Day 1 of Disney’s very own Comic-Con, the D23 EXPO, began in earnest with its John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer of Disney & Pixar Animation) hosted Disney Animation and Pixar Animation panel. After a sizzle reel featuring an impressive cut of Disney’s most salient properties, from Marvel, Star Wars, Disney Animation, Pixar, Pete’s Dragon, Beauty and the Beast, the Johnny Depp two-fer: the newest Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice Through the Looking Glass, and that upcoming Chris Pine Perfect Storm-like movie (The Finest Hours).
It’s a whopper of a reminder how many massive movies are coming from Disney in the years ahead, and how it can field its own stand alone convention. But the big stuff began with Disney Animation and their next film: Zootopia, arriving in theaters March 4, 2016.
The film comes from directors Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and producer Clark Spencer, and is a modern take on the kind of movie that Disney has always been known for: the talking animal flick.
The filmmaking team traveled not only to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom but to Kenya to research the project, seeking authenticity in bringing this animal world to life. Polar bears don’t have white hair, they have clear hair, and Zootopia will reflect that. The animators have spent painstaking hours figuring out how a camel and elephant would walk on two legs, and most importantly, how a tiger would dance, seen through the first of a deluge of test animations from Disney this afternoon.
Zootopia seeks to be a film set in a world designed by animals, with a land that is fragmented into separate neighborhoods: the frozen Tundra Town, the Rainforest District, the Bunny Burrows with its constantly changing population, and the glitzy Mumbai/Monte Carlo-like Sahara Square.
Zootopia‘s main character is Judy Hopps, the first bunny cop in the Zootopia Police Department, voiced by Disney stalwart (and self-professed addict) Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time). Most cops are strong animals like elephants or rhinos, so she’s left to parking ticket duties, but because of her relentless nature, becomes the best meter maid in Zootopia. She’s an optimistic, someone who believes “you can be anybody,” no matter what animal you are.
Her stark opposite comes in the form of Nick Wilde, a sly conman fox voiced by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), who believes “we are who we are.”
When Hopps becomes embroiled in a case involving a missing otter, her only lead is Nick Wilde, and the odd-couple pair are forced to investigate the disappearance together. It’s a family version of True Detective, people.
We were treated to delightful (an adjective that could be used to describe everything seen during this panel) two scenes from the film, one in which Nick Wilde cons Judy Hopps into buying him a jumbo popsicle from an elephant run ice cream shop that he uses to make a fortune selling to lemmings (who are all bankers). In the other, Nick brings Judy to the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) to look up the license plate of a car. To Hopps’ chagrin, all of the DMV workers are sloths, and the resulting scene featuring an impatient Hopps, a satisfied Wilde and an obliviously slowwwwwww sloth is evidence that Zootopia is another hit, because the hilariously timed scene is brilliant.
The other evidence is a taped segment featuring Shakira, singer of “Try Everything,” an original song found in Zootopia, written by Sia and songwriting duo Stargate. Shakira plays “Gazelle,” (above) Zootopia’s biggest pop star.
The song provides inspiration for Judy Hopps and (hopefully) the audience, proving that we can be whomever we want, no matter what animal (person) we are. “Try Everything” also doubles for my official motto for Disney and Pixar Animation after this panel, because everything looks…well, delightful.