Zootopia+ Cast and Filmmakers Share Stories
About Making Animated Shorts
“Zootopia+” is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest new series which is a collection of shorts that take place during the events of the first “Zootopia” feature. Each episode sees these characters at certain points of the film and how their lives have a larger impact on the film overall. Fru Fru, the fashion-forward arctic shrew; ZPD dispatcher Clawhauser, the sweet-toothed cheetah; and Flash, the smiling sloth who’s full of surprises.
ThatsItLA had the chance to participate in the “Zootopia+” virtual press conference earlier this week, where directors Josie Trinidad (Co-Head of Story, “Zootopia”; Head of Story, “Ralph Breaks the Internet”) and Trent Correy (Director, “Once Upon a Snowman” and “Drop”), and produced by Nathan Curtis talked about how the series went from pitch to full production. Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake, who voiced Bunny and Stu Hopps, Judy Hopps’ parents, also talked about what it was like to return to the menagerie world of Zootopia. And Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel shared their thoughts on making a musical number for Duke Weaselton.
5 – Pitching
Disney’s Zootopia+ was first conceptualized when Correy pitched the idea at the studio’s pitch program. As an animator on “Zootopia,” Correy worked on Flash, the infamous sloth who worked at the DMV. “I thought, what a rich world I want to go back to. There’s so all my favorite characters in Zootopia are Mr. Big, Duke Weaselton, Stu, and Bonnie Hopps, and so I just wanted to revisit the world,” Correy said. “So I just thought there’s got to be more to mine there. So Zootopia just seemed like the obvious choice for me, and I was so happy when it made the final rounds and turned into reality.”
Trinidad described “Zootopia+” as a series of “choose your own adventure” shorts woven into the film. She credits him with the idea after he had pitched ten shorts to the program. Shortly after that, it was narrowed down to six, each having its own themes, genres, and tones, from an action-comedy to musicals and reality TV to odes to Mafia movies. “We had help from our like story supervisor and our like production designers and layout and cinematography and that sort of thing,” she said. “They helped us kind of craft it together.”
“I knew Josie, head of story this is, before we were directing it together. And Josie just said, ‘Have fun push it, have fun,” Correy added. “Especially during COVID, right, just having fun with these bringing joy to the world, bringing a smile to faces. And so, I credit Josie.”
4 – Returning Cast
Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake reprise their roles as Bunny and Stu Hopps, the parents of Judy Hopps, the fiercely optimistic and bouncy new police officer of the Zootopia PD. While the two play a supporting role in helping Judy during troubled times, they get into their own chase when one of their youngest kids stows away on the same train Judy is on.
“It was so fun. When you’re working with talent, like Nathan, Josie, and Trent, you’re just so lucky because you know that you’ve got the safety net of a good story, good intentions, and quality of character,” Hunt said. “And I think every parent is an action hero. I don’t have any of my own children, but I have 15 nieces and nephews. And I’ve seen when the one-year-old gets too close to the top of the steps. I’ve seen my sisters turn into action heroes faster than they’ve ever moved and lifting things I thought they could ever live to push things out of the way. So I think all parents can relate to it when Molly gets on that train.”
“And it’s just it’s so fun,” Hunt added. “It’s fun to play something that’s, that’s intelligent and kind and full of humor. It’s really it’s a privilege.”
Lake, who has worked with Hunt, was glad to be a part of this series, especially if that meant working with his friend. “We’ve known each other for so long. We’re such dear friends that we kind of can finish each other sentences, or we certainly know that we’re going down this road, and we don’t have to say anything. We go down that road, and we just explore and have fun. And there’s a built-in relationship. That is so cool. I love that relationship,” he said. “It’s like Bonnie mentioned, with Trenton, Josie, and Nathan. You get in that room, and they give us the same green light all the time, have fun, explore, and then they’ll throw in little kernels. Have fun with this, you know, take a nibble of that, and then we’ll just run with it.”
3 – Writing Making The Big Time Musical
“Zootopia+” isn’t just a parody of various genres or reality TV. There’s also a musical number featuring Duke Weaselton making bail and singing about the big time. And since Disney Animation is also known for its musical numbers, Correy and Trinidad brought in “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure’s” Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel to write the song based on a melody idea composed by Academy Award-winner Michael Giacchino.
But one of the things that audiences might be surprised with is Anderson and Samel’s rock-out approach to the song, which Queen and David Bowie fans might appreciate.
“Yes, we have the privilege of co-writing the song “Big-Time” with Michael Giacchino. And I’ve got to say, when he called and said that there was this opportunity to write a musical number for the character Duke Weaselton, We were just so bowled over with joy,” Anderson said. “When we first started writing the song, Michael had sent us the first four chords, words, and a beautiful melody to begin the song. And it is a special day when you get a voice memo for Michael Giacchino with a melody idea, like a piano, saying, ‘let’s turn this into a song. What do you think?’ So it was just so much fun.”
“We wanted to able to rock out. So, we chose sort of a Queen-inspired genre, kind of leaning into David Bowie’s Starman style,” Anderson added. “And it’s, it really works for the character Duke. So that was fun coming up with music for that.”
“Trent and Josie came to us with no shortage of like amazing ideas of how to have Duke go on this crazy journey where he’s imagining what big time would mean for him,” Samsel said. “And of course, because he is this little small-time crook, we thought it was kind of funny that he would start sort of small time with his dreams, like, ‘I’ll be a used car salesman.’ And, you know, and of course, all along the way, he’s finding these ways to turn these careers into a little trickster, very Duke-esque.”
“It became this very, like Busby Berkeley-inspired thing within this Queen rock style. So, it’s just a blast,” Samsel added.
2 – The F Word
Considering how “Zootopia+” expands the world of “Zootopia” without having to be a sequel series by diving deeper into the lives of some of the most intriguing residents, including Fru Fru, the fashion-forward arctic shrew; ZPD dispatcher Clawhauser, the sweet-toothed cheetah; and Flash, the smiling sloth who’s full of surprises. Of course, the production team had to be all in on Correy’s pitch.
“Collaboration, I think, is a huge part of this environment,” Curtis said. “But I think, more importantly, it gives a lot of opportunity to people who may be in other parts of the studio, who may not have opportunities. So we did have a lot of new leaders on this project. Many returning from the original feature film, as both Trent and Josie know, were instilled with the bringing back of the original Zootopia.
“Trent and Josie went out of their way, and I’m gonna kind of reiterate a huge F word. Trent coined the F word, which is fun. And this series is all about having fun,” Curtis added. “And so, because of that, I think your friend Josie did just an incredible job of not only collaborating but actually empowering artists that are studio to really collaborate with each other to bring up new ideas.”
“I think you know what, what Bonnie and Dawn, and Kate and Elyssa were mentioning about the idea of fun wasn’t just at this level. It was throughout the entire studio,” Curtis said. “So just a lot of opportunity, a lot of just chances for the opportunity to have fun of playing around. Again, the series is just incredible.”
1 – Duke Weaselton Breaks Bad
“Zootopia+” certainly has a lot of fun playing around with various genres. And in Duke the Musical, we see how life could be so much sweeter if he made a few changes after being wrangled and arrested in a giant donut—compliments of Officer Judy Hopps. And as the clever criminal weasel reevaluates his life, he begins to ponder where he went wrong—in song. In a musical aptly staged in his own mind, Duke contemplates how to go from a small-time crook to the Big Time!
The trajectory of the musical bears some resemblance to “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” in which characters start to look at life in a new way. Tired of their old lives, they try something different.
“One of my favorite things was in the original movie, like a little wink at Breaking Bad. And I did say something that came up a lot when we were creating this story,” Samel said. “And the song was that Duke is sort of a Better Call Saul inspired guy. He’s definitely got a Saul-esque personality where there is a part of him that could do good, and that could be great. But it’s overpowered by this by this inner voice that wants to work the system.
All six episodes of “Zootopia+” are on Disney+ now.