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The Wild Robot: Fly Inside Dreamworks' Latest Animated Epic With Exclusive Secrets

Director Chris Sanders and Lupita Nyong'o share stories about making their upcoming DreamWorks Animation film.

By Tara Bennett

It's a big year for DreamWorks Animation, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this October. Marking the landmark will be the animation studio's newest theatrical feature film, an adaptation of Peter Brown's illustrated books, The Wild Robot.

RELATED: DreamWorks Animation Boots Up First The Wild Robot Trailer with Lupita Nyong’o & Pedro Pascal

Today at the prestigious Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France, The Wild Robot's director, Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods), revealed the full trailer for the film, as well as a presentation of the still-in-progress footage. 

Check out the new trailer for The Wild Robot

Previously, at the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale, California, Sanders and the voice of his Wild Robot, Roz (Lupita Nyong'o) gave select media outlets a preview of their Annecy presentation, including several sequences from the film, as well as the new trailer. NBC Insider was there for the rare sneak peek where we learned some fascinating things about the production.

5 Fun Facts About DreamWorks Animation's The Wild Robot

Still from the upcoming movie The Wild Robot

Chris Sanders Was Already Familiar with The Wild Robot Book

Sanders explained that when DreamWorks pitched him to direct the film, his daughter already had a copy of Peter Brown’s 2016 The Wild Robot book. Indeed, Brown's book is done in an illustrated style that Sanders was charmed by.

Story wise, the book tells the tale of ROZZUM unit 7134, or Roz for short, who is washed up on a remote island full of woodland creatures. Amongst them, Roz tries to find an operator who will give her tasks to perform in order to give her purpose. After a series of critical mistakes, Roz ends up finding an orphaned goose egg that hatches and imprints on the robot. Roz finds her purpose in making sure the gosling, Brightbill (Kit Connor), is ready for its winter migration flight. 

Inside the "sophisticated" animation style

Still from the upcoming movie The Wild Robot

Citing prior recent DreamWorks Animation features like Annie Award winning The Bad Guys and the Academy Award nominated Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Sanders said he wanted Brown's style of drawing to be reflected in their CG animation. The challenge was to develop the concept art into a look that would be "powerful, loose, and lyrical." The end result is an almost illustrative style that represents the natural world with Roz's more CG look coming into the islander's habitat. 

Lupita Nyong'o has been working on The Wild Robot for three years

Still from the upcoming movie The Wild Robot

Nyong'o admitted its been a journey of trust to figure out how to bring Roz to life when her face is essentially just "two round holes" in her metal head. She said she had many concerns about how much emotion could be conveyed without all of the typical facial tools of expression. But in seeing the almost complete film at the end of May, she said she was "deeply moved" by how the artists and animators were able to portray so much of Roz's emotional evolution from programmed machine to a wild robot. 

RELATED: The 10 Best DreamWorks Animation Movies

Vocally, Nyong'o said that Roz is initially somewhere between the voice of AI home assistants, Siri or Alexa. But she knew that while she could start there, as Roz evolved her voice would have to reflect that as well. She admitted the first act of the film is the "biggest departure from my natural voice." She had to push her voice to achieve Roz's high pitched, friendly female sound that comes when she's right out of the box. She said hours of speaking that way in the recording booth wiped out her voice a few times. 

The book's message remains core to the film adaptation

Still from the upcoming movie The Wild Robot

Sanders said said one of the things that stuck out most to him while reading the book was Brown's concept that "kindness can be a survival skill." He said that Roz's unrelenting kindness towards her creature neighbors on the island, who are inherently distrustful of anything new, creates an initial clash of cultures. The island's animals live by "life or death" rules, and Roz arrives and changes everything.

Nyong'o said that she intrinsically understood Roz's compassion. As a person who is more open in nature, she has learned that means she is often more "bruised" by others who aren't. But she endeavored to keep that quality in her performance, because she has found that she's "strongest when being kind."

Country star Maren Morris sings the original song, "Kiss the Sky"

Still from the upcoming movie The Wild Robot

For the sequence featured in the concept art above, Sanders revealed that they got country singing star Maren Morris to sing the original song, "Kiss the Sky." It plays in a montage that finds Roz and her woodland creature allies — including Fink the fox (Pedro Pascal) and the goose squadron leader, Longneck (Bill Nighy) — trying to get Brightbill flight ready for the annual goose migration. It was also revealed that Academy Award winner Kris Bowers (The Last Repair Shop, The Color Purple) is scoring the film. 

The Wild Robot is exclusively in theaters on September 27, 2024.