A while back I started working on a little article like set of images to pay tribute to Zootopia, by listing the most noticable and unique stages the story and the characters went through during
We know quite a few details and specifics, but most of the time we don’t know everything that would paint the whole picture of certain stages of the story development or the ties that connect them or the reasons that resulted in their creation. This article is somewhat informal somewhat theory based on interviews and concept arts by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Cory Loftis, Nick Orsi and other great artists and writers who took part in the creation of Zootopia! Please Enjoy, and lets get right into things with:
In the early days, Byron Howard imagined a movie series about an anthropomorphic animal world and the adventures of a rabbit secret agent, Jack Savage. Not much is known about this storyline beside that it was a typical humorous and action packed take on classic spy-movies such as James Bond and that this was the idea that later grew further into the movie that we know as Zootopia. On the few concept arts related to Jack Savage we see a poster where his silhouette is shown with the silhouette of a fox, so it is obvious that the "fox-rabbit natural enemies to friends" dynamic came into the picture very early on. The only fox character associated with this storyline is a créme furred vixen, who is seen both in the underwater setting as a diver and in a city setting as a mechanic. The fandom named her "Skye" based on the name on her mechanic box, and many assumed that she is like a (unwanted)partner to Jack, who not just helps him but also creates the spy tools he is using, or a rival secret agent Jack ends up teaming up with. And so it pretty much became a widespread headcanon that Jack and Skye were the original duo that the creators started out with to tell the tale of an unlikely friendship.
The Switchboard operator and the Agent Storyline
According to the interviews the team abandoned the idea of using Zootopia’s setting for a spy-movie, however before that happened, the creative team had the idea that the narrative of these natural enemies learning to respect each other and become best friends would work better if the competent and strong spy is the predator and is aided and saved by the “meek” prey side-kick and learns to see the strength in the weaker species. So Jack Savage was changed from rabbit to fox, and Skye was turned from fox to rabbit. With her new appearance immediately came a new name, Judy Hopps and a new character motivation of walking her own path instead of falling in like with every other rabbit. Judy from this stage is speculated to be a switchboard operator, a mass job the city is using the large bunny population for. But she doesn’t enjoy it, and feel like there is some other calling in her life. That’s how she ends up in an adventure with a famous fox agent. Our fox hero’s name-change came a little later, according to Byron, when the concept of a “savage attacks” and “savage serum” came into the plot. That’s when they decided on renaming him to Wilde from Savage, and soon because on the (by now cancelled) project Gigantic which was a Disney Tangled-like rework of Jack and the beanstalk, Jack’s first name also had to change. That’s how he became Agent Nick Wilde. But what kind of adventures he and the switchboard operating bunny would’ve ended up in we may never know.
The Wilde Times Storyline
While the team was designing a new storyline instead of a spy story, they came up with an interesting idea. “What if the prey animals were still scared of predators in this society”. This small idea gave the entire setting a brand new light. In a world like that, predators would be not just mistrusted by the prey citizens they would require to wear fail-safes to ensure preys of their safety, which became the “tame-collar”. It is very interesting to see this from the outside because it just shows the very basics of how to create a right Alternative Universe story. Nick didn’t change as a character. According to the writers, he was always street-smart, bit cynical but filled with the good intention to help others. Obviously Nick could no longer be a hero like a spy or cop, or private detective, because he was not just facing the mistrust of against foxes but was also mistreated as a predator. But Nick didn’t change in the core because of the new script, the new script changed the world and the character’s personality adjusted to the new setting. His cynicism paired with the unjustified oppression made him look down at prey like Judy, but his good-will paired with him stuck in a low-life position by oppression resulted him become a con-mammal who found a way to help his fellow predators by opening a theme-park where they could secretly take off their collars, Wilde Times. Judy also evolved as a character into someone who had the city’s respect as an outstanding police officer, that had to capture Nick for something he was framed for. In her journey we see her learn of the dark side of the system she was upholding that was kept under the rug from her… or rather she just choose not to see it. And together they decide to change things. However, eventually the creative team had to face a problem. This world was filled with too much injustice for Nick and Judy’s friendship to fix it, not to mention Nick’s character was too overwhelmingly sad, and Judy wasn’t relatable by many. So the team set back to the story-board one last time.
The First Bunny Cop Storyline
With that we got on the path that lead to the creation of the movie we all love. With the setting putting predators and prey on equal level again, Nick had a chance to do good again, however the question was, “how?”. Based on some concept art it appears that Nick was intended to be somewhat of a private detective at one point, but this wasn’t probably working. Nick was cynical but in a world where he wasn’t oppressed, his cynical side had no motivation. The writers wanted to portray prejudice and how it effects everyone on an individual levels, and Nick was the perfect character to show how it can ruin someone who had nothing but kindness in his heart, and in Judy’s case how it can make you do bad things that you regret. With Nick’s new backstory of the Ranger Scouts betraying him and shattering his beliefs in goodness, Nick’s character was ready to meet his fate in the form a kind bunny that would help him become the fox he was meant to be. Judy’s character development shined in this setting, showing how prejudice can be something you carry around with yourself even when you think you don’t, and how much it can hurt someone you care about. But the problem resurfaced, that Nick’s life became too dark again and showed the bad-side of the city too soon. According to Rich Moore and Byron Howard, they switched the story perspective around on a whim, and suddenly it all worked. Instead of a story of a cynical but kind-hearted fox that meets and learns to respect a clever and helpful bunny, it became the story of a clever and helpful bunny the meets and learns to respect a cynical but kind-hearted fox. And according to the writers this switch was possible thanks to it that neither of them were the supporting character of the other. They were both the lead, as both of them became a better person thanks to each other. And so was that we got to witness the story of two individuals, who form a wonderful, unlikely friendship in Zootopia.
BUT HEY, That's just a theory, a FILM THEORY! Hope you enjoyed!
Zootopia and all it's characters and art belond to Disney
and the creative artists and screenwriters who created it including but not limited to:
Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Cory Loftis, Nick Orsi, Matthias Lechner, Jared Bush and Phil Johnston
The article and the main art pieces are made by me!
Spanish translation is powered by Landsec!
Thanks for for featuring this on their site!
I would have loved to see Savage and Skye in the movie XD
And also would have loved to see the original concept made a whole animation XD
Thank you a lot for the info , I really enjoyed reading it
(Btw, Do you work with "The Film Theorists" youtube channel? XD)
I'm curious if your references included the wonderful documentary "Imagining Zootopia" or the very informative podcast "The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith" which had an episode that featured all the Zootopia directors and writers?
Otherwise, here are some additional tid-bits of information that I thought were interesting...
"The SavageSkye Storyline". This one is the least fleshed out because the "Savage Seas" was one of three stories Byron brought to a pitch meeting with John Lasseter. The story began in a city of animals and finished on a south seas island. Lasseter felt the spy genre had been over-done but was intrigued by the concept of a city of animals and asked Byron to explore creating a story in that setting. Lassetter said "I will fully support any movie that has animals running around in tiny clothes". One of the reasons the city of Zootopia itself is is so beautifully well developed is that it had the longest development time. I've found nothing from the creative team that defines what relationship exists between Savage and Skye, so I'd love references to any interviews that provide some detail on this. In my research, it seems to be Mr. Mead's comic "Darkest Places" which gave the biggest push to the SavageSkye romance.
"The Switchboard Operator and the Agent Storyline". This appears to be primarily from the concept artwork shown in the "Art of Zootopia" book. Again, I'd love anything you have that provides any details on this storyline.
"The Wilde Times Storyline ". I realize that your article is focused on the evolution of the fox/rabbit, Nick/Judy relationship, but it's important to mention that this storyline also contains the tragic "Wilde & Son's Suitopia" story that shows how John Wilde tried to start a tailor shop with his son, Nick, and how John's unfair arrest lead Nick to become so cynical. Also, one of the reasons the creative team held onto the tame collar approach for so long is because of the highly emotional "Taming Party" scene between Koslov and his son Morris. It was a screening of this version of the movie they presented to PIXAR that finally killed this storyline when they responded that the existence of the tame collars made them hate the city of Zootopia when they saw it had no problem oppressing a portion of its citizens this way.
"The First Bunny Cop Storyline". Your summary here is spot-on. One interesting tid-bit is that once they finally settled on the "focus on Judy first" approach, they had but 8 months left to deliver the movie to meet the scheduled March 4th release date. It's a testament to the skill and dedication of the entire creative team that they were able to pull together such an exceptional movie in such a compressed time-frame.
One final tidbit of interest regarding the movie. Both the writers and directors have said the the most challenging scene of the movie for them was the press conference scene. They worked hard to make it clear that Judy was exposing a bias about herself that she didn't fully realize she had... namely that she believed predators were biologically predisposed to revert to savage behavior.
When Nick calls her out on this, they found the scene played well in getting her to realize how mistaken she was, however, it never felt plausible that Judy would feel so threatened by what Nick was saying that she'd actually reach for the fox repellent.
They tried many different ways of approaching the conversation but nothing seemed to work until someone suggested... "what if Judy, as a child, had a traumatic experience with a fox/predator just like Nick did with the all-prey Junior Ranger Scouts?"
This clicked and it was late Friday afternoon with the next screening being held on Tuesday. So over the course of a single weekend, they created the character of Gideon Grey, story-boarded Judy's childhood encounter with him, arranged the press conference confrontation with Nick to physically mirror her encounter with Gideon and it ended up working.
Not only was Judy confused by Nick's questions pointing out her unconscious bias, but the way he physically approached triggered her memories of Gideon so she unconsciously reached for the fox repellent before she realized what she was doing. Nick, of course, didn't know his actions triggered her memory so he felt she was reacting to him in the present resulting in the breakdown of their relationship.
Thus Gideon Grey was one of the last characters created for this film and initially his sole purpose was to beat Judy up as a child. It was writer Phil Johnston that added a redemption arc for Gideon.
If I would've been able to tell anything more on the Switchboard Judy and Spy Nick or the SavageSeas-SavageCity concepts, I would've written it down, sadly very little is known about these stages other than they existed based on the artworks and that they were very early concepts based on the interviews. That's why I put "Theory" in the title of all this, because many things in this article is just me, a hyperactive fanboy connecting dots the way it seems to make sense
You did a wonderful job presenting the basic evolution "beats" of the story as it involves our favorite fox/rabbit duo. Anyone interested in following this evolution theory should invest in the "Art of Zootopia" book and go from there.
As a final tid-bit, I think it would be fair to give a shout-out to Cory Loftis (character design) and Matthias Lechner (production design).
If you love the way the characters look, thank Cory. If you love the way the city of Zootopia looks, thank Matthias. Their design and imagination is just as infused into the movie as the work of Byron, Rich, Jared and Phil.