Movie Review: Zootopia
(Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action)
Throughout the history of animation, one of the most common traits since its early days, has been to exaggerate animals, by making them anthropomorphic (also known as, ‘giving them human characteristics’).
We can name a number of such animals that have these traits: Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Droopy the Dog, the list goes on and on. And in the annals of Walt Disney Feature Animation, there have been instances where we saw animals not only walk and talk, but also inhabit their own world.
One film that many are familiar with, is the 1973 animated feature, Robin Hood. Unlike talking and thinking animals that populated a largely human world, this one would be devoid of humans, as the animals assumed the major roles in the famous story.
Robin Hood was one of the films that co-director Byron Howard mentioned, when I first heard him talk of Zootopia, at the Anaheim Convention Center, in 2013. The D23 Expo’s animation presentation, gave us a taste of what was to come in the next few years, and though all we had were a few pieces of conceptual art (like the one above), what Howard was proposing, had me excited.
That day, I walked out of the presentation eager to see what the studio would come up with in the next few years. Zootopia was 3 years away, but I had bookmarked the film in my head, eager to see where it would go.
In a world in which predators and prey have learned to live side-by-side, the story follows a young rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin).
Unlike her family that runs a small farm, Judy has big city dreams of going to the megalopolis of Zootopia, and becoming a Police Officer, hoping to do good…of course, she’s also the first rabbit to ever consider law enforcement as a career!
Eventually, Judy makes it to the City, but finds that her utopian dreams, are a little more pie-in-the-sky than she expected. Wanting to make a difference, she soon ends up coming across a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), whose species is one Judy has been told over the years, is not to be trusted.
Judy is willing to just write off her encounter with Nick, until she encounters something else, that might require his help…
From the start, Judy’s story sounded like the typical “little girl in the big city” plotline…but in truth, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Many look at what Judy is doing, as attempting the impossible (even her parents request that she do something ‘safer’), but she is willing to prove herself, and doesn’t back down from a challenge when it’s thrown in her face.
This is a bunny that I could definitely see resonating with viewers, much in the same way that Elsa and Vanellope von Schweetz did. Ginnifer Goodwin brings such a great voice to the character, playing someone who is sweet at times, but definitely believes in the seriousness of some situations, and wants to get the job done.
Running almost counterpoint to Judy, is Nick Wilde, a smarmy-looking fox in a hawaiian shirt.
Jason Bateman’s voice just seems to fit perfectly with this character, who sounds like he could talk his way out of anything. Though the story is largely Judy’s, Nick does end up getting in some nice moments…and one that might sting a bit.
The film also boasts a decent-sized ring of supporting characters here as well. Idris Elba voices one of the more memorable, playing the gruff Waterbuffalo Chief Bogo, of the ZPD. JK Simmons lends a pompous regality to Mayor Lionheart, and Jenny Slate provides a nice beat as Bellwether, his small lamb assistant.
And don’t worry fans of the lovable sloth named Flash…he’s here too…and even though many of you have seen him in the film’s previews, his scene here elicited one of the biggest laughs from the audience.
Oh, and Shakira is in this too (why she’s all over this film, I have no clue!).
Also of note in regards to the film’s animal cast, is that they come in many different shapes and sizes. The world of Zootopia shows a world in which their cultures and climates are sometimes right next to each other…which leads to quite a diverse palette of colors and environments to explore. When I first heard this idea of a multi-sized microcosm in 2013, it made me excited to see how a mouse would share the road with a giant elephant, or even a long-necked giraffe.
One of the things I lamented in regards to 2014’s Big Hero 6, was that there was so little time to properly explore the gleaming cityscape of San Fransokyo. Fortunately within the world of Zootopia, it feels like we really get the chance to become immersed in this environment, and just zip in and around its numerous set pieces in a satisfying way.
Directors Rich Moore (Wreck-it-Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled) teamed up to bring the film to life, and it seems like they succeeded pretty well in giving us an entertaining product…however, while it succeeded in entertaining me moreso than Big Hero 6, I will admit it isn’t perfect.
Much like several of Disney’s films in the last decade, there are a few set-up/pay-off areas in the story, and a few times, I swear I had an inkling on which direction a few of them were going (if you’ve been watching Disney‘s film releases over the last decade, you can almost layout a Mad Libs-style template to most of them).
When it was all over, I actually took stock of my emotions during the film. I didn’t do a lot of laughing. I didn’t shed any tears. Heck, I made more noise watching Deadpool…but I actually found the film entertaining!
My original thought when watching any film, is demanding that it “rip my heart out,” but I also welcome a film that attempts to be “smarter,” and I think that’s about the best thing Zootopia has going for it.
It might not look like it, but Zootopia deals with something one doesn’t normally find in animation: prejudice…and it can get a bit tense in a few places.
One could see this story taking a lot of ‘lighter’ tones in regards to the predator/prey buddy-cop idea going on here, but the story department and personnel at Walt Disney Feature Animation, show that in the last 10 years, they have come a long way from the horribly staid, and unfunny Chicken Little.
Zootopia, while not perfect, still stands as a grand achievement in showing how the last 10 years of Walt Disney Feature Animation has risen to once again be a leader in their field, and show that animation can be a medium that can cater to both children, AND adults.
Final Grade: B+ (Final Thoughts: “Zootopia” is another notch in the Sorcerer’s hat, showing that the Burbank-based Disney Studios, continues to excel in giving us an entertaining story, and memorable characters. Judy Hopps’ story is the main focal point of the film, but it also intersperses several other threads, notably in terms of prejudice, and how our perceptions may cloud our judgement at times. The world of Zootopia is also one of the most expansive, engaging places we’ve seen in a long time, and helps the narrative weave through numerous environments and moody situations, pulling us into one of their most original story ideas in awhile)