This week on the Awards Show Show, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan hews to the conventional wisdom that La La Land is the frontrunner for Best Picture, but his co-host, KPCC’s John Horn, offers an exciting alternative. After Kyle and John dissect the Best Picture field, they bring on Zootopia directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore, whose animated hit packed a political punch and, in its own way, seemed to take on the rise of Trump. We talked to them about the thorny themes embedded in their movie, which is this year’s likely winner for Best Animated Film.
A few excerpts from the conversation follow; listen to the episode below, and subscribe to the Awards Show Show on iTunes.
How Zootopia is reflected by the real world:
Rich Moore: It’s kind of sad that we need a film like this, but at the time when we were making it, it just seemed like the pot was boiling over, as it is right now — of fear of the other and using fear as a tool to control and govern. It’s never been crazier than right now in my lifetime. It makes me wonder, didn’t anyone learn anything from our movie? Maybe we need to release the movie again.
What Disney made of the film’s subversive content:
Byron Howard: When we pitched this idea — and we figured out early that this movie was going to be about bias and discrimination — we expected some pushback from the company. But honestly, to the credit of people like Bob Iger and Alan Horn and John Lasseter, everyone got behind this idea, I think because they sensed what a huge problem that is in our current society. And as we learned more through the story about what bias really meant, we had this great consultant, Dr. Shakti Butler, and she showed us this amazing documentary she made called Cracking the Codes. The personal stories of people’s experience of bias in that documentary really influenced a lot of the choices that we made in the film.
Moore: Rather than present a world that was broken from square one, we have this character who’s coming to this place from her little town … and through the unraveling of a crime, she also learns a lot about herself. There is discrimination and as part of uncovering that, she discovers that it’s in her, too. We didn’t want to present a movie where our main character Judy Hopps cures discrimination — with a stroke of her wand, she eliminates all those bad feelings and everyone gets along and sings “Kumbaya” for ever and ever. We wanted to take a very realistic approach to the topic.
How two white men tackled a film about discrimination:
Moore: I remember early on, thinking, “Well, what is my way into this? As a white male, can I tell this story?” And I think it’s universal to feel like you’re on the outside of a group. The idea of bullying, it astounds me, it fascinates me, having been a victim of bullying as a child. It is a form of discrimination. It’s a fear of something that comes out of fear.
Howard: We did a lot of studying on animals and how animals flock together and keep to their own. You see that with human beings a lot, too. When we get worked up and when we get afraid, that’s when people start to hang out with their own groups and get afraid of people who are different. Anything that’s different is bad. You see it with the election coming up. There’s never a time that’s more charged in the United States than before an election. Your own family members that you didn’t know felt a certain way, suddenly will be on a completely different page from you and you had no idea.
On what Trump would think of Zootopia given that the movie is about bias, bullying, and demonizing groups of people for political gain:
Moore: Basically, I think it’s his playbook. [Laughs.] I think he would think Gazelle is a 10. Judy, maybe a 7.