August 4th, 2016 by Stinkhead
Disney knocked it out of the park again with a sweet, beautifully animated, and surprisingly thoughtful movie. I love how it is ultimately entertaining with a great story, humor, and enjoyable characters. However there is wonderfully socially responsible (dare I say lesson) message. Click below for more.
Lemme give you the story real quick. Judy Hopps (Jennifer Goodwin) is a small-town bunny with big city aspirations of being the first bunny police officer. There is a lot of prejudice in her way because most of the police force in Zootopia is made of large imposing animals such as tigers, elephants and rhinos. As she fights to prove her worth to the force, she teams up with a wiley fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve a mystery of peaceful predators going wild and acting violent. There’s corruption, danger, and Shakira.
The film presents several socially relevant themes, but does a terrific job of incorporating them organically into the story so that you don’t feel like your beaten over the head with the message. It’s not entirely subtle, but many children can and will enjoy the movie without realizing there’s a message afoot. The overall theme of prejudice, and how it impacts everyone is the most prevalent. Judy, being a small bunny, is assumed to be ineffective and has to work twice as hard to prove she belongs. But to expand the message of equality and acceptance, a larger part of the plot revolves around the predators in the city all being viewed as dangerous, and incapable of controlling themselves. If someone told me that both feminism and contemporary racism would be dealt with in the story, I would have stayed far away. I would have (incorrectly) assumed that the message was more important than the characters or action. And I would have been wrong. Disney was wise to downplay the social responsibility messages in their marketing, but kudos for using their massive pulpit to try to impact the next generation. Any dent made into the antiquated social attitudes that hold us back, is progress. There were risks taken, such as using the words and criticisms tossed around the recent race riots. But the pay off is the message is delivered, and the audience doesn’t feel preached at. I loved the message behind Fraggle Rock. Every episode featured original music and colorful visuals, but the overall theme of the series was to teach children tolerance for others that have different customs, religions, and attitudes. It never felt like a sermon, it was all genuinely entertaining.
That being said I loved the characters. Judy and Nick have a terrific chemistry. The supporting characters are engaging and surprising, and the imagery was spectacular. The city of Zootopia consists of multiple burrows, each a different climate (jungle, arctic, desert, etc). Disney embraced the capabilities of digital animation to its fullest bringing all of these animals and their environments together. It was also very funny. The image of the lemmings in business suits chowing down on popsicles cracked me up. There are tons of visual gags and you have to watch it multiple times to try and see them all.
I found it refreshing that Disney was animating an original story. I really enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 (yes, I know that was based on a comic book), but it felt like there was a long term plan in place where the big huge movie would be a girl-audience focused princess fairy tale, and then every other movie would be a guy-audience focused story. However Zootopia broke the pattern, and even though the lead is a female rabbit police officer, it’s squarely in the gender-neutral category and not just a girl movie that boys would tolerate (like Tangled or Pixar’s Brave).
Also, as a dad of a nine year old boy, I really appreciated that absolutely everyone can watch and genuinely enjoy this movie. My son never wants to watch Frozen and my niece never wants to watch Big Hero 6 so sometimes it gets a bit complicated. In more ways than one, Zootopia is a great unifier.
We watched several of the bonus materials. My son and I enjoyed the deleted scenes and my son especially loved the ZPD Files uncovering some of the easter eggs. I liked the feature about the animators traveling to Africa to study the animals and get a realistic sense of their movements and attitudes. There are features on the music, the characters, and a look at building the story.
This film is fantastic and shows that Disney knows how to make money, but also acts responsibly and lives to entertain.