Walt Disney Animation Studios is having quite the Renaissance right now.
I know some are still afraid to declare it as such, but for me the evidence is on the wall. While some may consider titles like “Frozen” to be overrated overall, there’s no denying that the technicals, and even a lot of the themes tackled, are getting the proper amount of praise. Now we have Disney’s latest film “Zootopia,” the studio’s first nonhuman, talking animal film in a while. And yeah, that’s odd fact when you think about it.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
“Zootopia” tells the story of a world where humans don’t exist. So, the animals all evolved together and the predators and prey even learned to live together. Now that actually affects the plot, so in my opinion, this explanation worked whereas in Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”it felt unneeded. Score one for Disney over Pixar. The main character, a bunny named Judy Hopps (“21 Jump Street” reference? Played by Ginnifer Goodwin) from the farmlands, dreams of becoming a cop in the big city, Zootopia. However, there’s doubt working against her as animals, like bunnies, have never become police officers before. It’s not presented as a second class citizenship thing, rather more of a prejudice both sides have towards each other. Wanting to prove herself, Judy takes on a bet to find a missing otter in 48 hours. Along the way she gets help from a conman Fox (Jason Bateman) and the investigation takes them all over the city. If that setup sounds familiar it’s because it’s a plot used in countless cop films. It is often the case when you have a pretty complicated and unique setting; using a tried and true story makes things a little easier for the storytellers. So, while the plot is nothing special or mind-blowing it is a very well told version of this basic story. The movie never feels sluggish, which is good as this is a longer film than usual. But it honestly didn’t feel like it.
The voice acting is one of the film’s best aspects. With the exception of Idris Elba (as the chief) there aren’t any huge names in the cast. Oh I’m sure you’ll recognize some names and voices but this isn’t exactly an A-list cast, all solid and (in some cases) great actors; however I feel like that may have helped a bit. All of the actors are PERFECTLY cast in their roles. None of them are out-of-place and, because they’re so well-cast, the voices blend flawlessly with the animation and character designs. I never found myself thinking about the actors in a recording booth, and that always makes the characters feel more real. I’d like to give a special mention to Jenny Slate, the voice of the sheep assistant mayor, who really seems to be popping up as a terrific voice talent. The animation itself is of course beyond flawless as the timing and expressions are all spot-on. Visually I can’t say that it is anything special, but it’s also not ugly or lazy in any way. It’s a 3-D film, but they all have the great look of a 2-D drawing made into a living breathing on-screen being. For instance, even though it is 3-D the hippos all look like they could have come right out of “Fantasia”.
Entertainment Value – 4.5
Two main influences stood out to me as I watched this. One is “The Far Side” by Gary Larson, which happens to be my favorite comic strip of all-time. A lot of the animal behavior jokes seemed like they would be right at home, although the humor doesn’t get nearly that dark in this film. And I wouldn’t expect it from Disney either. The second thing was a quote from animation master Chuck Jones (Looney Toons); “Why do cartoonists use animals? For the same reason that Aesop, La Fontaine, Kipling, Beatrix Potter, and Kenneth Grahame did. It is easier and more believable to humanize animals than it is to humanize humans.” This film is probably not for everyone, especially if you are put off by anything cute. However, it does have a good sense of humor. If I have one complaint it would be that it’s not the most quotable film. Most of the humor is visual and or requires an understanding of the scene and character’s relation to it. So unless you can perfectly set the scene before reciting the dialogue, “Zootopia” isn’t going to make for the best water-cooler conversation. That’s not a bad thing, but it may make it hard to explain to other people about why they should see it.
Where I’d say this film succeeds the most would be in its themes. With all this talk on the news about police brutality and race relations, it’s not surprising that it would also be the focal point of the film. I didn’t go in expecting Disney to get this topical and, when you consider that, it’s kinda surprising that they frame the police as complete unequivocal heroes. But something to consider is that this is a kid’s film and that distinction is important, especially when you remember that we all grow up on Disney from a young age, and what we’re taught during those times is very important. Prejudice is a tough thing to talk about in films because how many ways can you really say that it’s bad? Especially when you get down to it, Racism is one of the silliest things despite it being so rampant with people. The villains and their plan completely tie into this. To the point, when the friend I brought to the screening suggested to me who they thought the bad-guy would turn out to be, I immediately put all the pieces together in my head and realized how perfect it would be for the film. I was even like “if that’s not where the film goes, then it’ll be to the film’s detriment.” Although note to Disney, you’re kinda falling into a pattern with your bad-guys. You may want to try something different for whatever the next film ends up being.
Rewatchability – 4
I do plan on re-watching one day, but I don’t have much of a desire to physically own a copy. If I was to get one for a present or live with someone who did enjoy re-watching it constantly, I would be just fine. Now seeing further adventures with these characters or in this world they created, yes in a heartbeat.
- Entertainment Value
In the end, “Zootopia” is a fun, cute little film with some pretty impressive teeth. It will teach kids a good lesson while giving them all the jokes and action they want. While also keeping the adults entertained with some of its clever writing, beautiful visuals and genre spoofing. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.