The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia,” a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.
Jason Bateman as “Nick Wilde”
I had the pleasure of sitting down last week with Jason Bateman and discussing his role in the Disney’s animated film Zootopia. I have to say that I’ve followed Jason Bateman’s career for as long as I can remember and I’ve always been a fan. That puts this interview in a special place for me because he’s been someone I’ve admired for a very long time. I’m sure he was worried when he was put in this small room with ten women, but it honestly was so relaxed and just a casual conversation. I have to say that those are my favorite interviews. The ones where you just get into a conversation and forget that you’re actually “interviewing” anyone. It makes for a more relaxed atmosphere and sometimes more honest answers.
Jason has one of the main roles in Zootopia and his character is this sly fox named Nick Wilde. See what I did there? Sly fox and he’s a crooked fox in Zootopia? Not as funny when I have to explain it, right? But, I digress. Jason was honest, open, and graciously charming as we chatted about his new film.
When we asked about how it feels being part of a movie that he can actually watch with his family, Jason let us know that “it’s cool that I’m in a movie with a Disney logo in front of it.” As for his children, in their mind it feels like something good is going to come from a movie having that logo.
Zootopia is a fun, laugh out loud film that also includes a few serious underlying themes. He talked about the fact that Zootopia hits upon a few themes including bullying, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and fear mongering. Having those themes included in the film, and the way that the creators included those moments will make it easier to talk with younger kids when they want to discuss those themes in their own lives.
…it’s helpful to have this tool of these characters that are talking about heady issues at times. It just kinda helps the medicine go down easy. […] But it’s nice that I can reference it and [say] well, you see how the lion there was being kinda nasty to the little badger…
When asked if he knew the character of Nick Wilde was going to resemble him, he was adamant he knew nothing of their plans.
I started to see it a little bit in Ginnifer [Goodwin], with Judy Hopps… And I saw a little bit of it with JK Simmons with the lion. I saw little bit of Octavia Spencer in her character, and then I was, like wait a second… You should take a look at yours, too…
And then I did kind of see sort of these, these droopy eyes, and the general body language of it, and it was pretty cool. They were very subtle with it. It’s kind of neat.
I had to find out if he had any of the same traits as his Nick Wilde character.
My job is to be kind of full of it. So I kind of know that and I’m pretty sarcastic and dry. My mom is from England, and she gave me a lot of that dry British, sarcastic sense of humor, and that comes pretty easily to me. Plus, I’m pretty laid back, and my heart rate never really gets up pretty high. So, I appreciate how Nick kind of lays back and lets life come at him.
Jason mentioned that there really wasn’t anything that he needed to do to get into character, but that while he was in the sound booth he looked for the directors’ guidance and how his “very tiny piece in a process” fit in with their overall goal for the movie.
Did he add his own thing while recording? Of course!
You record it quite a number of times, and often they’ll say ‘and now just do what you want to do, and say what you want to say, and do you have any ideas, or would you say anything different there’? That’s kinda fun. Sometimes they laugh just because it’s different than what they’re used to hearing.
Jason said that sometimes it gets a bit monotonous in the sound booth and saying the same four pages of dialogue over and over again and sometimes you say something different to change things up. One of his tricks was saying a curse word and he said that “it’s odd to hear a cartoon character say a curse word,” but it worked to break up the monotony at times.
In discussing Nick Wilde’s character in the film and Nick’s attitude, Jason had this to say.
They’re setting Nick up, so clearly on one side of the spectrum to give him an enough of a satisfying starting point to appreciate the growth that he goes through. So, they start him out being pretty simplistic and cynical, and a bit of a sexist and condescending and all that stuff. Then of course, like any good two hander in any film, the other character is going to enlighten that other one. Nick, hopefully, has a little bit of gain on her as well, and gives her a little bit more of the thick skin and has her be a little bit more pragmatic about how fast she can expect to achieve the things she’s looking for.
Hopefully, he’s a lot nicer at the end.
So, if Nick and Judy Hopps became a couple…
I’d like to see what animal would they create, you know… A fox and a bunny would be funny! (get it?) 😉
Any message that Jason hopes audiences takes home with them at the end of the movie?
I would say that he’s got a bit of a defeatist attitude at the beginning. He’s really cynical. And, sort of mocks Judy for her optimism, and her enthusiasm. That’s such a lazy and easy place to sit and be. It’s a very defensive […] No one can hurt you if you don’t try.
That’s just a dangerous thing and luckily Judy does come into his life, and shows him that it’s okay to let people know that there’s something different than what is on the surface of you. That has relevance emotionally, but also clearly racially. [And] religiously. There’s all kinds of things where people make judgments on perceptions very quickly on who they think you are. But what about what’s on the inside? She has no vanity at all. She has no idea how she comes across. It’s all inside out with her and I think that you’re never too young to learn that one.
What a quick and fun interview. I enjoyed the fact that we were in a small group and were able to get some very honest answers from Jason. Go see Zootopia when it opens on March 4, 2016! It’s a lot of fun and watch for my favorite character, Flash.