Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Walt Disney World on an all-expenses paid trip, in exchange for my coverage of the #ZootopiaEvent, which included interviews with Disney Zootopia Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Oh, to be a Disney Director. All opinions are my own.
The greatest animated films of all time have one name in common – DISNEY.
It’s a legacy passed down from Walt Disney himself, who was a true innovator in the field of animation.
To be a Disney Director……
I imagine it’s a great responsibility. You may not know their names, but no doubt you are a fan of their work.
Let me introduce you to the two who directed Disney’s ZOOTOPIA, out in theaters this Friday, March 4th.
- Director Byron Howard – Director who has worked in some animation capacity for such Disney favorites as POCAHONTAS and MULAN, and more recently Co-Directed BOLT and one of my favorites, TANGLED.
- Director Rich Moore – Director best known for his work on THE SIMPSONS and more recently for directing Disney’s WRECK-IT RALPH.
It was Byron Howard who initially pitched the idea of “ZOOTOPIA” to John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios. Lasseter was immediately on board and I can only imagine being in that room, as it’s described that Lasseter picked Howard up off the floor!
This wasn’t going to be a movie about princesses or cars…….this was going back to Disney roots – ANIMALS!
When we sat down with the directors last week, Howard said, “We have a great legacy of these films. You know, Robin Hood was one of my favorites. His favorite was Wind In The Willows. Rich grew up on Jungle Book.”
I have to agree…….animal stories are some of the most cherished films in Disney’s vault. There’s DUMBO, which tugs at my heartstrings as a mama. Let’s not forget LADY and the TRAMP, BAMBI or LION KING. Animal stories are endearing and often teach lessons that are otherwise difficult to discuss. Having now seen the film, I can say ZOOTOPIA exceeds Disney’s standards (you’ll see my spoiler-free full review on Friday).
Photo courtesy of Louise at MomStart
To be a Disney Director…….
Disney Directors Get To Play
Both Howard and Moore admit, “yeah, we’re kinda children inside”. I guess that’s why I admire them so much. There’s something about being a grown-up, living in this adult world with adult-sized problems, yet holding on to the creativity and imagination of childhood.
I think one of the best parts about their career – they get to play, all in the name of RESEARCH!
After we pitched the idea of the movie, what we start with is research. And the fact that this company (Disney) has this amazing animal preserve, which is — honestly, it is the best in the world. If you look at the animals, they’re in herds. They’re moving around these amazing environments that feel like real African environments and Asian environments.
Can you imagine heading to Walt Disney World for research? That’s exactly what Howard and Moore did to take advantage of Disney’s expertise when it comes to animals – real animals. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is home to some of the world’s leading wildlife conservationists, animal care experts and educators.
The directors took advantage of this expertise and had the time of their lives while at it, which included taking part in a coveted Disney experience, the WILD AFRICA TREK, a 3-hour adventure behind the scenes where you are harnessed at times while crossing rope bridges – CROCS underneath! Ha!
Disney Directors Get to Travel
But the fun didn’t stop there at Disney World. Howard and Moore soon found themselves headed to another continent.
We went back to LA and told John Lassiter about our findings here. And he said, that’s amazing. But the next step you guys gotta do is actually go to real Africa and, you know — and we’re like, Africa? And he’s like, Africa. And he sent us.
Africa was a life changing experience for us all. I think all of us came back honestly changed. We’re very fortunate with these jobs because they send us on terrific places all over Asia and Europe and South America. But Africa, for me, I had never been any place that kinda changed you down to your core.
Because you’re stepping into an environment that has been the same for 40,000 years. And I’d only been to zoos where I’d seen like two zebra at a time. And then just 30 feet away from us were 200 zebra. Or 50,000 wildebeest. 100,000 wildebeest. And being as close to lions as we are to you guys in the front row.
And just to see nature, like full on nature right there, it really made us feel like if we’re gonna do this movie, we’re gonna do it right. And we came home just full of all this information and this great passion for what we’re gonna create with ZOOTOPIA. And I think that’s why the crew dug in so much. We geeked out on all this stuff. And it came across in the film because all our crew cared so much.
Disney Directors Get to Be on the Cutting Edge of Animation
Like Walt Disney preceeding them, modern-day Disney directors are on the cutting edge of animation. I’d never really thought about how technological advances affect the details in a film……until this conversation with Howard and Moore.
ZOOTOPIA couldn’t have been animated like this a decade ago. They couldn’t have had the details on the animals like they do – the amazing fur and claws,
I was incredibly surprised when they told is that this is the “first time we’ve had the technology and just the computer power to actually groom them as they are in the wild”.
There was even a point when with BOLT, where they said, please don’t have the characters touch each other. That would be the worst thing you could possibly do for us as your technological leads. This is very hard to do this. So, don’t do that.
We don’t like touching. We don’t like touching. Makes us nervous,
As Howard expains, “If you look at ZOOTOPIA, it’s a very touchy movie”. That’s one reason ZOOTOPIA is set apart from the rest.
Disney Directors Get to Impact the World
The impact of Disney movies on the lives of children is clear. I’ve seen this personally as my daughter’s life was changed with INSIDE OUT.
ZOOTOPIA is one of those movies that can start a conversation in your family as there are so many issues weaved into the story – issues like racism, bullying, diversity, tolerance, and acceptance.
During our interview, a question was asked, “How do you tell that story so that it resonates with kids of all ages?”.
Rich Moore explained it well….
It was very important to us that this wasn’t just an adult movie. That it was playing on some kinda lofty level that a child would be like, I’m not getting this at all. I don’t relate to it. And it was important to us that Judy’s kind of journey was, and her as a character, a child could relate to her.
That’s why if this is a story about discrimination and being put in a box by other people, then Judy has to have a moment where that happened to her. And that’s why we chose that it was at the hands of a bully when she was young. You know, as a little girl. And a little bunny.
Because, unfortunately, I think that adults and children can relate to those moments. And I say, unfortunately – I think that all of us have had those moments. Some more than others. But it’s relatable. So, that’s why we chose to have that happen to her as a child.
Though Disney is impacting the world, they are also making us laugh……and laugh we do throughout ZOOTOPIA.
Photo courtesy of Louise at MomStart
So grateful to these Disney directors for spending time with us.
Now, let’s take a sneak peek at ZOOTOPIA….
ZOOTOPIA opens in theatres everywhere on March 4th!
Be sure to check out my other posts from the ZOOTOPIA Event:
My friend Shannon got to interview one of the ZOOTOPIA Animators! Check out her interview here!
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