Standing in a room decorated in true Zootopian style, Nicky Wang, the manager of operations training at Shanghai Disney Resort, explained the principle behind its cast training program to China.org.cn. Wang explained that, to ensure guests experience the magic of Zootopia, the operations team must first become inhabitants of the mammalian metropolis.
The training room serves as part of Zootopia's "animal resources" department, the Zootopia version of a human resources department, Wang explained. Its design was inspired by the Zootopia Police Department's briefing room in the Walt Disney Animation Studios film where police officers were assigned cases by Chief Bogo. The space has been thoughtfully designed to accommodate animals of all sizes, with small openings to allow access for even the tiniest of creatures, and to replicate the feeling of being in Zootopia for cast members. Miniature desks and chairs are also arranged along the walls, perfect for any smaller mammals attending vocational training.
A training room for cast members at Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland. [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Disney Resort]
This is an embodiment of Zootopia's inclusive ethos of "anyone can be anything," Wang pointed out. "We firmly believe that only when our cast immerse themselves in our story can they better present Zootopia to our guests and create an immersive theme park experience for them."
Working closely with Disney Imagineers, Wang's team plans to train over 1,000 cast members since the end of 2022. They also developed a new immersive training program to help them seamlessly integrate into the story.
Because Zootopia is a vibrant mammalian metropolis designed by animals for animals, cast members are given new identities as Honorary Animals, and will transfer to Zootizens (referred to as Honorary Animals during cast member training) after working and living in Zootopia. Trainees can choose to embody one of six animals seen in the film and then develop individual background stories, with some opting for animals that relate to their personal experiences. For example, a cast member from China's freezing areas might choose to be a resident of Tundratown. Cast members will also have the opportunity to share their own Zootopia stories and explain why they chose these particular animals with guests, even during casual conversations.
"After their transformation, ccast members can adopt immersive Zootopia features and elements into their roles. For example, if they work at the Zootopia Police Department, they can encourage guests in line to move quickly by saying, 'You rookies, pick up the pace! Chief Bogo doesn't like us dragging our feet!'" Wang added.
To identify each cast member's animal alter ego, they wear decorative pieces above their nametag, indicating the animal group that they belong to. Susanna Ching, cast image and costume development manager at Shanghai Disney Resort, mentioned that they created the decoration with various attributes, allowing cast members to select their favorite or the one that best resonates with their personality.
Susanna Ching (left), cast image and costume development manager at Shanghai Disney Resort, and her colleague discuss a sample T-shirt design. [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Disney Resort]
The nametag is just one of the creative features developed by costuming team. To outfit all the cast members in the new land, they designed five different costumes for various cast groups working in different roles, including in the attraction of Zootopia: Hot Pursuit, food and beverage kiosk, merchandise store, outdoor vending spots, and the character greeting location.
The beloved Disney Animation duo, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, are featured in the land. Judy will sport her police uniform from the film, while Nick now dons a specially made police uniform for the first time in Shanghai, symbolizing his role change at the conclusion of the film where he joined Judy as a colleague on the police force.
"But, as he has an unruly personality, his uniform will not be perfectly buttoned. He'll leave a few buttons unbuttoned, and his tie will be a bit relaxed at the collar. He'll still have that charming ruffian look, which is iconic!" Ching laughed as she described it.
In Zootopia, guests can enter the film's world on the grandest day of the year: Zootopia Day, a special celebration uniting predators and prey in harmony. The highlight of the evening is the Zootopia Concert, starring Gazelle, the metropolis' biggest star known for her hit song "Try Everything."
"Guests will see our merchandise store cast wearing Gazelle concert T-shirts, while the outdoor vending location cast will be clad in aprons with striking stage spotlight effects, featuring a lively image design of a singing Gazelle," Ching explained. "These designs aim to convey the passion and anticipation of all the residents here for her concert."
The costume development team and designers have also noted the operations team's special requirements, making adjustments and additions where necessary. For example, they enhanced breathability in the clothing and created sunhats for those who needed them.
Zootopia cast members are dressed in costumes created by the resort's cast image and costume development team. [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Disney Resort]
The operations team is working hard to ensure that guests all have a magical experience. The training and preparations for the highly anticipated trackless ride, Zootopia: Hot Pursuit, the first of its kind on the Chinese mainland, have been ongoing smoothly. Tommy Ni, the manager of attractions operations at Shanghai Disney Resort, and his team have been working closely with Disney Imagineers to fine-tune the ride.
Many of the cast for this new land were selected from other teams, allowing them to "try everything" including different roles at the resort as part of their career development path. Ni emphasizes that their passion for Zootopia and strong work ethic were the key criteria for selection.
Ni underlines the resort's commitment to inclusivity, adding that the approach of designing, developing and operating the resort ensure guests with disabilities have access to the full range of attractions and experiences. "A newly designed separate loading and unloading area has been developed for guests with mobility needs in the land's major attraction, Zootopia: Hot Pursuit, which will not only provide an accessible experience for guests with different needs but also can help ensure operational efficiency. There are also transfer vehicles available for guests with accessibility challenges. These vehicles have side doors that can be fully opened to make it easier for guests to transfer from or onto a wheelchair smoothly," Ni said.
An accessible ride transfer area for guests with disabilities at Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland. [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Disney Resort]
As the opening day approaches, the anticipation is building. Ni eagerly anticipates the reactions of guests on Dec. 20, a moment he deems one of the proudest in his career.
"I will be very proud when I see the first guests touring and experiencing the land," Ni explained. "This will be an unforgettable moment. Shanghai Disney Resort's goal is to bring magic to all guests. We also hope we can help guests unlock their own potential here, as Zootopia reminds us that anyone can be anything."