This is a great fucking movie.
It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty great. Disney really delivers with Zootopia, making a film both enjoyable and topical. I’m always surprised when I realize just how many movies I see from this company. I don’t see that many, but the ones that I do see are either Superhero stuff or animated. But when Disney is releasing stuff like this, I can’t help but be interested when new things hit the box office. So without further ado, let’s take a look at Disney’s latest creation.
When it’s Good, it’s Good
The first thing I thought was how much it felt like a “Disney” movie. I understand the studio is moving away from 2D animation since 3D is cheaper and takes less time in production. In that regard, I’ve been on board with Disney’s new look (Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph). As long as they stick to a consistent look, they can claim that it’s their new style for the new millennium, and I think it suits their needs just fine.
For Zootopia however, I felt like they really harkened back to an earlier period in their history, and it really made the film “feel” like some of the older stuff from Disney. Nick’s animation is especially reminiscent of Robin Hood and other earlier animation techniques, like they lifted the style from the page to the processor. That might have been enough, but not only did it feel nostalgic in ways other recent Disney productions haven’t, they also managed to create a beautiful and interesting world. The whole time I was watching, the only thing I could think was, “When are they adding this to the theme parks? I want to go there!” I have no doubt that it’s only a matter of time before we see a little Zootopia in Anaheim and Orlando.
In talking about the characters, both Judy and Nick are interesting and fun to watch play off of each other on screen. Almost all of the characters seem to have more than one side, which lends itself to the higher themes of the film. The mafioso boss is a family man, Flash has a fast secret, and both our leads are also living complicated and multifaceted lives. Put all of these characters together, and you have a diverse and memorable cast to help keep the plot moving forward at a nice pace.
Perhaps just as important, the film is genuinely funny, more so than I thought it could be. There were plenty of moments that had me laughing out loud in a crowded theater, particularly involving Nick’s partner and Judy’s witty banter. The physical humor they’re able to achieve by keeping the animals in their normal sizes makes for some great bits, as well deepening an already rich world. Add in some self referential jokes and you’re left with a very funny and moving movie.
The Literal Elephant in the Room
If we’re gonna talk about this movie, we have to talk about this.
Most people already know that perhaps the biggest underlying theme is the issue of diversity and equality. Disney could have played coy with the idea, and that might have been enough, but Zootopia looks the issue square in the face and makes its best run at it.
And it works.
No punches are pulled, yet they’re delivered on equal footing. A younger audience will understand the idea of not judging others on appearance. Older audiences will recognize the obvious real world parallels between shootings, racial inequality, and social justice. It’s not something that’s just glossed over, the characters are deeply effected by perceptions and stereotypes and acknowledge how they can effect otherwise good people without pandering.
As I said before, the idea of bias isn’t just restricted to one group in particular, and it’s an artful way to ensure that although there are real world parallels, the lines aren’t drawn too close. On one hand, the herbivores of Zootopia are the subjugated majority under the predators, since most of the meat-eating species tend to be more powerful and larger than the herbivores. Yet when some of the predators begin attacking herbivores, the shoe moves to the other foot, and the minority of predators suddenly become prey to public scrutiny. The connections were enough to drop my mouth open, with avoiding predators on public transport to the peace protests begging for equality and thinly veiled racial comments and inaccuracies we see everyday in the real world. The police force also contains a majority of predator species, a not-so-subtle jab at how the general populace may see them as well as explaining how they feel ostracized for doing their job.
The line is blurred enough that not one group of people can claim anyone type of mammal in Zootopia, all of them experience inequality in one way or another. No matter who’s in the audience, everyone sympathizes not only with the prey, but also with the predators in a masterful commentary on our current situation.
A Minor Misstep
The movie is very good, but it’s not perfect. The commentary was great, but I felt there were just a few jokes that feel a little short.
The DMV sequence involving the sloths, while funny, was very slow. The moment they walk into the DMV and say, “They’re all sloths!” Is enough for people to get the joke. Yet they push it a little too far to show just how slow they really are. It’s funny for the first few minutes, but I felt like it really dragged the film down to a crawl when there had been a nice clicked pace before. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the pregnancy joke, which I had already heard before. Something about it didn’t really resonate with me, I thought they could have picked another animal related joke that would have hit home a little better. Flash could have laughed at anything, so I thought that would have been an easy change to make.
The twist at the end was a good twist, but it was a little expected. A younger audience wouldn’t have noticed the foreshadowing, but looking back, it was fairly easy to tell who the real mastermind was. There were a lot of bad guys that happened to be sheep as well as the seen with the mayor’s assistant sitting behind the large desk, with dusk settling in over the city. It was clever, it took me longer than Sam to realize what was happening, but it’s something others saw coming a mile away. I liked the twist, and I thought it fit the film well, but they might have added one too many hints as to who it would be.
I thought the final sequence was a little anti-climactic. I had already assumed that Judy would have to deal with an enraged Nick, so I was ready when it happened, but I didn’t think they pushed it far enough. It felt like they really wanted to just wrap it up, so things felt a little rushed near the end. I would have liked to see a little more interplay with the villain and maybe a few more tense moments to make it feel like we worked for the ending we got, rather than things just tying up nicely quick at the end. Big Hero 6 pushed the envelope at the end of the film, you had to work a little bit to make it all the way through. That’s what I wanted from Zootopia.
There were also parts that made me uncomfortable, but I felt that it was necessary for the message. The press conference and the scene under the bridge in particular were cringe-worthy, but it was the good kind designed to make you take notice of what’s going on. Although I found myself feeling uncomfortable, I enjoyed these segments for their sincerity. Racial inequality isn’t a comfortable subject, people should feel a little shame. Furthermore, they should recognize and learn from that shame, rather than trying to project it onto other issues, and I thought Judy’s journey between both point in her character arc was a great way of teaching that idea, especially to the younger audience members.
Stacked against all of the things I liked about the film and all of the fun I had, the good really outweighs the bad. None of those things were enough to pull me out of the movie, I enjoyed almost everything else about the film. When it was bad, it was okay. When it was good, it was fantastic and fun. Fear not, parents, take your kids to see this movie. They just might learn something extremely valuable about others and how to treat them, as well as have confidence in themselves. I give it nine Ice-Pawps out of ten.
Keep up the good work, Disney.