Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to Zootopia+ cast members Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps) and Don Lake (Stu Hopps), directors Josie Trinidad and Trent Correy, producer Nathan Curtis, and more. Consisting of six episodes, the series began streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, November 9, 2022. All six episodes are available to watch now.
Zootopia+ heads back to the fast-paced mammal metropolis of Zootopia in a short-form series that dives deeper into the lives of some of the Oscar-winning feature film’s most intriguing residents, including Fru Fru, the fashion-forward arctic shrew; ZPD dispatcher Clawhauser, the sweet-toothed cheetah; and Flash, the smiling sloth who’s full of surprises.
Correy spoke about the inspiration for the new Zootopia+ series. “They opened up a pitch program here at Disney. They open it up to anybody in the studio, can pitch, and it’s a blind submission. So, you just come up with a story and you submit it. And the judges at the round table flip it over. And when that submission process happens, I was looking at our movies in the past, and one of my favorite movies that I worked on was Zootopia.
“I was an animator. I loved working on it. I animated the sloth. One of the highlights of my career. And I thought, what a rich world I wanna go back to. All my favorite characters in Zootopia are Mr. Big and Duke Weaselton and Stu and Bonnie Hopps. And so, I just wanted to revisit the world. And in the movie, the movie’s so great, but you only get little snippets with these characters. So, I just thought, there’s gotta be more to mine there. So, Zootopia just seemed like the obvious choice for me. And I was so happy when it made the final rounds and turned into reality here.”
Trinidad said that it was Correy’s idea, and that he pitched it as interwoven into the film. She said, “And he came forward with about, you had about 10 ideas for various shorts. And then we sort of 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 sort of a noir thriller episode and a heist one.
“So, it was really [laughs], again, I’m gonna give you the credit there, Trent. It was really right there from the very beginning. And then crafting it, we sort of had a lot of help from our, like, story supervisor and our production designers and layout and cinematography and that sort of thing. They helped us kind of craft it together.” Correy said that Trinidad was a big part of it all as well and that she helped encourage him.
Bonnie Hunt, who voices the role of Bonnie Hopps, spoke about her character being an action hero now. She said, “It was so fun. I mean, when you’re working with talent like Nathan, Josie, and Trent, you’re just so lucky. ‘Cause you know you’ve got the safety net of good story, good intentions, and quality of character. And I think of every parent as an action hero. I don’t have any of my own children, but I have 15 nieces and nephews.
“And I’ve seen when the one-year-old gets too close to the top of the steps, I’ve seen my sisters turn into action heroes. [laughs] Moving faster than they’ve ever moved and lifting things they never thought they could ever lift to push things out of the way. So, I think all parents can relate to it, when Molly gets on the train. And yeah, it’s so fun. It’s fun to play something that’s intelligent and kind and full of humor. It’s a privilege.”
Don Lake, who voices Stu Hopps, said that he was happy to work with Bonnie Hunt again. “You know, because we kind of have this, we’ve known each other for so long. We’re such dear friends that we kind of can finish each other’s sentences, or we certainly know. You just know that we’re going down this road and we don’t have to say anything. We just go down that road and we just explore and have fun.
“And there’s kind of a built-in relationship that is so cool. I love their relationship. To not want to dream. And we were so happy when, you know, she becomes a meter maid as opposed to a cop. And you just don’t see that, but it’s so genuine, right? Every parent, I’m sure, was going, ‘Thank God. Thank God.’ But also, too, it’s like Bonnie mentioned, too, with Trent and Josie and Nathan. You know, you get in that room and they give us the same green light all the time.”
Elyssa Samsel, who was the songwriter along with Kate Anderson for “Big Time” and “Duke the Musical,” said, “We had the privilege of cowriting this song, Big Time, with Michael Giacchino. And I gotta say, when he 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. And so, Michael had sent us, when we first started writing the song, 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 [laughs], of him playing piano and saying, ‘Let’s turn this into a song, what do you think?’ So, it 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 David Bowie, Starman style. And it really works for the character of Duke. So, that was fun, coming up with music for that. And I’ll let Kate speak about the lyrics for Duke and all the weasel puns. [laughs]”
Anderson added, “Trent and Josie came to us with no shortage of, like, amazing ideas of how to have Duke go on this crazy journey, where he’s imagining what Big Time would mean for him. And of course, because he is this little smalltime crook, we thought it was kinda funny that he would start sort of smalltime with his dreams. Like, ‘I’ll be a used car salesman.’ And you know, and of course, all along the way, he’s finding these ways to turn these careers into little trickster, very Duke-esque, his own, you know, take on these careers.
“And then from there, he would dream of being a lawyer, which he has definitely had his own run ins with the law. And then a surgeon, but he’d be doing something illegal on the side. And then finally, you know, he has this world takeover as he builds this rocket and soars to the moon. But then, you know, gets pulled down by everybody. So, we just had so much fun coming up with, like, the Duke version of all of those different career paths. And yeah. We had a great time working with the whole team to come up with all the jokes and all the visuals that would be going along with that. And it became this very, like, Busby Berkeley-inspired thing within this Queen, rock style. So, it was just a blast.”
Producer Nathan Curtis said of the production process, “This production embraced the Studio of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Collaboration, I think, is a huge part of this environment. But I think, more importantly, it gives a lot of opportunity to people who may be in other parts of the studio, who may not have opportunities. So, we did have a lot of kind of new leaders on this project. Many returning from the original feature film, as both Trent and Josie know. They were instilled with kind of the bringing back of the original Zootopia. But we have a lot of new opportunities.
“Trent and Josie went out of their way. And I’m gonna kind of reiterate a huge F word that was thrown out a lot today. Trent coined the F word, which is fun. And the series is all about having fun. And so, because of that, I think Trent and Josie did just an incredible job of not only collaborating, but actually empowering artists at our studio to really collaborate with each other. To bring up new ideas. I think what Bonnie and Don and Kate and Elyssa were mentioning about the idea of fun wasn’t just at this level. It was throughout the entire studio.”
Hunt spoke about the script. “We were so lucky. It’s so fun for us to be together. And also, when there’s that true talent around you, with Nathan, Trent, and Josie, there’s no fear. So, then there’s just more fun, because we know we’re all safe together and we want to do something. And it’s such an opportunity to be, especially in a family’s mind and children’s minds. You know, 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. And then this team behind Zootopia. Just so lucky. I feel lucky.”
Lake added, “And you don’t want it to end. You know, when you go on a session, you just don’t want to stop and you want to keep exploring moments. And also, too, you know, we wanna make Trent and Josie and Nathan laugh, right? It’s like, ‘Thanks for the opportunity. How ’bout this? How ’bout this? How ’bout this?’ It’s so fun. And of course, Bonnie and I have a great time together. We always have. And it’s just a joy, you know, to look across and see her eyes sparkle and go, ‘Yeah, okay. We’ll go there. Yeah, let’s go there.'”
Correy said of the partnership between Lake and Hunt, “One of my biggest joys was of Don and Bonnie recording. Because they worked together, like, they have this shorthand, right? It’s amazing to see. And they think about story with every ad lib. It’s right on the mark. But also, you know, we have a little romantic scene at the end. It gets a little bit spicy. And Don and Bonnie have worked together for, like, 30 years. And watching them try to get in the headspace of kissing each other was one of the biggest joys I’ve ever had. It was amazing.”
Anderson spoke about Alan Tudyk, who voices Duke singing. “Oh, he sang. Yeah, I mean, just talking about fun sessions, 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.”
In terms of creating the songs for Duke, Samsel said, “We were given so much from Josie and Trent and Michael Herrera, and the story was already there. It was how do we show Duke trying to be a good guy trying to change his ways? What does that look like for him?
“Because in his heart, he really wants to make a change, but for him, becoming a good guy isn’t necessarily what we all think changing your path would look like. So, they handed us just a bounty of hilarious ideas, and the fun part was getting to pull things from the movie. I mean, there’s a little section where he’s thinking about being a guru.
Samsel added: “It’s so short, but it’s inspired by the Mystic Springs Oasis of the original movie and, you know, that yoga vibe, and we just thought what are the ways that he could touch upon elements that we loved from Zootopia, but through the Duke perspective, the Duke lens.”
Anderson added, “Yeah, one of my favorite things was in the original movie, like the little wink at Breaking Bad. And I’d say something that came up a lot when we were creating the story and the song was that Duke is sort of a Better Call Saul-inspired guy. He’s definitely got a Saul-esque personality where, like, there is a part of him that could do good, that could be great. But it’s overpowered by this inner voice that wants to work the system.”
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games, and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.