The Wild Inspirations Behind Zootopia


In addition to celebrating the natural world, Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates those animals that live in our imaginations including those brought to life through Disney animation. Recently a new exhibit opened up in the park’s “Rafiki’s Planet Watch” area all about Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest feature film: “Zootopia.” Although modest in size, this display gives a fascinating peek into the creation of the film’s stars and how Disney’s Animal Kingdom took part in the process.

The new film’s bunny cop Judy Hopps and fox con artist Nick Wilde are the most recent in a long tradition of anthropomorphic animals in Disney animation. With a history dating back to the early days of Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in the 1920’s, the creators of “Zootopia” wanted to bring something new to this oft-visited concept. One way they sought to do this was through extensive research of the real thing, which led them to the animal experts behind the scenes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Several members of the “Zootopia” creative team, including director Byron Howard, co-director and screenwriter Jared Bush, and producer Clark Spencer, took a research trip to Walt Disney World’s newest theme park. In addition to experiencing attractions like “Kilimanjaro Safaris” and “Wild Africa Trek,” they were also able to go behind the scenes at both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for a up close look at a variety of wildlife. Video clips and photographs of some of these experiences can be seen as part of the “Discovering Zootopia” exhibit at “Conservation Station.”

With knowledge gained from research trips such as the one they took to the park, the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios set about incorporating what they learned into their work. Some of the results can also be seen on display at “Conservation Station” including concept artwork, animation tests, and clips from the finished film that illustrate how the real animal appearance and behavior they observed inspired their interpretations of movie’s anthropomorphic stars. While there may not be any pop star gazelles or DMV-employed sloths among the park’s zoological exhibits, this exhibit does show how their live counterparts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the keepers who look after them played a small role in the creation of the exciting world of “Zootopia.”

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