Disney pulled a rabbit out of its hat with Zootopia.
Taking the industry by surprise, the movie crossed the $1 billion mark at the global box office over the weekend, becoming the second film of 2016 to reach the milestone. Even wilder? Zootopia is only the fourth animated title in history to earn $1 billion, following Frozen ($1.28 billion), Minions ($1.16 billion) and Toy Story 3 ($1.06 billion), not accounting for inflation. "It's a little mind-bending," director Rich Moore admitted to E! News in celebration of the movie's release on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and Digital HD. "I cannot even visualize a billion dollars."
Zootopia, which is entering its 18th week of release, has grossed $337.2 million domestically and $662.8 million internationally. Eleven of the 26 films to earn over $1 billion now belong to Disney. "It's funny. That number is huge," director Byron Howard marveled. "We really break it down in our heads to how many people have seen the movie—that makes us feel great."
The movie follows Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first rabbit to join the city's police force. Determined to prove herself (and get out of meter maid duty), Judy jumps at the chance to solve a mystery. But to do so, she must team up with a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).
Howard and Moore worked on Zootopia for half a decade, which makes its riches all the more rewarding. Of course, developing it was a team effort. "It didn't begin as a buddy cop movie. It began as a spy movie," Moore revealed. "Our stories, they're organic as we're developing them. We have a great group of filmmakers here at the studio that we're a part of called the Story Trust. When Byron was first working on this movie, it was kind of like a James Bond story with the animals. As it was pitched, the group kind of listened to what Byron was talking about, and the first act of his original idea took place in this big kind of city, this metropolis that was all animals, and then our James Bond character went to an exotic locale where the story took place. So he pitched this to the group and kind of the overall feeling was, 'Wow, that first act with the animal metropolis—that is so cool!' It was really easy to kind of see that. The group's imagination really took off. Byron thought, 'Well, maybe it's not a spy movie that I'm trying to tell here. We've got this great world in the first act—why would we leave that?' And then the story started to take on this form of a cop and a con working tougher to solve a crime."
Howard said they hit it off with storyboard consultants Jared Bush, Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon in particular, given that they "all have a deep love of film noir and detective stories."
The pressure to deliver was on. "It was a great challenge for us because we had all these detective films from the past that we love. Jim said that this is probably a lot of young people's first introduction to a detective procedural, like a mystery story. So we thought, 'Well, we really need to do a good job and give 'em a good one.' That was probably one of the hardest things in doing the movie is this mystery," Howard told E! News. "And they're hard. They're hard to do."
The filmmakers had always pictured a fox and a rabbit as the leads in Zootopia, though in the beginning, the story was told from Nick's perspective, not Judy's. "I kind of had an affection for foxes ever since I was a kid. Actually, I wanted to have a real fox and I begged my dad to give me one and he said, 'No.' He was wise, because they're very bite-y animals, I've learned; they don't make good pets," Howard recalled. "And also, I loved Robin Hood growing up. That was right in the pocket of my childhood when that film came out. I loved that feeling of that world."
After Howard and Moore finished production on Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, respectively, they were ready to pitch Zootopia to John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios. "I mentioned to him that we hadn't done one of these films—an anamorphic animal film in a long time—and he grew up on The Wind in the Willows, which is another Disney film, so he was right with us. He really wanted to get behind us and do this. We knew it had to be different than any other animal film that we'd ever done, so we did a lot of research and tried to make the world as specifically true to what makes animals great as possible," Howard said. "Early on, there was a little bit of discussion like, 'Well, should Nick be a bigger animal, like a tiger or a bear, just for more contrast?' But one of the things that I think Rich and I really liked about the fox and the rabbit is that even though Nick is a predator, he's a small predator. So he's still an underdog in this world where there are lions and polar bears and buffalo. He still deals with them. They relate to each other so well."
By the time the story was laid out, it was time to cast the characters. As luck would have it, their top choices hopped on board immediately. "We knew we needed someone for Nick who can be charming and smooth and intelligent and have a depth and a warmth to him, and with Judy, she had to be this determined, very pure of heart, fiery character," Moore said. "We got very lucky because we got both our top choices with all of our cast, but especially with Nick and Judy. We mainly went to Jason Bateman because he's just that guy in the world right now who does that kind of role so well. And he's everything in person that you want him to be. He's got all the charm and intelligence and savvy, and you just fall in love with him right away. He was the perfect choice for Nick. And for Judy, we needed someone for that character who would have great chemistry and could be right in line with how intelligent Nick is. Ginnifer is so smart and fiery—but sort of in this pure, sweet, funny way. She was just the embodiment of Judy."
In addition to Bateman and Goodwin, the voice cast includes Tommy Chong, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Shakira, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Nate Torrence and Alan Tudyk. "The rest of the cast, it's very diverse. We wanted to represent the reality of a diverse world, because our world is diverse. We're not all the same. We're all very, very different," Moore explained. "So we wanted to try to have an international cast. We wanted to have a feeling of a world city in Zootopia, like Los Angeles or Tokyo is, or London or Shanghai. It's a mix of people from all over the place, and in the same way, we tried to do the same thing with our casting."
Zootopia is perhaps more political than any other animated Disney film has ever been. This decision, Howard says, was accidental. "It never started out as being a message movie. We did want to make the movie about something, because I think one of the great conventions of a talking animal movie is that usually the world and the characters are a metaphor for our world and for us. It allows us to talk about more complex subjects. This one began with this idea of, 'Well, what if predators and prey evolved and were living together in this city? Then suddenly that social contract is broken. What would it be like in this world of natural enemies if all the civility went away?' It felt like, 'Wow, this is a really juicy topic to form a story around.'" During its development, however, the political climate became hard to ignore. "To see the current events that were going on in our world as we were making the film, it became apparent that while this is more topical than we even imagine. It's part happy coincidence, part intentional."
It was a risk that paid off, as the movie has resonated with people all over the world.
"It's just very gratifying for us to see this happen," Howard said.
And, given its massive success, don't discount the possibility of a Zootopia sequel. "The reaction from the public has been so good and so strong. We love the world and we love the characters. Whenever you do these movies, you hope that the movies match on like this," Moore told E! News. "Honestly, the world is so vast that you could tell 100 different stories in the city. We love the characters. We'd love to see more done with the movie and more done with the world."
"Sometimes a movie will feel like, 'Well, that's the end.' The story ended and it's all kind of nicely tied up and it doesn't really ask for anything beyond that," Howard added. "But this feels like a world that has a lot more to be explored, and I think the characters are so appealing that for myself, I would love to see more. I think there's a lot more to be mined in Zootopia."
Just don't put Zootopia 2 in the hands of Flash, the "fastest" three-toed sloth in the DMV. "If it were up to Flash," Howard joked, "we'd be pretty old men by the time we did another one."
Zootopia is out now on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and Digital HD.