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Bonnie Hunt And Don Lake On Why Their Characters' Kiss In Zootopia+ Had Them Laughing Hysterically - Exclusive Interview

As a creative duo, Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake go back almost 40 years, first meeting at the famed Second City improvisational theater before teaming up for several TV shows, including Hunt's short-lived "Life With Bonnie."

Outside of her own series — of which she's had three — Hunt has starred in such films as "Beethoven" and "Cheaper by the Dozen" and has voiced a slew of Disney and Pixar characters, including Sally Carrera in the "Cars" franchise and Dolly in two of the "Toy Story" movies.

Lake, meanwhile, has had a successful run appearing in Christopher Guest films, like "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show," as well as recently starring in the comedy series "Space Force."

In 2016, the two teamed up for an animated family film for the first time by appearing as Bonnie and Stu Hopps in Disney's blockbuster "Zootopia," which takes place in the titular city, where anthropomorphic animals coexist.

Six years later, in 2022, Hunt and Lake have reunited once again to bring the bunnies back to life in the animated spin-off series of shorts "Zootopia+," a six-part anthology that takes a deeper look at the lives of the creatures who live in the metropolis. (The series is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.)

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Hunt and Lake giggled their way through a conversation about the innocent on-screen kiss Bonnie and Stu share in "Zootopia+."

'We were like two sixth graders'

"Zootopia+" opens with a scene from the movie where Judy gets on the train to the big city. Was it fun to revisit that scene? Did it bring back memories of working on the original film?

Bonnie Hunt: It's a joy to be back together. I've been saying it's like summer camp, where you get to see everybody again and make some memories. [In our short,] we've become superhero parents, basically, as so many parents have to do almost on a daily basis — watching your kids, worrying about them, trying to protect them, trying to encourage them. And working with Don again is the best because he's my favorite person. It's been really fun.

Don Lake: I feel the same way about Bonnie. It was so tremendous for us to get to play Stu and Bonnie again and be this couple — we even had a romantic scene in this [when we kiss], which we've never, ever experienced before.

Hunt: Terrifying. We could not get through it! [Laughs] We were like two sixth graders. It was so uncomfortable for us. It was hilarious [because] it's not us. We've been together for so long creatively and as best buddies, but oh my god, Don, I can't even watch the scene without getting uncomfortable.

Lake: I know. Watching it was like, "Oh my gosh, we're going to kiss. We kissed. We just kissed!"

Hunt: It ain't right.

Filming animation is different than live action, and often all the voices are recorded separately. But since you two are so close in real life, did you rehearse together or record together? Not necessarily the kiss.

Hunt: Only the kiss. We rehearsed that kiss every day. [Laughs] No, we didn't. You know what? My sister-in-law, Andie, is here laughing so hard because Don is like family. We're laughing because Don and I have telepathy. We started on stage together and have worked in many films together, in television, and in voiceover. It's a sixth sense with us.

Lake: Nothing's planned. We're just so excited to get to the studio—

Hunt: To get to the kissing part! [Laughs]

Lake: And get to the kissing part. [Laughs]

Hunt: It's so wrong. We were like two little kids. Not that I don't want to kiss him, but you know what I mean.

Lake: We can't go down that road. [Laughs]

Their improvisational skills were put to good use

Bonnie, you've done a lot of voice work for Disney, from "Zootopia" to "Cars" to "Toy Story." What does animated voice work allow you to do that live-action TV and films don't?

Hunt: It's the best my body has ever looked in a film! And when I first started working with Pixar and Disney — I've done nine films with them — it was like this oasis that I so needed. I felt protected and safe, and I was doing something that I knew I could be proud of that would last for generations, something that has heart and humor and intelligence.

I always try to be selective, and those are the stories that I most want to be a part of — things that feel timeless and put some goodness in our hearts. My mom always used to say to me when I was writing something, "Be mindful of the energy you're putting into the world. It has a ripple effect." I think about that all the time now. I hope that she's in heaven proud of me that I can be a part of stories like this that stay with families.

Don, you've done a lot of work with Christopher Guest. Do you find many opportunities to capture that spirit of improv when you're in the vocal booth [for a project like "Zootopia+"]?

Lake: Yes, for sure. Absolutely. Bonnie and I — that's all we did, explore and heighten—

Hunt: And make out!

Lake: And make out, do a little improvising, then make out again. We're the only people who record in the studio in the dark. A lot of people don't do that, but we're completely blinds down.

Hunt: With lights off.

Lake: You try to bring that to everything you do, that same kind of feeling. But you have to be with talented people, people who get it and that you can play off. Bonnie and I have done that forever. We met at Second City, so we met onstage improvising, and you gain a trust. From the very first moment we improvised together, it was like, "This lady is different. This is wow." And now, we've known each other for so long and done so much stuff together.

Hunt: We both decided to leave the company at the same time with nothing else waiting for us.

Lake: Yeah, because [I] was like, "Bonnie's not there. There's no point in staying. I'm not going to stay. We're gone."

Hunt: I love that [you] would ask a question about that because improvisation is such a big part of what we can bring to a role as the storytellers. Like Don said, the talent is there to say, "Yeah, let's try it. Let's go."

Lake: Our experience has taught us that when you do improvise, you must remain true to the character and true to the story. A lot of people, when they improvise, they go off on these tangents, and it's like, "Guys, it's never going to be in the final product because you've got to keep moving the story forward and you've got to keep being true to the character because those are the consistent parts of it." That's the way we were taught and applied it, and always in the back of our head, we know that. That's what has allowed us the privilege of improvising for so long.

"Zootopia+" is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.

This interview has been edited for clarity.