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Directors Josie Trinidad And Trent Correy And Producer Nathan Curtis On The Making Of Zootopia+ - Exclusive Interview

"Zootopia" was a blockbuster hit for Disney, grossing over one billion dollars worldwide when it came out in 2016.

A computer-animated buddy-cop action-comedy, the film takes place in the titular city of Zootopia, where anthropomorphic animals coexist. Relegated to passing out parking tickets, rookie officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first bunny on the mammal metropolis' police force, is determined to prove herself by cracking her first case, even if it means teaming up with scam-artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Together, they set out to make Zootopia a safer place.

With a wide array of memorable secondary characters — from tiny but mighty crime boss Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) to pop star Gazelle (Shakira) to Judy's parents, Bonnie and Stu (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) — "Zootopia" was rife with storyline possibilities, which Disney has finally capitalized on with "Zootopia+," a six-part anthology that takes a deeper look at the lives of the creatures who live in the beastly big city. Co-directed by Josie Trinidad and Trent Correy and produced by Nathan Curtis, the series of shorts is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Trinidad, Correy, and Curtis opened up about what went into making "Zootopia+" and reflected on the funniest behind-the-scenes moments that took place while filming.

Bringing animals to life is a 'refreshing' change for Disney

Josie, you [helped write the story for] the original film and even voiced a character. Why was stepping up as director of "Zootopia+" a no-brainer for you?

Josie Trinidad: It was a no-brainer because I love the original movie — the characters, the world, the different neighborhoods. It's so rich and diverse that it makes you want to jump in and tell everyone's story. But I was also extremely scared. I found it incredibly daunting. Yet being partnered with Trent Correy — who is such a wonderful human being, so incredibly smart, and who came up with these brilliant ideas for the "Zootopia+" series — I knew I wasn't alone. It made everything so much easier.

Did you voice anyone?

Trinidad: Thankfully, no.

Trent Correy: She didn't voice anyone, but Josie does wonderful scratch. We built these shorts with her scratch voice. Josie's got the voice of a podcaster, and she's a great actress. She did wonderful stuff.

Trinidad: He's being too kind. Going off on a tangent, we cast Charlotte Nicdao as Sam the Otter for our "Dinner Rush" episode, and I made a horrible attempt at an Australian accent, and [executive producer] Jennifer Lee was laughing so hard. She was like, "Who is that doing the abysmal Australian accent?" So, to get Charlotte's voice in there, the way she elevated it, was incredible.

Trent, you also worked on the original "Zootopia" in a different capacity [as an animator] than [on] the series. What made this series fun to direct? Was there anything surprisingly challenging?

Correy: First of all, animating on the movie was a joy because, from an animator's point of view, we had done a lot of movies with humans leading up to "Zootopia," movies like "Big Hero Six" and "Frozen." So it was refreshing to do these animals on two feet in clothing. It's part of the Disney legacy, movies like "Robin Hood" [1973]. I got very excited about that and the design and the look of the movie. As an animator, there's the variety of one week you might be animating a mouse, the next week it could be a camel, the next week an elephant, and it all leads to doing research. You learn how those characters move. It was a very fun movie to work on.

Then, directing this series — I've been learning directing over the last couple of years, and every project is challenging for its own reason. You think you've got it, and then you get thrown for a loop on the next one. Like Josie mentioned, it's scary, but luckily I had great partners with both her and Nathan, and we worked with a wonderful team. If you don't know the answer, you say, "Hey, what do you think, Josie?" and you learn from each other. I tried to soak up every minute of it.

Zootopia+ looks at the city through 'a different lens'

Nathan, how were the characters that got their own "Zootopia+" storylines chosen, and how easy or hard was the decision?

Nathan Curtis: Trent, you should actually talk about this one, because this is the brainchild of Trent. I'll just quickly say, from a studio situation, the studio is the leadership here. They have this program where anyone in the studio can pitch ideas for projects. "Zootopia+" was a project that came out of that program, and Trent had the great idea of bringing all of these characters in these episodes to life.

Correy: Yeah, [it's all] thanks to that program. They said, "Take a look back in our 100 years of history and pitch anything you want." I had worked on "Zootopia" and thought, "What a great world." I remember being at the wrap party and thinking, "I want to spend more time here." So the idea to base it off "Zootopia" came right away. You realize how fun the characters are, and [you're] layering on the different puns, the titles, the genres on top of that. It's a fun world. There were probably a dozen ideas at one point, and they got narrowed down to the top six. I'm really happy with what we've got here.

I was kind of surprised Gazelle [voiced by Shakira] didn't get her own storyline. What was the reasoning behind that decision?

Correy: There might have been other ideas with her at some point, but we're lucky to have her in [the episode] "So You Think You Can Prance." She's a really important part of that episode, and I think the fans will love her in it.

What was the most exciting part of changing the scope of "Zootopia" from a feature film to a series of shorts? Are we getting an entirely different look at the city now that you can focus more on these smaller stories one at a time?

Curtis: These aren't smaller stories in my mind. These are a different lens of "Zootopia" through a different perspective, and that's something that Trent and Josie and the rest of the story team was trying to do, give insight. A lot of people in the outside world want to see more of "Zootopia." They also want to see more of Judy and Nick, but Trent was like, "Let's show the other side of 'Zootopia,'" so you are able to look at the secondary mammals and see what their life is. What does Mr. Big do on an everyday basis? What does Fru Fru do?

Trinidad: Not just the characters, but also the environments. In the movie, we have this great chase sequence with Judy and Duke going through Little Rodentia, and now we actually get to go there, where Fru Fru is picking out her wedding dress. We get to look inside those buildings and see a little deeper. It's a combination of those things for me.

The series was made during the height of the pandemic

Any funny or memorable moments you can share from filming that stand out?

Trinidad: Because we were working from home during a pandemic, Trent and I had never met each other in person. I'd seen him around at caricature shows and stuff, but it was fun to enter each other's spaces and to be in each other's living rooms, to see each other's families. It got to a point, which was pretty funny, where my son was always in the background in his underwear jumping around and being loud. And these two [Trent and Nathan] got so used to it. They didn't hear all the family noise anymore. 

It was nice to be invited into each other's lives. That made it really personal during a challenging time and evoke[d] that same feeling and camaraderie that is there in a story room or in a writer's room, when you start to talk to each other and tell personal stories. It feels so authentic to trust each other. That was a wonderful, magical experience during a very difficult time. I'm so grateful for this opportunity.

Correy: You took my answer, Josie. That's a really good one. Speaking from the craft side, there are so many day-to-day joys. I have so many great memories. It's hard to pick just one of being in the story room. We would draw something and hold it up, and it's a goat getting hit by a truck in "Duke: The Musical," or it's a little shrew in an ice cube. Just making each other laugh. 

Then also going to things like animation dailies, where you've storyboarded something and you have a vision for what that shot is. And the animator comes in, and it surprises you when they think of something that you've spent six months on and they bring something new to it. That's what Disney animation does best. We hire the best of the best, and everybody one-ups each other as the project goes through the pipeline.

Curtis: Josie and Trent touched upon it. The people here are what make up the studio. I will add, a personal favorite was Juilliard-trained Alan Tudyk singing as Duke Weaselton. That was a highlight, being able to watch him sing that. But all of the actors reprising their roles, that was something that was really, really fun to see.

Correy hopes the series stands the test of time

I interviewed Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake earlier, and they were hysterical about their on-screen kiss as Bonnie and Stu Hopps. Do you have any good perspectives on that?

Correy: It's a standout memory for me because, no joke, they could not even look each other in the eye. They had to look away and say the line. It was hilarious to watch. And I remember we kept pushing it: "Can you get a little more romantic?"

Trinidad: They became more and more squeamish. It was hilarious. They're brilliant together. The chemistry [and energy] that they brought together was so much fun. But in order to get that [romance], we had to record them separately. Oh my goodness, it was a highlight of my career.

During my seven-minute interview with them, about five minutes was spent on the kiss because they couldn't get over it.

Trinidad: Imagine four hours of these sessions with the two of them! They're hilarious, and they were so gracious and brilliant. They're wonderful. They're so giving and generous as actors that it was a dream come true to help direct them. What an honor. Really.

It seems like once you get your foot in the door at Disney — assuming they like your work — you're given a lot of opportunities, which seems true for all three of you. What's it like being part of such an iconic company?

Correy: There's a lot to say. Disney+ and the shorts program has created opportunity for people like me and others in the studio — Nathan and Josie, as well — to rise up and have the opportunity to make more things. The daunting thing is knowing that the thing you create is going to be on the shelf with 100 years of everything, from "Steamboat Willie" and "Snow White" to "Encanto" and "Strange World" and the upcoming "Wish." There's a bit of pressure that this needs to stand the test of time. But once you start making these things, everyone genuinely puts all their effort into it and is focused on making that vision come to life the best way they know how. There's no other place like Disney Animation.

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

This interview has been edited for clarity.