With Pixar releasing two movies in 2015, Walt Disney Animation Studios is taking the year off from the big screen… but they will quickly be back in action in early 2016. This is when the brand new feature Zootopia is set to come out around the world, and from the look of the footage we saw this past Friday, it’s a movie for which we should all be very excited.
The upcoming animated film, directed by Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), is set in a fantastical world filled with a whole variety of anthropomorphic animals, and it took center stage this past Friday during the animation presentation at Disney’s biennial D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. The filmmakers, along with actress Ginnifer Goodwin and producer Clark Spencer, gave the convention center crowd an in-depth look at what to expect from Zootopia, and the presentation generated a great deal of laughter before it was over.
In the film, Goodwin voices Judy Hopps, a rabbit who had a soft upbringing living in the borough known as The Burrows, and is desperate to make it as a big city cop. Unfortunately, this is a job normally taken by much bigger animals, like rhinoceroses, so Judy is forced to be a meter maid. After one especially successful day of writing up tickets, she decides to reward herself with a bit of ice cream – and this was the launching point for the first footage that was shown.
The clip began in an ice cream parlor that is run for and primarily caters to elephants, with Judy standing in the back of a long line. She muses about the ridiculous portions – noting that "Junior" sizes are almost as big as she is – but she adds that it’s a good thing she eats like a horse (a line that happens to insult the horse patron who is standing right behind her). At the front of the line is a character whom we eventually learn is named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who is standing beside a very cute critter whom he identifies as his son.
Talking with the giant, surly elephant at the counter, Nick attempts to order a Jumbo Pop for his young son, but the clerk argues that the treat is way too big for the kid and will just wind up making a huge mess. Other people in line begin to complain, but that’s when the fox hits them all with a heartbreaking tale: his son thinks that he is an elephant, and even though every day is a battle, he "can’t break his heart and tell him that he can’t be an elephant." It’s at this cue that the young one by Nick’s side throws on an elephant mask and starts adorably honking through the fake trunk.
The frustrated clerk is touched by the story and asks for $15 dollars, and it’s at this point that Nick reveals that he forgot his wallet… at the orphanage where he just picked up his son. Judy perks up as she hears this second sob story, Nick saying that he made the best decision of his life 30 minutes ago, and that it’s the kid’s fourth birthday (the doctors said he’d never make it past three). The naïve Judy calls for the clerk to give the kid the Jumbo Pop for free, but when he refuses she offers to pay for the dessert herself. Nick thanks Judy and mentions that folks in The Burrows don’t usually trust foxes, but she is ever the optimist, leaning down to Nick’s kid and saying, "This is Zootopia, where you can be proud who you are, and anyone can be anything."
As you may have guessed by this point, Nick is actually a con artist, and while the clip ended at this point, director Rich Moore explained the fox’s ingenious plan for the aforementioned Jumbo Pop. After getting the treat for free, he travels to the desert-covered Sahara Square, and uses the heat to melt it. He then goes over to the ice-covered Tundra Town, where he uses the large amount of popsicle juice to create many smaller popsicles. He then travels to the Lemming Brothers Bank - because if he can sell to one of them, he can sell them all. The cherry on top of this diabolical plan, though, is that he takes all of the used sticks and sells them to the people of the small-scaled Little Rodentia as lumber. Needless to say, the guy knows how to hatch a scheme… but that wasn’t all we got to see from Zootopia!
After helping the audience get to know Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, the filmmakers then introduced the plot that drives Zootopia’s narrative. Judy winds up being assigned a missing mammal case involving an otter who has completely disappeared. She only has 48 hours to solve the mystery, but what makes matters extremely difficult is that the last person to actually see the otter was none other than Nick Wilde. As a result, the two of them are forced to team up. One of the only clues they have to go on is the license plate of the car the otter was seen going into – a setup that launched the next clip from the movie that was shown.
The scene finds Judy and Nick together in the afternoon at the DMV (the Department of Mammal Vehicles), and the fox promising that his friend, Flash, is the fastest guy he knows in the place. This doesn’t wind up meaning too much, however, as it turns out that the entire operation is run by sloths. A quick series of shots show that they do everything almost disturbingly slowly, from stamping forms to taking photos. Flash turns out to not be much different, much to Judy’s frustration.
Flash can’t actually say more than one or two words between each breath, and takes ages to both greet Nick and Judy and enter the license plate number that they give him to look up. On the plus side, it seems like Nick is actually trying to be helpful in the whole matter, but that winds up going down the toilet as well. Just as Flash is about to type the last number of the plate, Nick interrupts him with a joke: "What do you call a three humped camel? Pregnant!" The look that spreads like molasses across Flash’s face is priceless, as he slowly but surely has a hearty laugh. What only infuriates Judy more, though, is that Flash then turns to his co-worker, Pricilla, to tell the same joke.
Eventually, Flash does print out the license plate information that Judy requested (on a ticker tape printer, of course), and discovers that whoever is responsible for the otter’s disappearance has connects to a limousine company in Tundra Town. Judy is extremely excited by this development, but loses her smile the second she steps outside and sees that it’s night time.
With movies like Tangled, Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios has really been killing it these last few years, and Zootopia looks like it will be a fine addition to the legendary catalogue. You can already enjoy the teaser trailer that was released a couple months ago, but you should all get excited for the film’s release on March 4, 2016.
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.