I could not find much regarding economic decisions on Zootopia, sans a desire in pre-production idea pitching that revolved around wanting to produce a film similar to Disney’s version of Robin Hood, which also used anthropomorphic animals as characters and has been recorded as Disney’s most financially successful film on its first release. A good reason for generating revenue exists there.
What fascinated me however, was a bevy of pre-production reasons that related to rewriting and adding aspects to the story that weren’t there before.
One is the switch of the main character; initially, the sarcastic and cynical Nick Wilde was to be the protagonist, with the optimistic and hopeful Judy Hopps as the secondary lead. The roles were flipped so that Judy became the primary character, due to her background as a person making more sense as a lens to tell a story about bias through: a person who believes everyone can get along and be whatever, rather than Nick’s jaded view on society and its norms.
The protagonist switch from Nick to Judy also caused characters conceived in early stages of writing to be cut, as they wouldn’t fit in the world tailored to Judy’s experiences, such as a pair of mean-spirited hamsters meant to antagonize Nick and the original vision of the titular city’s mayor.
As for the plot, an interview with co-directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore revealed that the desire to tell a story about bias was in the works even back when production started in 2011, and that the conflicts and writing in the film was influenced to contain more subtlety in its messages as news coverage of the subject matter became more prevalent over the years.
Research into police protocol also became part of the research for the film, specifically women in the police force, especially in regards to Judy’s conflict of proving she is capable of being a police officer in the big city. Eventually that came down to finding the common thread of desires among people as a whole, and not solely police officers, so that Judy would be a more empathetic character. There was also a desire to not portray the police department as mean-spirited, evident in Chief Bogo who, despite his oppositions with Judy, merely wants what is best for the police force.
The initial ideas for the story spawned from many different pitches, the ones accepted being animals living in a contemporary society designed by animals for animals (which also stems from Howard’s desire to create a different kind of anthropomorphic animal film) and a 1960s theme. This led to developing the film as a spy film, where the most appealing act was revealed to be the animal city, thus the ‘60s theme was dropped, thus turning the plot into a contemporary police procedural.
Animal research played a part in the content of the film as well, research going into the statures, walk cycles, and lighting color reactions to the fur and skin of different animals. This also is implied to have played a role in the story, specifically the distinction between prey and predator species, as a suggestion made from Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan F. Horn results in Nick making a betrayed comment to Judy when discovering she still fears him due to his status as a predator.