Even though Annecy 2015 officially wrapped up last week, we still have a fair bit of news from the festival that we will cover over next few days. Today, we start with one of 2016’s most anticipated animated films.
As reported by Variety, directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore were there to present an exclusive first-look at Zootopia, a film that sees Disney returning to a particular sub-genre of animated film that they haven’t been to in quite a while: the talking-animal movie. According to one of the directors, the fact that Disney hasn’t done a talking-animal movie in some time was one of the driving forces for making the film: “I’ve been trying to get an animal movie made at Disney for a long time,” Howard said.
The talking-animal movie was one of the major animation tropes that John Lasseter had sworn off during the early days of Pixar (at a time when talking-animal movies were hitting their peak). While that particular sub-genre has fallen to the wayside in recent time (that could change in 2016, as I’ll explain later), it’s still something of a staple in animation, and other companies have had varying degrees of success with it. So one could assume that if Lasseter were to allow a talking-animal movie to be made under his watch, it would have to be a strong idea that would drive the story in a way that would feel unique from other films of its ilk. Thus, it would appear that Zootopia is one such film.
As seen in the first teaser, Zootopia takes place in an animal-based society with no humans in sight, yet it resembles our modern-day human society (with certain modifications). As common with big animated films like this, the filmmakers were sent off on a round of research trips. In particular, they went to their local wild-animal park and were even sent off to Kenya to observe zebras, cheetahs, and giraffes in an open environment. This allowed the filmmakers to study the natural movements and personalities of each animal and apply them to human-like attributes (like walking upright).
But for all the opportunities for humorous set-peices that would naturally arrive from the film’s setting, Zootopia does use its premise to address a very real-life topic: racial stereotyping and tolerance.
“One of the biggest problems in Zootopia is bias,” Moore explained. “Animals are quick to stereotype each other.”
Through the use of a melting-pot society of different animals, the filmmakers behind Zootopia hope to deliver a message about seeing past stereotypes.
For example, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives as the first bunny cop (in a police force filled with bigger animals like rhinos and buffalo). Adamant in her willingness to not give up her dream, she ultimately accepts work as a meter maid when she gets mixed up with a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Both characters have to put aside their prejudices with each other in order to solve a city-wide mystery involving a missing mammal.
No words were spilled on what the footage contained or how much of the film was finished, but Peter Debrunge (of Variety) did call the character designs of the film “a marked improvement over the Bratz-doll look of their recent human counterparts.” Those are his words, not mine.
Zootopia won’t be the only animated talking-animal feature to bow next year. In fact, 2016 will see something of a heavy swing back into that sub-genre (with films of many different types). Kung Fu Panda 3, Storks, Norm of the North, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, The Secret Life of Pets, The Nut Job 2, Ice Age 5, and Finding Dory are all films that feature all-animal settings or talking animals as lead protagonists. A good example of how certain trends in animation flow in and out.
Viewed in this context, Zootopia‘s exploration of inter-species societies and relations might not be a bad way of differentiating from the crowd.
What do you think? Any thoughts on what was presented in the article? Stay tuned for more news from this year’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival!
Edited by: Kelly Conley