Thursday, June 2, 2016

Zoo Two: 'Zootopia' Directors Muse on Possible Follow-Up

We're in a new era of Walt Disney Animation Studios...

The theatrical, in-house sequel was an unthinkable concept during the 1990s and early 2000s, and was pretty much a big no-no in Walt's day. The first true, straight-up sequel to a Disney animated film was The Rescuers Down Under, which entered development during the Michael Eisner/Jeffrey Katzenberg era, roughly around 1986. It made sense at the time, for The Rescuers - out of the then-recent pictures - was not only a box office success, but also the best-received film of the post-Walt batch.

The film was released in 1990, but it opened with lukewarm results and Disney - well, mostly Katzenberg - pulled all of the marketing for the film, leaving it to wither. After that, theatrical sequels would be a no-go, the higher ups instead opted to have another studio make cheaper direct-to-video sequels to the animated features - both old and new. This proved to be a big success, but tarnished the Disney Animation name and legacy. When Eisner was ousted in 2005, Bob Iger brought Pixar - whom Eisner was seriously alienating - back into the fold, their John Lasseter sought to end the direct-to-video "cheapquels". The Little Mermaid III would be the last one, released quietly in early 2008. All future productions from the unit would be produced under his watch, and would be of significantly better quality... But nothing that was a direct follow-up to a Disney animated classic.

So what did this mean for Walt Disney Animation Studios' upcoming crop of features? Tangled was the first of the Lasseter-era features to be a box office smash, taking in nearly $600 million worldwide, re-establishing that the studio as a ticket sales powerhouse. The studio was mostly quiet on a possible sequel. After finishing Wreck-It Ralph, the revived studio's next box office hit, director Rich Moore expressed enthusiasm for a sequel. It began development, though the company has yet to formally announce its existence. It's also worth noting that 2011's Winnie the Pooh was made as a WDAS picture, unlike the other Pooh features made throughout the 90s and early 2000s, making it another rare WDAS sequel.

Everything changed with Frozen, which went on to become the world's highest earning animated feature and a worldwide phenomenon. Disney, however, was smart... The sequel would be announced in March 2015, nearly a year and a half after the film's theatrical debut. Disney, whether you love or hate their commissioning of sequels, seems to be unusually patient. Pixar took their time on Monsters University and Finding Dory, not belting them out. They have more sequels lined up, some opening long after their predecessors no less. Toy Story 3 was gargantuan in 2010, but the fourth entry is coming in summer 2018 - and get this, it was delayed from its original intended release date, summer 2017. Another company probably would've pushed for it to come in 2014 or earlier! Cars 3 will arrive six years after the last one. The Incredibles will be close to turning 15 when its sequel comes out.

After Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studios scored a super-sized hit with superhero action pic Big Hero 6, and a monstrous gross with Zootopia, which is just mere millions away from crossing the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office... And the fourth animated film to do so, and one of the few truly original films to get there.

Of course, people are asking about a sequel, or a possible TV series...

Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore said some things to Entertainment Weekly today...

Howard said... "I think we all loved the world so much and got so attached to the characters, that we actually got a little sad when the film finally came out [because] we felt like, ‘Well, we’re kind of done with it.’ And it’s nice that there’s this potential for it to get bigger."

Usually I don't ask for sequels, since Zootopia's story wrapped up so nicely, but I'd love to revisit the titular city in some way or another, or another part of the planet it's set on. The worldbuilding in that film is very creative and well thought-out, and to be honest I'd love to see more animated features have those kinds of settings, as a good number of them are set in our world. I think animation is perfect for realizing other worlds and such. Howard went on to explain about elements getting cut from the film, elements that could be worked into a possible sequel...

"We cut a lot out during the making of the film. We introduced districts that we talked about that couldn’t fit in, other characters that we eliminated from the movie. There’s a vast potential for this world, so I’d love to see something more come from it... There’s a part in the film where the train goes by Sahara Square and Hopps looks up at this huge palm tree hotel, and that palm tree hotel, we really designed to the nines. We designed the lobby, the interior, and [Shakira’s character] Gazelle at one point had a suite at the top. It was this super luxury Dubai-esque place, which would be an awesome setting in the future."

Interestingly enough, he didn't bring up the earliest iteration of Zootopia - a spy action-adventure called Savage Seas, later Savage City. Howard actually envisioned possible sequels to that concept, and that was way back in 2011. Savage City ultimately got changed up because the brass at Disney Animation loved the story's first act, which was set in Zootopia - they wanted to see that place be the setting of the whole film, not a mysterious island.

Anyways, this isn't dissimilar to what Pixar did with the Toy Story sequels. Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 use ideas that were dropped from the first film, and the original Toy Story went through quite a few iterations before becoming the story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear. The idea of the toys ending up at a daycare in the third film? That came from the finale of the earliest version of Toy Story, where Tinny from Pixar's short Tin Toy is left behind at a rest stop, gets picked up a junk man, and meets a ventriloquist dummy. Toy Story 3's villain, Lotso, is an updated version of a villainous teddy bear from another early iteration of the first Toy Story, where Tinny lives in a big toy emporium. Woody's nightmare in Toy Story 2 was a remake of a scene deleted from the first film.

On a personal note, I do the same with continuations of my stories. One element is not working in it? Use it in the sequel!

The idea of seeing other districts of Zootopia and more of the ones we got glimpses of, especially Sahara Square and its lovely aforementioned palm tree hotel, in a sequel is exciting. Since the 48 hours story is on the move, we couldn't spend too much time in the various locations - the Rainforest District, the Cliffside Asylum, and several others. Howard added...

"We liken it to going to New York City for the first time. You see the highlights on the first trip, but when you go back, you get to appreciate things you didn’t know before, almost like a local."

In terms of a sequel happening, Howard had this to say...

Basically, the story has to be to the brass' liking before it can get the green light. This is partially why it's taken some time for them to announce Wreck-It Ralph 2, but that one stalled because Moore had to leave it to help Howard out on this film. A lot of us assume that it's back in the works, now that Moore has long been done with Zootopia. Frozen 2 was most likely announced in March 2015 because the filmmakers wanted to get the story in decent shape before having the company make any announcements.

Other studios fast-track sequels, and have them lined up to debut 2-4 years right after the last one hits. Disney doesn't operate this way outside of Marvel and Lucasfilm, whose line-ups have been pre-planned for years. Again, Pixar taking their time on sequels, and Frozen 2 likely not arriving until fall 2018, five years after part uno came out.

I think a Zootopia sequel is a given, because no smart corporation walks away from a movie that has made $1 billion at the worldwide box office, but it could take a while. Could arrive next decade, who knows...

What say you?


  1. If a Zootopia sequel is in the works, then I can see:

    Moana on 11/23/2016
    Gigantic on 3/9/2018
    Wreck-It Ralph 2 on 11/21/2018
    Frozen 2 on 11/27/2019
    Mickey Mouse on 11/25/2020
    Cosmic 3000 on 11/24/2021
    Zootopia 2 on 11/23/2022

    Speaking of Disney, do you know that Mary Poppins Returns will be released on Christmas Day 2018?

    1. Yeah I saw the news. Hopefully if they integrate animation, it'll be in 2D, but something tells me that won't happen.

  2. Of course they are going to make a sequel. I'm so surprised as you are about this new disney era. I mean, like you said, a few years ago a sequel was something unthinkable. We only had The Rescues Down Under and Fantasia 2000. Well, I think things will work like this:

    Moana 11/23/2016
    Gigantic 3/9/2018
    Frozen 2 11/21/2018
    Wreck-It Ralph 2 11/27/2019
    Galactic/Cosmic 3000 11/25/2020
    Zootopia 2 2021

    And what about King of the Elves and the Mickey Mouse Film? They are still working on these projects??

    1. As far as I know, the Mickey Mouse project was pitched in 2011, but apparently didn't go anywhere beyond that. Maybe it did, maybe they came up with a new one? I have no idea.

      King of the Elves, I'd like to believe will happen eventually, as it did re-enter development in 2011 and again sometime in early 2013. They've been trying to crack that one since 2008, so I think they're still planning to get it to the screen somehow.

    2. I think the Mickey Mouse film is still possible. I think it would be cool to see it done in the same paintery style as Moana