Ah, Disney. You’ve created some of our fondest childhood memories, and since Aladdin you’ve been subtly adding those clever adult references so that the older audiences could laugh a bit harder as well. In 2012, you released Frozen, which became a landmark in animation. The stunning CGI, memorable musical numbers, record-breaking box office gross, and (especially) the amazing satire combined with a new look at the typical Disney princess created a phenomenon that would influence the industry for years to come. Now, you have brought us Zootopia, one of the smartest, subtle, and cleverly animated movies out there.
Zootopia is directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. It’s written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jennifer Lee, Josh Trinidad, and Jim Reardon. Stars-Jennifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K Simmons, and Shakira. Premise-Optimistic (but naive) cop, Judy Hopps (a bunny) teams up with con-artist Nick Wilde (a fox) to find missing persons in the bustling “utopian” city, Zootopia.
If you thought Disney couldn’t compete with Pixar after Inside Out, you will be pleasantly proved wrong. Zootopia is one of Disney’s best films. Bear in mind, I don’t like it more than say, The Lion King or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but as a Disney animated film Zootopia is a prime example of what you can do when your audience has changed. I’ll elaborate on that later, but for now let’s go over the usual.
For one, the animation is incredible! You expected to hear that though, didn’t you? What’s important is why the animation is fantastic (always give proper credit where it is due). The character designs, fast-paced cartoony movement of the characters, set design, and incredible detail on the animals that have fur (seriously, I forgot that the hair was animated at certain points!) combine to make a gorgeous-looking film. The best way to describe the animation is “a stellar combination of Hotel Transylvania’s smoothly fast-paced animation, but with Pixar’s innovating CGI.” Whenever there is an action scene (or when the story calls for it), the animation is quick and fluid, but whenever the story needs to be suspenseful, expositional, or dramatic, it slows down to fit each mood. The overall pace of Zootopia is similar to Kung Fu Panda’s (fast and comical), but it does stay true to classic Disney by remaining at an even pace. Also, this movie has a very creative sense of cinematography.
The characters are outstanding! The main duo (Judy and Nick) have some of the best chemistry I have ever seen in a movie! Despite all of the world telling her what she can and cannot do, Judy persists with a smile on her face knowing that she is trying her hardest to succeed. It is because of that reason that I found her to be an outstanding lead and even a commendable role-model. Nick is a sly, witty, charming fox (ba-dum-tish) whose cocky attitude makes a wonderful counterpart to Judy. The side characters are hilarious and never overstay their welcome, and the voice acting is on point.
Surprisingly, the humor is not as prominent as you’d think judging from the trailers. Most of the jokes are spoken, but there is a fair share of sight gags and slapstick (and awesome references to previous Disney/Pixar films). The plot is basic. It’s a mixture of the buddy cop genre, and the “fish out of water” and “life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be” tropes with a pinch of Disney magic. You’ve probably heard critics calling Zootopia a very original film, and that is mostly true. What’s unique about Zootopia is what they do with these basic plotlines. Sometimes we get movies whose originality was evident from the premise alone (Inception, The Polar Express, etc.) and sometimes we get movies whose originality needed a basic starting point, often that starting point is a trope or storyline that has been used multiple times (Inside Out, The Cabin in the Woods, Star Wars, etc.). What matters is that the creativity is still in the movie, and oh boy does Zootopia have creativity!
I hope you’re ready, because we’re about to dig into the incredible subtext Zootopia has to offer. I meant everything I said in the introduction, this movie really does have something to say about society, politics, and relations between ethnicities. The opening scene explains the history of the movie’s world in a very enjoyable fashion, and in the very next scene we are introduced to the not-so-innocent reality both Judy (and the audience) was not expecting. Zootopia brings up themes like: racism, sexism, homosexuality, stereotypes, and political distrust. Yeah, it’s quite ballsy for an animated children’s film! For the sake of not spoiling anything I won’t go into great detail about these themes, but I have to applaud Disney for taking these risks. There is even some hilarious satire on Disney themselves (if you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean), and awesome references to classics like The Godfather.
Let me tell you, if this movie were released a decade or so ago, it would be poorly received by the public. Want to know how I know that (besides research)? Because another controversial Disney movie that brought up themes like lust, religion, and gypsies, came out in 1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which is actually one of the best Disney movies ever made). The movie was shunned, critically panned, not that big of a financial success (following The Lion King), and was even nominated for a Razzie for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million! At the time, America was not ready to accept these themes in an animated children’s movie. Nowadays, the Millennium generation (whom are very accepting of things like homosexuality) are ready to accept the controversial topics that Zootopia gladly brings up. American society as a whole evolved and has accepted Zootopia extraordinarily well! Already it’s grossed over $100 million and has a 98% rating with critics and a 95% rating with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, it is because of these themes that the moral of the film is made all the more impactful. Sure, it’s been done before, but not in this exact way. Sadly that is where Zootopia falls short. If it were not for the childish aspect of the movie, these themes could have been explored in greater depth, and so much more could have been gained. Unlike in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the story is not so heavily driven by the themes it explores, rather it goes for an investigative comedy. As it is, Zootopia is fantastic in nearly every aspect.
Disney has made terrible CGI animated movies (Dinosaur, Chicken Little) and they have created respectably enjoyable CGI animated movies (Bolt, Meet the Robinsons). Despite the fact that both Big Hero 6 and Frozen were exceptional (notice: a film does not necessarily have to be good to be a landmark), their overall quality left much to be desired. Zootopia is the first CGI Disney movie aside from Wreck-It Ralph that I can call great! The characters, animation, humor, and subtext make Zootopia an enjoyable family film with something to say about society. Zootopia gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.
On a side note: that trailer with the sloths at the DMV was one of the best trailers I have ever seen! That is how you make a dang trailer! It catches the attention of the viewer/potential audience, entertains them, and leaves them wanting more without spoiling anything major (take that Terminator Genisys).