“Our crew is coming off a hard movie,” Zootopia+ series creator and co-director Trent Correy said of the project, made by Walt Disney Animation Studios during lockdown between production on Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto. The series launched on November 9th and has remained in the top trending spot on Disney’s streaming service ever since. “We said, let’s just have fun, let’s not put too much pressure on this, and let’s just bring a smile to each other’s face,” Trent continued about the tone he and fellow director Josie Trinidad set for the team. “It was just a joy during the pandemic, during some tough times. And Josie and I never met in person until the end of production. We’ve worked together for ten years, be never saw each other below the shoulders. I was like, Josie, I thought you were seven-feet-tall.”
No, Josie Trinidad is not taller than a baby giraffe, but as the co-head of story on Zootopia, she was a natural fit to join Trent on Zootopia+. “Once the series got approved, he pitched it as being interwoven into the movie, which I thought was really brilliant,” Josie shared. “He came forward with about ten ideas for various shorts and then we narrowed it down to the six episodes. But what was great was that Trent also had this idea that there would be different genres, like action and romantic comedy or a noir thriller episode and a heist one. It was really right there from the very beginning. And then crafting it, we had a lot of help from our story supervisor and our production designers and layout and cinematography.”
“The early pitch was that it actually was a choose-your-own-adventure,” Trent revealed of his idea to expand the story of Zootopia. “You would watch the whole movie, and these would be embedded in there. And you could say, oh, I want to stay with Stu and Bonnie and you'd click something on the screen. But it limited us a little bit. So, in terms of storytelling, we decided to lose that part of it.” Trent and Josie at one point turned to their colleagues for help in narrowing down which characters from the film to revisit, only to find that everyone had a different favorite character and the results were too wide-ranging to help with the difficult task of picking just six concepts to meet the series order from Disney+.
Many of the original voice actors returned to reprise their roles, including comedy legends Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as Judy Hopps’ parents Bonnie and Stu in the action-packed first short, “Hopp on Board.” “It's so fun for us to be together,” Bonnie Hunt said of reuniting with Don and the characters they speak for. “It's such an opportunity to be in a family's mind and children's minds. It's something I think that we all take seriously and we wanna be thoughtful and give them credit for their intelligence and their love and their humor. And that's the best thing, is being with Don, working with my buddy, Don, who's so talented, so brilliant.” The two were not only encouraged to improvise during their virtual recording sessions, but also inspired story moments for Trent and Josie. “You don't want it to end,” Don Lake reflected on the recording sessions. “You just don't want to stop and you want to keep exploring moments… And of course, Bonnie and I have a great time together. We always have.”
The original film gave the world “Try Everything,” the pop song by Gazelle, and Zootopia+ gives us “Big Time,” a song performed by Duke Weaselton in the short “Duke the Musical” and written by Michael Giacchino, Elyssa Samsel, and Kate Anderson. “When [Michael] called and said that there was this opportunity to write a musical number for the character Duke Weaselton, we were just so bowled over with joy,” Elyssa shared. “Michael had sent us first records and a beautiful melody to begin the song. And it is a special day when you get a voice memo from Michael Giacchino with a melody idea, of him playing piano and saying, ‘Let's turn this into a song, what do you think?’ Iit was just so much fun. We wanted to have Duke be able to rock out, so we chose sort of a Queen-inspired genre, kind of leaning into a David Bowie ‘Starman’ style. And it really works for the character of Duke.”
Zootopia fans will likely recall that Alan Tudyk, Disney Animation’s lucky charm since Wreck-It Ralph, voiced the Duke of Wesselton in Frozen and then the Zootopia inside-joke character Duke Weaselton. “He sang,” confessed songwriter Kate Anderson, whose other Disney credit includes Olaf's Frozen Adventure. “The day that we got to record Alan was one of the most fun days of my whole life. He is a comedic genius, and he had us bowled over in the recording booth, and Elyssa worked with him really closely. She was plunking out notes in the room where he was recording, and he is a pro. He's an incredible singer. I mean, he's been on Broadway, so we knew he would be incredible.”
“The hardest part was the remoteness of it,” producer Nathan Curtis revealed, who also served as an associate producer on the features that surrounded production on the series, Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto. “We would have loved to have been with Don and Bonnie in the recording studio together. We would have loved to have more working sessions in person with Kate, Elyssa, and Michael. And then as a production, our studio is founded on being together. We can do everything in this wonderful studio all in one place. So the largest challenge was unfortunately being separated physically from each other.” As hard as it was to make the series from home, it also brought everyone on the team a lot of joy. “The artists really, really enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the world.”
If you haven’t seen them yet, all six shorts from Zootopia+ are now streaming exclusively on Disney+.