When Zootopia hits theaters this weekend, it's poised to make a big splash, finally unseating Deadpool in the domestic box office and cementing another win for Disney's red-hot animation division.
Soon after, the movie will share theater space with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice -- something of an ironic piece of timing, since according to director Byron Howard, Zootopia features a character who's heavily influenced by the first big-screen Superman, as played in Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie by actor Christopher Reeve.
Empathy plays a big role in Zootopia, with some of the animals having to overcome their natural inclinations and prejudices in order to form relationships. A big example is the relationship between Judy and Nick -- a pair of police officers who happen to be a bunny and a fox, respectively.
"[Empathy] was probably more a part of Judy's story than it was of Nick's. I think because everyone kind of always got Judy easier than Nick," Howard told ComicBook.com during a recent interview, the full text of which will run soon. "We looked at a lot of campy films like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Mr. Deeds, and with those kinds of characters are all about having a pure core that once they go out into this big, tough world, you're not sure if they are going to survive. There’s a big, cynical world. A lot of people mock and poke at their philosophy and you hope that these characters you love are going to survive but it is tough. With Judy, she does have this great desire to go out there and do something her life, make a difference and help people but what we love about her, I think, is she does have this flaw, a very, very human flaw and she makes a pretty terrible mistake but the fact that she grows and steps up and owns it is pretty amazing...it's an amazing maturity story."
And that's where Superman comes in.
"I think that's where I find compassionate characters very appealing. I've found I always go back Christopher Reeve's Superman because that wasn't about him being able to fly or having heat vision. It was because he cared enough about other human beings," explained Howard. "He loved his father and his mother. He loved Ms. Teschmacher's mother who she was begging him to save at the end of it, which I thought was a brilliant choice in that film because that was a very compelling choice for that character because I have to choose between saving these people I love or holding to a promise and wanting to help make the world a better place and it's difficult to hold those standards to yourself but that's why I think it did come more from Judy's side than Nick's."
Zootopia opens Friday in theaters.