She’s played Snow White (Once Upon a Time), the third wife in a polygamous relationship (Big Love), and a hopeless romantic (Something Borrowed), but her latest role — as a remarkably determined bunny in Disney’s noir-inspired Zootopia — is definitely her most political to date. In the animated feature film, Goodwin’s idealistic Officer Hopps finds herself entangled in a political scheme meant to sharply divide predators and prey; a plot that touches on race relations, political gain, identity, and law enforcement. “I would be tickled pink if it affected this election,” Goodwin says. Here, Goodwin gets animated about Zootopia’s political message, a possible sequel, and reveals how the film has impacted the way she watches TV news forever. But be warned: Some spoilers lie ahead.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Zootopia has proved a huge hit both at the domestic and international box office. Has the response to the film taken you by surprise?
GINNIFER GOODWIN: It was described to me recently by one of my agents as a unicorn. I loved the analogy. The fact that reviews have been so incredibly supportive, the fact that the audience has been so loving, and that the box office is doing so well is a trifecta of impossibility. But “surprise” is the perfect word for it, and that’s the word I use to describe what I felt when I walked out of the first screening. I’ve been working on this movie for years, and I knew what was coming, and yet I found the gut punch unexpected. I didn’t know it’d be able to hook me as a participant in the way it did as an audience member.
Were you worried about possible controversy over Zootopia’s message?
I wasn’t. I was proud to be part of such a ballsy move for Disney.
What’s the biggest difference from the Zootopia film that was originally pitched to you and the one that eventually was released?
The city itself used to be more black and white, and its deficiencies were more on the surface. The world of Zootopia was not a world which you cheered on quite as much. In making it a place you root for, I think what they created a place that Judy Hopps always thought it was. And the story used to be told through the eyes of Nick Wild, Jason Bateman’s character. I think that was very fitting given the angle, given the world that they began with.
The first version that I read also involved predators having shock collars from the time they reached adolescence. There was something beautifully disturbing about the way these shock collars would be presented in almost a bar of bat mitzvah ceremony. The collars were meant to keep the animals in check. But it was a bit reminiscent of Europe in the 1940s, and needed to be kiboshed. It had never been the intention to create a parallel between that and actual human history of the last century, and it was something that was brought to everyone’s attention.
The traumatic death of Bambi’s mother aside, this seems to be the first Disney film to address darker aspects of the real world. Do you think that viewers can and should expect a certain amount of social awareness in Disney films?
I think that things have changed a lot since 1940s, because we talk about things more openly now. When we’re creating fiction peppered with real life, it’s going to be part of the pepper. You can’t un-know what you already know. Because we have these open discussions, they have to now to be part of our narrative. I’m just so proud to be part of something as Disney is moving forward as a storytelling entity.
The fact that Jenny Slate’s character, Assistant Mayor Bellwether, isn’t all that she seems was largely kept under wraps during initial promotion. What’s your take on that twist?
Things were different enough when I was pitched the film that by the time I got the copy of the script where that became the twist, it really did take me by surprise. Jenny is brilliant, and she gives nothing away. And the movie gives nothing away. That’s a good twist.
Which political candidate do you think is most like Assistant Mayor Bellwether?
I couldn’t say. I can’t go there. [Laughs.] The intention behind the politics of the movie is really is just a coincidence. It’s not like Disney knew what was coming when this movie was written. It’s just a marvel of coincidence.
Has the film impacted the way you view politics at all?
The thing that affected me most as a viewer was the line at the end, that “Fear always works.” That changed the way I watch the news. I realized I was getting caught up in sensationalism. I was affected by mass hysteria. Not in the way I would judge people, I’m proud to say, but it would become an obsession. I found the 24-hour ticker tape newsfeed of fear addictive, so I had to change my news sources to make them more varied and more international so that I could gain more perspective. I do think that fear is not only used to control, but fear is used to sell. I was a perfect consumer of that that sale. So I found that part of the movie effective.
Are there plans to make a sequel?
Oh I hope so. I’ve been begging. To say that the movie has done well is an understatement, thank goodness, so I hope they’re talking about that kind of thing.
What premise would you like to see a sequel take?
I feel the very last button of the film when we see what happens to the relationship between Judy and Nick blows it wide open for a number of different adventures. Ultimately, I would like to see them flip flop. I would like to see Nick have to convince Judy that the world is worth fighting for.
Once Upon a Time executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis told EW recently that there will “definitely” be a Judy Hopps reference on the show next year. What’s your reaction to that?
If anyone comes to play her, it better be me. [Laughs] I will have my first diva experience if anyone represents her in any way other than me. Unless we had an actual bunny, in which case the bunny can play Judy. She’s now part of that Disney world and that Disney catalog is Once Upon a Time’s fodder, so she’s welcome to join us. I just pray that if she has a voice, it’s mine.