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Disney’s Zootopia Work-In-Progress At Annecy 2015

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There were a lot of highlights at this year’s Annecy, but one screening event stayed at my personal top for the whole week: Disney’s Zootopia.

Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps, the first bunny cop in Zootopia. The film’s theme is centred around bias and stereotypes. Like Pride & Prejudice minus the love story.. and humans…

Usually cops are big threatening animals, like rhinos, and Judy finds it hard to convince both her bosses as well as the citizens of Zootopia that she is just as good a cop as any. Queue Nick Wilde, the fox who got introduced in the recent teaser. Though Judy wants to believe that the bias about foxes being sly is untrue, Nick turns out to be a role-model conman. When the two are forced to work together, we learn life-lessons about overcoming prejudice and discovering who you really are.

The Annecy event for Zootopia kicked off with producers Peter Del Vecho and Aimee Scribner introducing the amazing world of Disney with a video compilation. It showed highlights of all the decades of Disney feature films, which rather suspiciously mostly featured their CGI movies. Maybe they want us to forget about the 2D films, so we can’t criticise them for making yet another CGI movie.

Then Chris Buck, director of Frozen and Frozen Fever walks on stage to keep us longing for Zootopia a bit more. Of course quite quickly he apologises for all the kids still singing ‘Let it go’. Chris introduces Frozen Fever. The short film ran in front of the live-action version of Cinderella last year, but lucky us, we were the first to see it in 3D. So put on your 3D glasses for a short film that tries to squish in as many throwback jokes to Frozen as possible.

Barely had the lights come back on, when a bunny and a fox walk on stage holding microphones. Along with their cries of ‘hello, hello!’ and ‘yeah, yeah’ it almost felt like we had accidentally landed in a child-friendly version of an ICP concert. Particularly as the fox had to hold his microphone to his eyeball to speak. But no, with help of Peter Del Vecho and Aimee Scribner, Zootopia directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore climb out of their suits.

After a presentation about all the amazing research they did for Zootopia, including trips to Kenya where one of their layout artist had multiple unfortunate encounters with wild animals (earning the nickname ‘Nate the Bait’), we get to see the first animation tests. And this is where things really start.

Zootopia concept art

I’ll be honest; I hadn’t kept tabs on Zootopia for a while. I remember a year or two back Disney announced it in a line-up which also included ‘a film about dinosaurs’ and ‘a film about emotions’. So when Disney dumped the little teaser for Zootopia two weeks ago I was still not quite as excited. Sure, it looked nice. As always. Sure, it was already quite funny, with the slow sloth and the unzipped pants. But really – it gave nothing away about the story other than that it was set in a modern world where humans were replaced by animals.

But as Rich and Byron showed us several concepts and animation in various stages of completion I got more and more excited for its 2016 release. I felt like they just took this concept of a world where animals lived like humans and ran with it.

Boy, did they run with it…

As Zootopia is like any human metropolis built to accommodate everyone, there are special districts for different types of animals. Like ‘Tundra Town’ which has coolers under the pavement and a daily 3 o’clock blizzard. Or ‘Sahara Square’ where all the animals from hot parts of the world live. There  even is a special bunny town in the countryside outside of Zootopia, where the population counter can barely keep up. This is where Judy Hopps came from before she moved to Zootopia to find greener pastures.

Next we saw several scenes from the movie. And it was glorious. The animation was beautiful. The lighting – which was still in early stages – was already so atmospheric. And most of all the story that showed through the few scenes was engaging and funny.

I have been trying to explain the scenes to people, but every time I fail miserably in conveying the jokes and the cute moments. So I’m not going to try to explain them here. All I can say is, that I can’t wait for Zootopia to finally hit the screens in 2016, so I can show everybody what we got to see in Annecy this year. Disney seems to have gotten back in form, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Zootopia is set to release on 4th of March 2016 with no specific UK release date mentioned yet.

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