to illustrate them because I loved animation. She was so instrumental in encouraging me.

Q: Does she know she made that impact on you?

Moore: Yeah. I contacted her on Facebook a few years ago. She’s a really nice lady and a really good person.

Q: How about you, Byron?

Howard: My grandmother was always a huge supporter of my sister and me. She’s 100 years old now but still very supportive. As far as what I do now, I had some very good teachers. I had some very good science teachers and a good media teacher. They were very passionate about what they were doing. I was interested in science and physics. And then I was interested in filmmaking and this teacher gave me all these bootlegged movies. They were terrible quality but they were things like “The Outsiders” and “Citizen Kane.” We’d talk about film language and it made me want to be involved in it. I wanted to be an editor for a long time because of that. If you can find a good teacher that empowers you and recognizes that passion that it ignites in kids, then that’s great. We’ve seen on Twitter how many young people are fascinated by what we’re lucky enough to do and to be able to be in contact with them personally and for us to help them to get closer to their goal and encourage them is a great feeling.

Q: Raymond, you play Flash the sloth, who is the fastest worker at the DMV. Did it take some time to come up with Flash’s slow vocal style?

Persi: When they were developing the character, they hadn’t cast it yet. A lot of time, they’ll test it with people who work here at the studio and have them do “scratch” recording. In this case, they asked me to play a sloth. And I thought, well, sloths would speak really slowly. When I got into the recording booth, Rich Moore, the co-director, said he wanted Flash to speak normally but he just pauses between words. The first couple of times we did it, he was like, “Slower.” I kept going slower and slower to the point where if I stopped speaking long enough and it looked like Rich was about to burst out laughing I knew that was long enough, and then I finished the sentence.

Q: Being an animator as well as a voiceover actor, did that give you a better handle on the character?

Persi: What helps is a lot of animators have grown up watching the same things, whether it’s animated cartoons or films so there’s a quick language between us. We can pick up on the cadence of what someone else is doing. As a story artist, you’re drawing but you’re also an actor because you’re figuring out the emotion of the scene. You’re also kind of a writer because you’re trying to make the scenes better. When you’re pitching it, you also have to do the voices. So you learn how to come up with different characterizations for the characters, just to make your storytelling more interesting. Maybe that helps when it’s time to go in and do scratch recording or recording.

Q: Are there Flash extras on the Blu-ray or DVD?

Parsi: No. A little sloth goes a long way.

Q: The idea behind Zootopia is that you can be whatever you want to be. When did you know you were going to be able to do the job of your dreams?

Parsi: I’ve always wanted to be involved in animation. Ever since I was a little kid watching TV with my dad. We’d watch “Bugs Bunny” cartoons together. That really made me want to do this. What I found out is if you work really hard at what you want and you let people know what you’re excited about, people kind of come out of the woodwork and will help you. They’ll say, “Oh, I know this teacher that does this” or “I know this guy that’s looking for this.” I think those are the two main ingredients: work really hard it and let people know what you’re trying to do and that’ll help you get there.

Q: Have you gotten fan mail for Flash? Did you expect that he’d develop a worldwide fan base?

Parsi: It’s neat. When we had the wrap party, we all saw it together. And everyone was like, “This has a good message and it’s very timely.” So it’s been cool to see people’s reactions to it. All across the board, everybody likes it. So, yeah, people send letter saying, “It’s been fun hanging out with my nephews and hearing them try to imitate Flash.