Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Zootopia" Review: Who Knew That A Bunch Of Furry Critters Could Evoke This Much Empathy


Disney Animation is experiencing something of a renaissance. Not since the time of little mermaids and lion kings has the mouse house crafted this many hits one after the other. Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6, each film has gone on to become not only massive financial hits but critical darlings as well. Joining their elite ranks is quite possibly the best of the bunch yet with the animal kingdom turned bustling metropolis flick Zootopia. Imagination meets subtle social commentary in what is easily an early contender for best animated film of the year. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime:  1 hr 48 min
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: March 4, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Animated films for both adults and kids
Likes: Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, Tangled
Neutral: Big Hero 6
Hates: Nothing
Should Zootopia get a sequel or TV series?: Considering how vast the world of Zootopia is a TV series would be the best fit, kind of like a Ducktales for a new generation.

Judy meets some resistance from her fellow anthropomorphic police mammals.

Judy Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin) was born on a farm in the countryside along but unlike her other hundred or so siblings she has aspirations of going into law enforcement and becoming the very first rabbit police office of Zootopia, the giant city where prey and predator alike live in harmony. Despite graduating first in her class she meets some strong opposition from her water buffalo police captain (Idris Elba) who sticks her on parking duty. Looking for anyway to prove her worth Judy decides to try and crack the case surrounding a number of missing citizens but to do so she must partner up with the slick con man fox Nick (Jason Bateman) who knows the city in and out. Working together the two unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery that threatens the whole city.

Tangled was cute, Wreck-it Ralph was fun, Frozen was inspiring and Big Hero 6 was...well, it was OK, but they all lacked what the others had. Zootopia is the complete package, it's heart is only surpassed by how effortlessly it tackles a number of delicate subject matters without ever coming off as too pretentious in the process. That bit of information doesn't come as too surprising however when you take into account the fact that many of the talented people behind the creation of Zootopia is a made up of a mixture of creative individuals who were also responsible for those aforementioned films as well. If you ever wondered what a dream team of Disney's best and brightest could make if they all worked on the same project then you finally have your answer in Zootopia.

The world of Zootopia is brimming with imagination around nearly every corner.

If there is one thing Pixar has taught all of us it is that the difference between a good animated film and a great one is whether or not all ages can enjoy it equally. While Pixar has had a tough time lately finding that sweet spot again the folks at Disney Animation have been honing their skills for the past few years now and Zootopia is their crowning achievement. The story about a bunny from the country heading to the city to try and make a difference is simple enough for kids to follow along yet laced with enough mystery and intrigue to keep the adults engaged as well. The characters are made up of an assortment of cute and cuddly animals for the kids but injected with a number of complex traits relating to both race and personal worth that adults can identify with them. Most of all though Zootopia succeeds because it isn't trying to jam a message down our throats but instead keeps its many obvious real world parallels at bay (most of the time anyway) while still remaining an on point examination of our latent xenophobia towards anyone who is different than us that is sadly still more than relevant today.

Let's just say the racial stereotyping themes are sometimes a little on the nose.

What Zootopia does so well though is hide its social commentary under the veil of a world inhabited by furry critters. It might seem strange to hide such a strong thematic structure like that in a kids film but in practice the message actually has more of an impact when packaged in such a seemingly innocent world as this. As we watch Judy struggle to break out of her expected role in life and try to be the very first rabbit police officer it is difficult to not feel empathy for her because it isn't any different than rooting for any underdog, bunny or human fighting to do something society tells them they can't. Even more powerful is the message of acceptance which is highlighted by the surprisingly complex friendship between Judy and Nick which is masked by the standard buddy cop formula but in actuality is one of the stronger parts of the film.

Nick is a fox yet growing up Judy has been taught to fear foxes as their inherent nature is be untrustworthy and dangerous so she must struggle to overcome that notion society has programmed into her. That isn't any different than a child being told a certain ethnicity or demographic isn't to be trusted for any stereotype that might be associated with them. This is the one area of Zootopia that does become a little more in your face than the many other sly social messages it employs and does threaten to turn the film into more of a preachy finger wagging tale of racism at times. Things such as Judy's parents giving her a fox repellent before leaving for the city or a speech she makes later on about not trusting a certain breed of animal based on their "known" proclivities are a bit on the nose but are thankfully brief and easily overlooked once that action starts up again.

Judy and Nick make for a fun and fully engaging crime fighting duo.

The world of Zootopia goes beyond just social messaging however as it is not only a feast for the eyes but is densely packed and brimming with a ton of personality. Clever writing and some of the most imaginative characters this side of Toy Story comprise a world that expands far beyond being just another family film. Not one single character felt out of place, unnecessary or slapped with the dreaded comedy relief tag which is sort of incredible when you realize just how many characters are jammed into Zootopia. From our main characters of Judy and Nick to a stable of side characters such as the stern but misunderstood police Captain, the shifty rat thief who resides in Little Ratopia (which is literally little) and the pop star sensation Gazelle along with her bedazzled tiger back up dancers, there isn't one rotten apple in the bunch. Even the daughter of the mob boss turns out to be an endearing 'little' spark plug and that is just the tip of the iceberg as we meet new interesting characters at nearly every turn.

If there is anyway to possibly come up with something negative to say about Zootopia it would have to be that we aren't able to stay there longer. When Judy first arrives to the city it is a sprawling metropolis with a number of different artificial climate zones that we only briefly get to visit as Judy and Nick hunt down clues to solve their case. Heck, we never even get to see the desert climate zone! But that isn't so much of an issue since everything we do get is so darn fantastic. Is Zootopia the greatest animated movie ever? No, but it is much better than anything Pixar has released lately and worlds better than just about anything coming from Dreamworks. The bottom line is Zootopia isn't just a great animated film but a great film in general and should be seen by everyone, adults and kids alike.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Watching Disney's latest animated opus is much like standing in the face of a nice cool breeze as it washes over you activating a multitude of emotional responses that results in a big stupid grin and a satisfied sigh of relief. Zootopia may have been saddled with one of the most off putting trailers in recent history but much like Frozen (which also had an atrocious trailer) it is more than the simple kids flick it was marketing itself as. Through a mixture of masterful animation, endearing characters and a surprisingly complex story full of adventure and intrigue, it is safe to say that Zootopia has something for everyone which is the hallmark of a film destined to become yet another beloved Disney classic.

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