Thursday, March 10, 2016

Movie Review: "Zootopia" (2016)

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the biggest release this last weekend went to an animated movie full of fluffy animals, perfectly thought up by the masters at Disney Animation. In what could be considered the best non-princess/feature film formula the House of Mouse has conjured up since The RescuersZootopia is a true procedural at heart, and the possibilities are endless for new and exciting stories injected into this beautiful and touching world. Like the long-running detective shows ruling primetime, there will never not be a case that this rag-tag team of polar opposites can't dive into with gusto, and as a result, Disney has set itself up for one helluva potential movie franchise.

Ever since Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) was a little bunny in school, she dreamed of becoming a police officer. Even though no rabbit had ever been appointed one, she was gonna be the first. When she achieves her dream, venturing off to the thriving mammal metropolis of Zootopia—a bustling city where all residents, from the biggest predator to the smallest prey, live in harmony—and leaving her family's carrot farm behind, Judy's idealism is tested when none of the other hulking, tough-animal cops take her, or her small size, seriously. Relegated to parking duty, Judy tries to make the best of her situation until she meets con-artist, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a smooth-talking fox who may be the key to uncovering one of her precinct's biggest unsolved mysteries. Determined to prove her worth, Judy bands together with Nick to find the truth and get the respect she knows she deserves—but she may not be prepared for what she finds, or how it may change her view of her new Utopian home.

The geniuses at Disney considered every possibility as they built this creative and innovative world, working very hard to make it seem like every detail wasn't there on purpose. It's reminiscent of Wreck-It Ralph, in that way, injecting every nook and cranny with something to see, something that adds depth to every creature, and every building on every street in every borough. From doors to escalators to temperature control, they really did think of everything. The vastness of the animal kingdom, all consolidated into the confines of this bustling city, is really something to behold. You could watch this movie ten times and still see something new, and I'm sure the Disney-aficionados are already well on their way there.

A few quirks in the animation stand out, most notably in wider shots when characters on the periphery are moving or interacting, an occasional stutter here or there. Not distracting in the least, but the entire construction of the world isn't quite as clean as it could have been. In a close up, the view is flawless, and that's where much of the story focuses. It's only in the sweeping views of the Zootopian territories where the wide shots become rich with detail. Those are the money shots, and extra care was clearly taken. But a howling wolf on a foggy night at the outskirts of the city? Some rough frames that most would never notice and those who do will easily ignore.

Thematically is where Zootopia really shines. The film puts a mirror up to what ails society and forces the adults in the audience to take notice. And it isn't subtle. Stereotypes, prejudice, fear-tactics, and privilege build the foundation of conflict within this complex narrative, where predators aren't trusted merely because of the way they look, and prey are undermined and talked down to at every turn. It all is very complex, far more than it needed to be for a buddy-cop film about a city full of animals wearing clothes where the biggest laughs come from a sloth working at the DMV that moves—wait for it... super slow.

The plot itself is relevant and represents a myriad of issues facing the real world today, told through the eyes of an optimistic rabbit with her own cross of prejudice to bear. This concept of 'prejudice'—something adults have a hard time understanding as it is—framed in a way that children might just be able to grasp, not to mention how privilege can permeate a society so deeply, it is hardly noticed by those who possess it.

Nobody knows how to cast voice talent like Disney, and finally someone gave the bright light that is Ginnifer Goodwin a starring role. As Judy Hopps, she's manic and hopeful and impatient, and just delusional enough to believe she might make a difference. Then there is her counterpart, Nick Wilde, who couldn't be more perfectly voiced by Bateman. He is the yin to her yang, the pessimistic realist with a chip on his shoulder, and Bateman's dry delivery gives the insensitive jokester his humor, while making us believe he may just have a few soft spots.

Together, Bateman and Goodwin bring energy and camaraderie to the pairing. They have an 'early Castle, Kate Beckett/Rick Castle' dynamic that has an even greater level of respect and friendship than the TV detective team. The connection happens quickly here, but the movie earns every moment of trust in their relationship and never takes for granted the underlying social conflict that exists between them, as rabbit and fox. The result is an emotional gut-punch that speaks knowingly to the more mature audiences, all the while incorporating a fantastic soundtrack and enough fluffy sheep to make the kiddos squee with glee.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars


  1. Great review. Loved the messages in this Zootopia. It will be interesting to see how this one stacks up against other upcoming animated films this year.

    - Zach

    1. Thanks for reading, man! Definitely a lot of animation variety coming up, but I'm hopeful this one will stay strong. It's very memorable.


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