Golden Globes: Animated Feature Nominees Discuss Audience Responses

Zootopia Still 7 - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney

Zootopia Still 7 - H 2016

Each of this year's five Golden Globe-nominated animated features, Laika/Focus' Kubo and the Two String, GKIDS' My Life as a Zucchini, Illumination/Universal's Sing, and Disney's Moana and Zootopia, took roughly five years to make. So it's no surprise that filmmakers were excited and nervous when after all the work, they finally got to show the results to live audiences.

"A moment like that is very fulfilling," says Byron Howard, who directed nominee Zootopia with Rich Moore.

Recalling a Zootopia presentation at the Annecy Animated Film Festival, Moore says, "We played the sloth scene at the DMV and we have never heard anything like that — the laughter just built and built. It was crazy. We realized that that was where the comedy showed, by taking something that was so ubiquitous to our world."

Beneath the comedy in this animal metropolis, though, was a socially relevant message that addresses bias, prejudice and fear-mongering. "I had the opportunity to get to screenings, and found the audiences really reacted to the scene where Judy Hopps shows that bias and discrimination is inside her and insults Nick in public. The feel of the audience became tense. I don't think they were expecting to see this in an animated film — that we were going there. There was an audible gasp.

"This was the main character that they were rooting for, who committed the same sin that she denied was of her generation. That made it all the more sweet, when she makes that apology."

Adds Moore: "Many people have said that before they saw the movie, they thought this was simply an animal comedy. … Then they get the first inkling that this will talk about something deeper."

In Illumination/Universal's Sing, the audience follows various characters (including a pig with 25 children and a porcupine who ditches a bad boyfriend) who aspire to fulfill their dream by entering a singing competition — then the event runs amok.

"At nearly every screening — even when it was only 60-70 percent finished — the last 25 minutes seems to take things through the roof. I think because everyone is rooting for [the contestants]," says Garth Jennings, who wrote and also made his animation directorial debut with the film. "It's amazing to see the final performances play out like a rock concert. They are not trying to ‘beat' one another. They are all completing their journeys."

Also nominated was indie My Life as a Zucchini (the Swiss entry for the best foreign-language film Academy Award), which follows a boy who begins a new life in a foster home after the sudden death of his mother. Asked where he has seen the most reaction in audience screenings, director Claude Barras says, "If I had to choose a single part, it would be the end of the film. It is charged with contradictory emotions and audiences experience a sad happiness or a happy sadness with so many more shade of emotions.

"Ending a film or a story is always a tricky part. I did my best to work this part in order for the audience to leave the film with hope, with lots of positive expectations. The end allows also the audience to leave the kids with a lot of love."

Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of South Seas-set adventure Moana, were on a plane Monday, but Musker wrote via email that in terms of the biggest reactions at screenings, "For laughs, it seem like HeiHei (a humorous rooster who ends up along for Moana's journey) invariably kills, as does the dancing child in the village. In terms of tears, when Moana takes off and grandmother appears as a manta ray."

Travis Knight, director of the Japan-set fantasy adventure Kubo, couldn't be reached at press time.