The untold truth of Zootopia

The animated hit Zootopia won a boatload of awards and critical acclaim, and for good reason—the movie was positively great. But that doesn't mean it was an easy path to success: from creative shake-ups late in the game, to a few (shall we say) interesting moves during the marketing campaign, here's the untold truth of Disney's Zootopia.

​An early draft focused on Zootopia's seedy underbelly

The world of Zootopia wasn't always quite so cheery. Geeks of Doom reports that an early draft of the script cast the city as "broken," with a veneer of utopia but with a "dystopia underneath." The problem? The world of Zootopia didn't really feel like a place a person would actually want to visit, and the studio worried viewers wouldn't connect to the city if it wasn't a place they fell in love with. They backed off that approach, which led to the vibrant and gorgeous Zootopia fans know and love.

​Disney secretly marketed the flick to 'furries'

Though Disney films are typically fairly G-rated, Disney took a very sneaky route to promote Zootopia to a very specific subculture: furries. Buzzfeed broke the story that a marketing firm contracted by the Mouse House to promote the film was reaching out to furries fan groups (basically, people who dress up as furry animals, use them as avatars online, etc.) to encourage them to tweet and share their own photos using film-specific hashtags. Disney never actually acknowledged the play, but the paper trail definitely seemed to lead back there. Regardless, the film was a monster hit. So, umm, maybe it worked.

​Kristen Bell landed her cameo thanks to Ellen and a sloth obsession

Actress Kristen Bell is a bit on the quirky side, and one of her greatest obsessions is apparently adorable little sloths. This obsession came to a head when her husband, Dax Shepard, surprised her with a sloth at her birthday party. Bell was so excited that she had a complete emotional meltdown—like, for real. She recounted the story on The Ellen Show—complete with footage from her freakout—and it became a viral sensation. It was such a big deal that word got back to the Zootopia team, and they reached out to have Bell voice the female sloth Priscilla.

​The movie was originally about Nick

The story at the heart of Zootopia is fairly unique for a Disney flick, and there's a reason for that—it changed a lot during the latter part of production. Instead of telling the story from the perspective of do-gooder Judy Hopps (Gennifer Goodwin), the original story largely took place from viewpoint of the wily fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Director Byron Howard explained to Coming Soon that the story took a "huge shift" midstream, because it was hard to like Nick. Also, by introducing Nick as a liar from the start, it made Judy seem dumb for falling for his wiles. "[S]he leads you through the story, you have to kind of fall for Nick at the same time she does," Howard pointed out. "We couldn't play Nick too knowing there. We didn't want to make it too obvious that he's scamming her."

​The newscaster was different depending on your country

For the most part, Zootopia was pretty much the same film no matter which country or market you watched it in. But there was one subtle change between the various release markets: The animal newscaster. Disney tailored the character to animals that were popular and a good fit for each country. In the U.S. and Canada, we saw a moose; in Japan it was a tanuki; in Australia it was a koala; in China it was a panda; in the U.K. it was a corgi; and in Brazil it was a jaguar.

Shakira demanded her character be curvier

This is a Disney movie, after all, so of course it had to feature a catchy musical number. That task fell to real-life singer Shakira, who voiced the animal pop star Gazelle. But, Shakira also had a bit of say when it came to her character's look. The early drawings of Gazelle were apparently very skinny, so Shakira asked the designers to give her character some curves: "'Put some meat on the bones, you know? Poor girl, she needs some hips,'" she recalled telling the animators. "So they took my suggestion and they made her definitely curvier."

​It's Disney's longest movie (aside from Fantasia)

Movies seem to be getting longer and longer all the time, and not even Disney can escape the trend. Zootopia marked the company's longest animated film ever (for the most part), clocking in at 108 minutes, with only Fantasia longer at 126 minutes. Of course, Fantasia isn't exactly your typical Disney movie, so it sort of stands in a category on its own, leaving Zootopia the longest traditional animated narrative to come out of the Mouse House.

​Nick's middle name is an homage to Capt. Kirk

The protagonist Nick's full name is Nicholas P. Wilde, but what the heck does the "P" stand for? Director Byron Howard revealed Nick's middle name is officially "Piberius," which is a subtle nod to Capt. James Tiberius Kirk's middle name. Now that you mention it, Nick does have a bit of that roguish charm.

​They hired a famous designer to create the unique cars

The team behind this film took their world-building responsibilities seriously, to the point of bringing in automotive design legend J Mays (the New Beetle, Ford Mustang, etc.) to help develop the concepts for the different designs that all these various animal species might drive. What would a giraffe's car look like? Or a hippo's SUV? Those were the questions put to Mays, and he provided his expertise to bring that additional bit of detail and insight. "The design essentially becomes one of scale, it becomes cultural backdrop, since each of these animals lives in a different part of Zootopia," said Mays. "Then, there's purpose: what are the animals using these vehicles for?"

​Every single animal is correctly scaled to its appropriate size

The design team used economy of scale to excellent effect for some amazing action set pieces, but even more went into those scenes than most may have realized. Every single animal represented in Zootopia is made to scale, meaning the rabbits match up just like they should when standing beside a lion, and a giraffe really is that much bigger than a fox. That design work even makes itself into the world itself, with different areas and buildings designed for specific types of animals.

​Its approach to social issues inspired a bit of a backlash

Once you get past the zaniness of animals living in a city, Zootopia tells a very poignant story about racial messaging, nature over nurture, and the way we as humans (or animals) judge others. But that high-minded approach to a kid's movie didn't sit well with everyone: it inspired a bit of a backlash once the film became a major hit, with some pundits calling it a "muddled mess" and other reports poking fun at the backlash itself.

​It dropped some slick Disney easter eggs

A Disney movie about a world of walking, talking animals is a veritable playground for Easter eggs, and this one took full advantage. Just to name a few: The calendar hanging on the wall in Chief Bogo's office features a shot of San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6; there's a Mickey Mouse plush hidden in the bottom of Nick's baby stroller; two young kids are ice skating in Frozen outfits; and several Disney flicks (Tangled, Big Hero 6, Wreck-It-Ralph) get the spoof treatment on DVD cases.