Should I Watch..? 'Zootopia'
What's the big deal?
Zootopia (also known as Zootropolis) is an animated family comedy film released in 2016 and is the 55th animated feature film produced by Disney. The film is set in a vast city populated by anthropomorphic mammals and follows a rookie rabbit cop and a con-artist fox on the hunt for missing citizens. The film's ensemble cast includes Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence and Tommy Chong. Released to critical acclaim, the film was a staggering success with global takings over $1 billion - making Disney's biggest film since Frozen in 2013 and only the fourth animated film in history to make more than $1 billion. The film was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit in 2017 but the case was ultimately dismissed due to lack of evidence. Although nothing has officially been announced at the time of writing, you've gotta believe Disney will be making plans for a sequel to one of their most successful recent ventures.
What's it about?
Growing up in rural Bunnyburrow, rabbit Judy Hopps decides to pursue her dream of becoming a cop in the vast metropolis of Zootopia. Eventually graduating top of her class, Judy leaves her worried parents and her numerous siblings behind and gets a job with the ZPD. Despite reports of a number of missing creatures in the city, Chief Bogo refuses to accept Judy as an actual police officer and assigns her a menial parking ticket job. To make matters worse, she finds herself hustled by wily fox con-artists Nick Wilde and his partner Finnick.
Determined to make a positive impact, Judy abandons her traffic warden duties to apprehend a thief who has stolen some crocus bulbs from a florist. Despite her success, Chief Bogo is about to fire her before she agrees to help track down a missing otter in 48 hours or she'll be forced to resign. But the case has gone cold with no leads or evidence as to the fate of Emmitt Otterton. Luckily, Judy knows just the person to ask - Nick Wilde - but it soon appears that the case is linked to a terrifying conspiracy...
Officer Judy Hopps
Officer Benjamin Clawhauser
Mayor Leodore Lionheart
Byron Howard & Rich Moore (co-directed by Jared Bush)
Jared Bush & Phil Johnston*
Release Date (UK)
25th March, 2016
Animation, Comedy, Family
Best Animated Feature
What's to like?
Disney have been studying the playbook used by CG pioneers Pixar for years and they've produced a legitimately brilliant family film for the whole family. On the surface, it's a slick and entertaining action comedy featuring talking animals - in other words, standard Disney territory. But the screenplay is much smarter than you'd expect, tackling themes of drug abuse, prejudice and racism head-on at a time when society seems more divided than ever before. The movie's purpose doesn't immediately leap off the screen like it does in WALL-E, especially because you're enjoying the film's blend of originality and winning humour. But as the film develops, the penny drops and you understand what the film is attempting to say.
What I really enjoy about Disney (and Pixar films, by extension) is that the vocal talent used is the best for the role and not necessarily stuffed with A-list star power for the sake of it. And the same is true of Zootopia which picks the exact right voice for the role - Elba is probably the most miscast because he sounds too much like himself instead of an African buffalo police chief. But from top to bottom, the film is full of life and this is not just due to the eye-wateringly beautiful visuals. It's a very easy film to watch - the plot isn't too complex despite the parables hidden within, the animation is fluid and incredibly detailed and the film is loaded with sight gags and in-jokes for adults to enjoy.
- Nick Wilde's design was based on the lead character for Disney's Robin Hood who was also a fox. He was originally intended to be the lead character but test audiences instead related to Judy's character so the film was hastily rewritten and changed.
- The film contains numerous references to Frozen including the casting of Kristen Bell (Princess Anna in Frozen) as a sloth at the DMV and Tudyk as Duke Weaselton, a reference to his character in the snowy epic. An animal-version of the film is also seen among the pirate DVDs Duke is selling alongside Pig Hero 6, Wreck-It-Rhino and Meowana.
- This film marked Disney's first attempt at animated fur since 2008's Bolt. Given the software development in the years since, Disney created a program to dramatically improve the look and number of hairs on a single character. Both Judy and Nick feature some 2.5 million separate hairs while a little gerbil character had more hairs than Elsa's 400'000 hair strands in Frozen.
What's not to like?
The only real difficulty I can see is explaining the movie's message to younger children who might not understand. In the beginning, the film barely makes any mention of the fact that predators and prey are living peacefully side-by-side because it's never an issue - you accept the film's setting from the start. But as the plot develops, adults will immediately recognise the film's themes while smarter kids might get it but not understand. How do you explain the evils of racism through the kiddie-friendly looking-glass of a Disney film? It doesn't ram its message down your throat like WALL-E did with its themes of environmental awareness and over-commercialism, a fairly hollow message considering Disney's usual business model. But the fact that the film is suitable for revisiting time and again is a massive plus, even if it's to notice all the sight-gags on screen.
The only other I didn't like much was the lack of a decent soundtrack. Most Disney films have at least one song you'll be singing after the film finishes but despite Shakira's appearance as singing superstar Gazelle, the song "Try Everything" lacks any sort of memorable punch. But the truth is, this is one of the best Disney films I've seen for a long time and helps to re-establish the studio as one of the best in animation when they are on their game. Pixar, so long the domineering force in CG films, are suddenly looking nervously over their shoulder...
Should I watch it?
The sure-fire sign of a successful family film is one that entertains kids as well as it does adults and I have seen few films better at doing that than Zootopia. Working as both a funny and exciting family film as well as a thought-provoking look at human society, the film deserves every bit as much recognition as Disney's other contemporary classics. It is fantastic and a whole lot of fun - what more could you ask for?
Great For: animal lovers, the whole family, older children with smarts, vets
Not So Great For: pet store owners, anyone dismissive of "mere cartoons"
What else should I watch?
Although polar opposites (pun intended), Frozen remains an equally great Disney film with terrific animation, brilliant songs and a wonderfully Nordic, wintry atmosphere. Even if your child is still singing "Let It Go" after all this time, the film is a chilly fantasy fairy tale that warms you with its magic. I'm not surprised that both of these film topped $1 billion, the only films produced by Disney's historic animation studio to do so. Considering the studio also has The Lion King, Beauty And The Beast and Tangled on its books, that's a stunning achievement.
Ever since Toy Story launched the CG feature film in 1995, Pixar have been the widely acknowledged masters of the sub-genre with effortlessly entertaining films like The Incredibles. But the studio excelled themselves with WALL-E and Inside Out, two exceptional films that not just entertain but also emotionally engage you. I'm normally quite stoic but I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a little during both films. But they are still hugely enjoyable and wonderfully animated films and proof that Pixar haven't lost their edge just yet.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox