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What Could Have Been / Zootopia

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Early concept art with Nick and Judy as agents, after the Jack Savage/Skye secret agent pitch was rejected

  • An interview with Zootopia's directors discusses a couple of early drafts:
    • Shock Collar: In one version, predators were required to wear "tame collars" that would zap them if they started getting too excited, and Nick ran an underground club where predators could remove the collar and experience a taste of the wild life without the risk of being shocked. Nick was originally going to be the main character, with Judy as the Deuteragonist. However, with only sixteen months left in production, the directors realized that this version of the setting was simply "too sad" and the story didn't play to the strengths of either Jason Bateman or Ginnifer Goodwin. When they showed the idea to a few people at Pixar, they didn't like the idea at all and suggested that the mandatory shock collars be replaced with much more subtle manifestations of societal prejudice to make the setting more relatable and less unlikable. In the process of making this change, it was determined that the film's message of inclusion and overcoming biases was better served with Judy as the main character, and thus they switched their focus.note 
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    • In an even earlier version, the ur-concept was a James Bond parody featuring a jackrabbit spy named Jack Savage (who later became a fox, with a rabbit as his co-star). They had the titles mapped out for the first five films, starting from Savage Seas, but everyone liked the animal city he lived in better than the spy adventure.
  • A character that was part of the early version, Honey Badger, was a friend of Nick's and a Conspiracy Theorist who believed that sheep were secretly running the world. A different honey badger named Madge, whose character model was recycled from Honey's, is the doctor Mayor Lionheart tasks with figuring out why the predators went savage.
  • Gazelle was originally envisioned as far more slender, closer to the actual body type of a gazelle. Her look was modified at the request of her voice artist, Shakira, who considered the original to be much too skinny.
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  • The Palm Hotel and Casino in Sahara Square was painstakingly designed and scenes taking place there were even storyboarded, but were not used in the final film. This even included an earlier version of the film's leaf-assisted freefall escape from Manchas, which would have had them sliding down the frond roofs of the Palm's rooms instead.
  • An early version of the story had Nick and Finnick working at a restaurant in Little Rodentia called Chez Cheese.
  • Judy's house was going to be a major set piece where we truly see the size of Judy's family with hundreds of bunnies all over the place and how such a house would work.
  • In early concept art, Nick's tail was orange with a white tip at the end of it, compared to his official design, where his tail is still orange, but with a black tip instead.
  • In the draft with the tame collars, Nick was going to go actually savage as opposed to the performance he put on in the film's climax. However, rather than the Night Howlers simply turning animals vicious, they were going to make them revert to their primal instincts, and in Nick's case, his instincts to protect Judy would be stronger than his instincts to kill her. Most likely changed to avoid Glurge.
  • Images from the Zootopia art book reveal several things:
    • Primates and non-mammals (or, at the very least, reptiles) were originally going to be among the citizens of Zootopia. Primates were removed for being too similar to humans, while non-mammals were removed to simplify the movie’s setting. However, the involved staff have not denied their existences.
    • At least one bat character, a very observant guy who was always reporting to the police crimes he had seen while flying, was going to be in the story. (So that's whose toy is packaged with Clawhauser!)
    • Sexuality in Zootopia may have been just a tad more overt, with the former image showing what appears to be a massage parlor, and the later depicting a moment featuring a pun on a certain... male condition.
  • The Imagining Zootopia Fusion documentary features glimpses at old version scripts, storyboards and animatics:
    • We were gonna see Nick's dad who wanted to start up a father and son run suit tailoring shop.
    • Jaguar seems to have previously been a raccoon.note 
    • There was a script with a scene in which a teacher named Mrs. Armadillo would play a piano while the "Melody Makers" - which consisted of Rory the Raccoon, Woody Woodchuck, Sally the Squirrel, and a young Hopps - would sing a song about having the opportunity of becoming they want to be in Zootopia. Judy would mess up her verse (growing carrots, naturally), then question it to Mrs. Armadillo on the break. This becomes a bit Harsher in Hindsight when you learn that the song gives all of the animals extremely stereotypical jobs. Not only does the rabbit grow carrots, but the raccoon drives a trash truck, the woodchuck works with wood (which is wrong, since woodchucks are burrowing mammals), and the squirrel sells nuts. Of course, as the teacher says, it's just a little song, but still...
    • When Nick was still the protagonist, he would be the one in class, alongside Finnick and Clawhauser. There was a scene with a teacher lecturing the kids about how thousands of years ago, predators would eat prey, with the children reacting in disgust. Then she goes on, introducing the "Tame Collars", that allowed mammals to be together.
  • Tone Lōc was in talks to play the main antagonist of the film, which implies that the Big Bad was at one point planned as a deep-voiced male character.
  • One version of the "Tame Collars" script had a female pig called Mayor Swinton as the Big Bad. The creators wanted to use her after learning that pigs are one of the most intelligent animals and she would've been a Hidden Villain as people wouldn't assume that a pig, pink and soft, would be evil.
  • In some of the deleted scenes, we get a glimpse of the other family members of Judy. There is one elderly bunny named "Pop Pop" who appears to not get along with foxes very well. In one deleted scene he says "Foxes are red because they were made by the devil!" when he hears Stu or or Judy mention a fox during Bonnie's conversation with her daughter. Bonnie gets a bit irritated with his remarks and tells her to ignore him. Pop Pop appears in another deleted scene where Judy and Nick meet the rest if her family and the elderly bunny refuses to talk or interact with Nick. That same set of deleted scenes also has Mr. Hopps initially assume that Nick is Judy's boyfriend. On an interesting related note, Rich Moore admitted that an earlier version of Zootopia had a scene with Nick and Judy similar to one in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (a film about an interracial couple).
  • Bobby Catmull was originally going to have a slightly bigger role. In a different opening for the movie, the children would be practicing for their show, and while teacher Mrs. Armadillo was telling Judy that she should have realistic dreams, Bobby got stuck up a tree. Everyone panicked as the branch was breaking, then Judy managed to help him come down by guiding him with a laser pointer, just in time for a tiger officer to see. The cop then encouraged Judy to follow her dreams. This got changed into Gideon Grey beating up Judy because the directors realized that 1) Judy needed to be a victim of bias for the story to get going, and 2) they wanted to have an explainable reason for Judy's subconscious fox biases.
    • Bobby Catmull was a bobcat (get it?) but was changed to a cougar when the creators realized there were no other bobcats in the film, and creating a new bobcat model from scratch just for such a small part was a waste.
  • Due to the tight turnaround time of the final version, many assets were reused from the earlier Nick-centered version. Examples include:
    • Reuse of character models: Kozlov the polar bear (originally a Russian-Mafia sort of gangster), Madge Honey Badger (originally a conspiracy-nut friend of Nick's named Honey Badger), Finnick, Clawhauser (originally a friend of Nick's instead of working in the ZPD), and even Lionheart (originally the museum model for displaying and demonstrating the Tame Collar). The character model of an earlier villain, a female pig named Mayor Swinton, was recycled twice: first as the pig who gets her picture taken at the DMV, and second as a prison guard during the credits.
    • Reuse of set pieces: In addition to the well-spotted exterior of Nick's club Wild Times (the warehouse in the back of the shot as Judy finds Nick at the bridge), other reuses include the Golden Palm Hotel (originally in the Rainforest District), the cells in Clifftop Asylum (originally the Zootopia Prison System from which Nick escapes), and all of Little Rodentia.
  • One featurette reveals a number of deleted characters. Besides the above-mentioned Kozlov the polar bear mafioso, conspiracy theorist Honey Badger and the villainess Mayor Swinton, there would have been two Jerkass gerbils who keep harassing Nick by driving their car on his tail, an elderly goat meter maid working with Judy, an elite commando of razorback boars, and a ram spy named Wooly, working for Mayor Swinton, who could convincingly disguise himself as a wolf (whose character design looked very similar to Doug and his minions).
  • An earlier version of the play where 8-year-old Judy used ketchup to simulate High-Pressure Blood was even more graphic. In this version, the prey victim is a young deer and during the attack, they pull out a realistic rubber heart chewtoy and the "predator" actor bites into it.
  • There's a scrapped version of the Jumbo-Pop scene where Nick was still the main protagonist of Zootopia with a few noticeable differences:
    • In sort of a meta-example of Took a Level in Jerkass, Jerry Jumbeux Jr. was still pretty rude, but the main reason he was unwilling to sell the Jumbo-Pop to Nick and his "son" wasn't due to his prejudice against foxes; it was because he realized that a little fox "kit" would not have been able to eat a entire frozen treat about five times bigger that him and didn't want to clean it all off the floor. Also, unlike the film, Jumbeaux Jr. treated Nick as a potential customer, offering up other options for his "son" and eventually sold the Jumbo-Pop of his own free will after Nick continually insisted on that.
    • Finnick's role in the scam was being Nick's blind and mute "adopted son" with "Pachoyderiopathy", a rare mental disorder that made him believe he actually WAS a baby elephant.
    • As the elephant vendor didn't have to be blackmailed in order to do business with Nick, Judy didn't have to step in and help out Nick and Finnick until the former "forgot his wallet". And Judy didn't enter the shop because she had profiled Nick, but because it was her lunch break and she thought it'd be a good place to eat at.
      • The "right to refuse" sign was not there, instead there was a "No Free Jumbo Pops" sign.
  • This video goes into detail about what the whole premise of the Tame Collar story would have been like:
    • It shows that characters like Mr. Big, Fru Fru, and Duke Weaselton, were new creations as they made no appearance in the draft with the tame collars.
    • It showed that Boris Koslov was the boss of Tundratown's underworld, with his own bar fittingly named Koslov's Palace and he had a son named Morris. While Koslov's Palace and Morris were both cut from the final draft, Koslov himself remained, but he was Demoted to Extra to Mr. Big's right hand man.
  • After viewing the "Shock Collar" storyline video, one notices that the final version of the film used many narrative "beats" from this draft and reworked them with different characters/scenarios:
    • While Judy was chasing Duke Weaselton in the final draft, she was originally chasing Nick Wilde after he broke out of jail after going savage, with the scene even taking place in Little Rodentia at one point.
    • The 48 hour countdown was taken from the original where Swinton gives Judy 48 hours to find and capture Nick or she'd be fired.
    • The need for a Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure is shown. In the early draft it comes when Nick breaks off his friendship with Judy after learning that she told the higher-ups about Wild Times and got it closed down without ever telling Nick. In the final version, it's transferred to the aftermath of Judy's disastrous press conference.
    • The Dance Party Ending at the end of the final film was originally going to take place earlier in the film in a previous draft, as after the concert, Swinton would announce that she'd be exiling all predators from Zootopia. The scene would've involved Gazelle's tiger dancers being shot with nighthowlers and they would've gone after Nick and Judy.
  • The original plot featured Nick having an idea to create an amusement park called "Wild Time" — a place where predators could be free and have fun.
  • There was going to be a scene where Judy and Nick stumble upon a "taming party," where a bear is being fitted for his first collar.
  • In the storyboards, the Rodentina chase scene would’ve ended abruptly with Judy getting stuck through the donut shop sign due to her butt being too fat to fit. For unknown reasons, this was cut out and Duke is the one who gets stuck in the sign in the final film.
  • In a Deleted Scene, Judy brings Nick back to her apartment and invokes an Exact Words callback. Nick complains that she said they were heading to a safehouse, and Judy explains that it's "a house that is safe", referring back to Nick's earlier hustle where he insisted that selling the red-stained used pawpsicle stick as "redwood" wasn't a lie because it was "wood that is red".