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Warning: mild Zootopia spoilers below; read at your own risk
Disney’s Zootopia has effectively taken the world by storm. In barely a week it's become one of the best rated films of 2016, and shows no signs of slowing down. Much of this success stems from the way in which the film crafts a genuinely engrossing story around its central characters, Lt. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). It’s a story that kids and adults alike can embrace, and part of that has to do with a major change to the story made by the filmmakers at the last minute.
At a recent Q&A event in St. Louis, Zootopia director Rich Moore explained that the team behind the film eventually made the decision to switch the narrative focus from Nick Wilde to Judy Hopps in order to improve the story:
About two-thirds of the way through production, we changed the story to Judy’s story, because Nick, being kind of a cynical character, he didn’t like the city of Zootopia. He was kind of oppressed by the city of Zootopia. And in our movies, we want the audience to like the world, not dislike the world. And it was very confusing with our main character as someone who didn’t like the city, how do we feel about this world? So we said, let’s just try, as an experiment, making Judy the main character — since she’s an optimist, she sees the best in everything — let’s try making it her story and see what happens.
When a filmmaker creates a world like the one depicted in Zootopia, they must also make sure that the audience cares about that world and feels invested in it. If we as an audience view the film through the eyes of a character that doesn’t care for the world, then we won’t either. On the other hand, framing the film through the eyes of a character that absolutely loves the world of Zootopia will compel us to care as well.
Relegating the cynical member of a film’s ensemble to a secondary position can help both the character and the film overall. It’s one of the main reasons people loved Han Solo so much when he first premiered in Star Wars: A New Hope - because he provides a foil to the wide-eyed optimism of a main character like Luke Skywalker. Zootopia works in the same way by keeping Nick Wilde at arms length from the audience while giving us unrestricted acces to Judy's point of view.
You’ll have an incredibly difficult time finding someone who didn’t absolutely adore Zootopia and the characters who inhabit the film, so we think its safe to say that Rich Moore and the rest of the team behind the movie made the right call. Zootopia is currently in theaters, so make sure to take your entire family to see it as soon as possible.