ZOOTOPIA Fun Facts – Story Safari

ZOOTOPIA will be hopping into theaters on March 4th with massively cute animals, a gorgeously imaginative world and a beautiful story. I ventured to the Walt Disney Animation Studios back in October to visit with the Directors, Producer and Production Team of ZOOTOPIA and view some First-Look footage. I brought back some incredible facts involving the film’s story. If the Walt Disney Company is good at one thing, it’s story-telling. Let’s take a look into Fun Facts of ZOOTOPIA’S Story Safari. Then be sure to check out our Fun Facts of Anim(al)ation Character Design.

Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush and Writer Phil Johnston present at the Zootopia Long Lead Press Days on October 27, 2015 at the Walt Disney Studios Tujunga Campus. (Photo by Alex Kang. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush and Writer Phil Johnston present at the Zootopia Long Lead Press Days on October 27, 2015 at the Walt Disney Studios Tujunga Campus. (Photo by Alex Kang. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

First, a bit of background on the movie and its world. The modern mammal metropolis of ZOOTOPIA is a city like no other. It’s comprised of different neighborhoods that have different climates to accommodate all types of animals. There’s ritzy Sahara Square for desert animals, Tundratown for the polar bears and moose, the hot and humid Rain Forest District, Little Rodentia for the the tiniest mice, and Bunnyburrows for the millions and millions of super cute bunnies. The downtown area, Savanna Central, is a melting pot where a wide array of mammals from every environment come together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything.

When rookie cop Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives in the big city, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve a mystery.

Here’s a few fun facts we learned from Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush, Writer Phil Johnston, Story Artist Marc Smith and Head of Editorial Fabienne Rawley from script to story sketches to the editing room:

  • The Story Safari group worked on this movie for years and had hundreds of people weigh in, but it really came down to 6 people and a laptop, making each scene better and better. It seems implausible that this behemoth of a Disney animated film is sometimes a DIY thing like film school, but that’s often the most fun part of the process – the collaboration.
ZOOTOPIA - Zootopia Effects dailies. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

ZOOTOPIA – Zootopia Effects dailies. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

  • The Story Safari group is full of amazing performers! Writers must get up in front of the group and present their ideas along with a storyboard. They actually have to create the voices and act out their ideas.
  • Once a rough scene is agreed upon by the story group, they send it to Editorial. Editorial puts dialogue and sound effects to the storyboard images so the Story Department can “watch” the story develop, present it to the Directors and they green-light the final scene.
  • The only thing that you know is that everything is going to change. It’s part of the process and you just have to accept that.
  • Animation is awesome in that you can re-write so many times and then make the movie 100 different times before you come up with what the final version is. And that is exactly what happened with ZOOTOPIA.
  • Judy’s character in particular changed a great deal. So some scenes that portrayed Judy Hopps as sad and dependent had to be scrapped and changed to make way for a better final film.
  • The voices of directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush appear in the film because they were recorded arguing during a Story Group meeting. Part of the “DIY” process is recording different sounds and voices with a laptop really quickly, in order to create a final story-boarded scene. This particular sound made its way from Story Group meeting to the production edit and on to the final film. Listen for the director’s voices as Judy Hopps’ “angry neighbors!”


  • The best idea wins. When asked “do you have to be respectful of everyone’s ideas here?” the members of the story group answered in unison: “No.”
  • Crew is often working 7 days a week towards the end to make the movie great.
  • If a great idea comes in late in the game, and technically it’s possible, then everyone tries everything they can to make it happen. 24/7 days, overnights, they find a way.

With all the work involved in ZOOTOPIA, I can’t wait to see this movie. I also can’t wait to share more Behind-The-Scenes fun facts! Be sure to check out our Fun Facts of Anim(al)ation Character Design and stay tuned for more.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ ZOOTOPIA, a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.

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About Richard & Sarah Woloski

Richard and Sarah Woloski are the co-hosts and creators of the Disney / Star Wars Podcast Skywalking Through Neverland. The husband and wife team strives to create a polished, positive and fun weekly show celebrating fandom. They also love writing for Adventures By Daddy. Find them @SkywalkingPod