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WATCH: ‘Imagining Zootopia’ Is A Fantastic 47-Minute Look At The Making Of Disney’s Latest Film

If The Sweatbox is the documentary that Disney doesn’t want you to see because it lays bare the dysfunction of the studio’s Nineties-era exec-driven filmmaking model, then Imagining Zootopia is the documentary that highlights the positive changes that John Lasseter has brought to Disney’s feature animation division over the last decade. The entire 47-minute piece can be viewed below and is well worth your time:

Filmmakers Natalie Osma and Kristofer Rios were granted access to the Zootopia crew over a two-year period, allowing them to document all the twists and turns of the filmmaking process. (While not an official Disney production, Fusion, the millennial-targeted digital network that produced this film, is half-owned by Disney, so it’s still a Disney-vetted product.)

Rather than attempting to catalogue every aspect of the production, Osma and Rios spend much of the documentary recording the ups and downs of the story’s evolution. This is an excellent choice because Zootopia’s story changed dramatically over the course of production: the story initially revolved around Nick rather than Judy, and the fragile peace between prey and predators existed only because the latter had to wear shock collars. Imagining Zootopia explores in-depth the evolution from those earlier versions to what appears in the finished film.

Zootopia, in the final analysis, deserves a lot of credit for being a family animated feature that strives to be about something…anything. It often does so in a ham-fisted manner that reveal the shortcomings of Lasseter’s storytelling-by-committee approach, but at least it tries, which is much more than can be said about other recent Disney efforts.

It’s up for debate whether the film’s box office success can be attributed to its ambitious story, or if it’s creditable to other factors, like tons of cute cartoon animals, but I’d like to believe that audiences have been attracted to the film, in part at least, because of the film’s earnest handling of social issues like bias and prejudice. Imagining Zootopia does a fine job of taking viewers deeper into the story development process and offering insights into exactly what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish.

  • Andrew

    The humor coming from the interactions between thoses appealing animals and the huge, unique world they built is the backbone of Zootopia success, then the character development and story.

  • greg manwaring

    Wow, to have that machine and money behind a project – it makes for magic and perfection!

  • jojo

    The unrelating trashing of Lasseter on this site starts to get tiresome.

    • Lurking_Grue

      At first I read your comment and was confused so I reread and caught the ” Lasseter’s storytelling-by-committee approach” bit.

      Seriously guys? Animation has always been a collaboration of a team.

      • It’s never about one vision by a single person it seems.

        • GoofyGotKilos

          “Never” is a bit of a stretch, maybe that’s true at Disney but there are plenty of animated films that were conceived by a single person. You always end up needing an army to realize it though.

      • AmidAmidi

        The storytelling-by-committee model in animation was invented during the golden age of Hollywood animation at studios like Disney and Warner Bros., and Lasseter’s model is a re-imagining of that concept on steroids.

        The model, however, is not at all representative of how animation directors in Europe and Asia generally work, either in feature or short form animation. Look at Miyazaki or Ocelot or Hosoda or Svankmajer or most anyone else. Their productions don’t involve dozens of people sitting around a table trying to concoct a story.

        • cannastop

          It would be nice if they could trust their directors and writers more.

          Still, it seems the committee came to the right decision to change the focus of the story. The first drafts seemed depressing and dull.

  • darliegoddess .

    I loved the final designs. It all felt connected.

  • I love watching Ed Catmull’s complete disinterest in the story meeting from 18:16 – 19:57. He looks like a schoolkid hearing a lecture he couldn’t care less about.

    Edit: Maybe he’s not disinterested. Maybe he’s just thinking about that whole wage-fixing scandal that he helped create. That’s gotta be stressful!

  • Pretty Polly

    This is really interesting! I love the focus on the story and their difficulties with it, and also appreciate the lack of fluffy interviews with the voice actors… I’ve been wondering how come they’re so open about this movie’s earlier versions and the rewrites, I don’t remember this kind of openness about Frozen for example.
    Anyway, I’m really curious about the older version now. The scenes from it are so heart wrenching, I wish there was a way to see the whole animatic or whatever they had pre-rewrite.

  • Skip

    Best movie so far this year in my book, really well done on all levels.
    At the very least it should be nominated for the best picture oscar.

  • Zootopia

    42:37 “…cause you know this world, it’s not easy to not be…to not be white”

    • life is easier for asians

      co-head of story, of a film that tackles the issues of prejudice and bias in society, goes on to make a racially biased statement. nice.

    • Disappointed

      That part hurt. :(

      Now I know how Nick felt when Judy said those things at the press conference. I think it’s not easy to do anything in this world, especially when you’re judged solely on your skin color.

      • cannastop

        It would be more comparable if Judy said “it’s hard being taken seriously when you belong to a small species.”

        Josie Trinidad didn’t say anything negative about white people. Get over it.

  • GoofyGotKilos

    Pretty telling how Lasseter talks about just wanting to make a movie with animals as opposed to having a great story and applying animals to it.

  • life is easier for asians

    “normal”? I don’t believe that the general American public views non-white races as “abnormal”. Don’t really know what you mean. I’d argue that America is a pretty open society. She’s a head of story at Disney…a living example of the many opportunities available to non-whites in our society. But she didn’t say “America” , she said in this “world”. Could a white person get the same kind of opportunity in Asia that she received here? There are plenty of animation studios there, right? Just to go a bit further, she’s making an assumption about an entire race of people, and how hard life is for them. Is she really able to asses such an internal aspect of other individuals? IS she psychic, or just making a biased statement based on her own predisposed opinions?

    • cannastop

      Your chosen username is ridiculous, and it really undermines whatever you’re trying to push.

      • life is easier for asians

        Yes, the name is ridiculous. And chosen to illustrate how ridiculous her statement was.

        • cannastop

          For once in your life, can you think?

          Consider what the consultant says at 23 minutes in. She says something along the lines of “If I go to school, and I see that all of the former presidents of the school are white and male, I’m learning about power.”

  • Tony

    Interesting how the story evolved. The idea of shock collars for the predator characters is interesting, but I have to agree with Lasseter. It’s a bit too Orwellian for a Disney feature.

    • There’s still some of us who’d like a bit of that in our stories, or at least how someone like ick could rise up and show the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Really love love LOVE this movie! Great to see all the effort that went in to making it. But I have to say its kind of disappointing to see a group that seems to be 90% white people sitting around a table dissecting a story about race?

  • mud

    Is no one else completely weirded out by the image of 30-40 white people sitting in a room making a story on racism? Plus I counted maybe a handful of women in the room… I’m starting to suspect the handling of sensitive material in this film is… very very off.

    Like tell me those shock collars weren’t someone’s very poorly veiled metaphor for political correctness. “We used the be the dominant species and preyed on other groups but now to make everyone get along they electrocute us to control our behaviour and emotions!” Someone at Pixar probably told them to stop being so whiny and pathetic and grow the eft up, stop trying to make a racism story where the previously-dominant group is the actual innocent victim of prejudice, oppression and the ones being framed by the women and the sheep.

  • Matt

    42:37 “…cause you know this world, it’s not easy to not be…to not be white” This remark from Josie Trinidad can only come from a person of little perspective and has no place in a commentary on a film that is suppose to be against racism. Please no more white shaming in order to draw attention to yourself. If a white person had said such a thing but used another ethnic name in place of white that person would be called racist, bigot etc.