Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)

Disney’s Zootopia is a movie that uses cute animals and great animation to tackle very real and very heavy issues of today. 

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Zootopia is a movie that came out at the perfect time. With the issues it tackled, I don’t think there was a better time for this movie. Zootopia introduces very real issues to children and lessons that grown people can stand to learn.

The Elephant In The Room

Zootopia tackles the issues of gender equality and racial prejudice, and it doesn’t shy away from either of these hard-hitting topics.

Zootopia-PosterIn the fictional world of Zootopia, there are prey and there are predators. At the beginning of the film, the difference between these two species is established. There is this racial tension that exists between prey and predators, that goes back years and years to before animals were civilized. The tension between rabbit and fox is especially focused on to set the background for our two main characters, but the main focus is on all prey and all predators.

tumblr_nwt7osVHFy1ry7whco1_400Judy Hopps is a rabbit from a small farming community. She’s the daughter of carrot farmers who have no bigger aspirations for their daughter than to follow in their footsteps, but Judy has much larger dreams. The only problem? There has never been a bunny cop before. She will have to tackle years of anti-bunny feelings to achieve her dream of being a cop in the big metropolis of Zootopia.

Of course, Judy’s struggle against anti-bunny sentiments is very reminiscent of women overcoming prejudices in the workplace. And this prey vs predators theme relates to current race relations and tension. I thought the relationship was especially poignant about halfway through the film, when we think that the two main characters have finally gotten over their differences only to find that old racial tensions are not that easily resolved.

There’s a lot of odds stacked against Judy, but she doesn’t allow that to stop her from achieving her dream. Judy wants to be the first bunny-cop and she wants to make Zootopia a better place.

These are very important themes for our time and to be introducing them to children is great. We need to come together as a world instead of drawing these delineating borders between “us and them.” Children need to be taught that despite someone being a “prey” or a “predator,” we can still be together while enjoying our differences. In fact, being ourselves yet being together is what makes the world go ’round!

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At the end of the movie, the audience is left with the message of changing the world one person at a time, starting with yourself. Another wonderful lesson that we need to all learn. It’s very reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror.” A beautiful song and a beautiful lesson.

PS – Another something I couldn’t fail to notice was that the movie focused on cops and for once the boys in blue were presented as good guys. At their worst, the law enforcement of Zootopia are brusque and a bit cliquish, but at the end of the film, cops are good. Even Chief Bogo, who could be seen as a major hindrance to Judy’s success at the beginning of the film is a good guy. He is a cop saddled with responsibility and pressure, but about halfway through the film we get to see the other side of him and we realize that he too is a good guy.

Making this movie about Judy Hopps as a PI working outside of the law and against a corrupt ZPD would have been easy to do, but the filmmakers chose to make Judy Hopps a police officer that operates within the confines of the law and still manages to do the right thing and to be inherently good. I think the choice to have the main character of Zootopia be a police officer was a very deliberate decision. It goes along with the theme of “just because you are a blank does not mean you are blank.” Not all prey are timid. Not all predators are savage. Not all cops are bad.

Beautiful Animation

ZOOTOPIA. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s Animation Studios is great at what they do. Their animation techniques have always been the best (sorry, Dreamworks). This movie was no exception. Every tiny bit of detail is beautifully animated, from how Judy’s button nose twitches when she is emotionally distraught to the gleaming spires of Zootopia to the bouncing locks of Mayor Lionheart’s mane. The characters movements are so fluid, that at times I wonder if any motion-capture was used (I doubt that it was, but that goes to show how fluid the motion animation was).

A Realistic World That Isn’t Real

I love stories that do a great job at world-building. Zootopia introduces us to a world that could have been if animals ran the scene. There are animal-themed shops and commodities, and everyday conveniences that we have today are twisted to fit the needs of Zootopia’s animal residents. Zootopia feels like a real place. The city is fleshed out and feels like it is part of the movie rather than just static buildings in the background. The details are so spectacular that I found myself wanting to explore the streets and unique biomes of Zootopia further. 

A WORLD FOR BIG AND SMALL — Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Zootopia" features a vast world where humans never existed. With advanced transportation systems that accommodate mammals of all shapes and sizes, the modern mammal metropolis was built by animals for animals. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and produced by Clark Spencer, "Zootopia" opens in U.S. theaters on March 4, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Great Characters

The ability to animate subtle emotions and movements into your characters opens up new avenues for emotional attachment and comedic delivery. Zootopia capitalizes on this and introduces a cast of rounded and three-dimensional characters (and I’m not talking about their character models). Besides the main characters of Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, there is a great and memorable cast of supporting characters.

Zootopia-5The main character, Judy Hopps is a wonderfully delightful female lead. She is brave and through her own dedication and prowess she becomes a competent bunny cop. What I liked most about Judy’s character was that even though she was this empowered bunny, it was not shoved into my face. She was competent and that was enough. She was not preachy, but let her actions inspire those around her and hopefully the young girls who see this movie.

Nick Wilde, is a lovable con-artist character, akin to Han Solo. Even before we find out why he is why he is, we like him. He’s funny, flippant, and intelligent. Where Judy is brave and unrelenting, Nick offers her practicality and street smarts. Together, they make a wonderful team.

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Alongside Judy and Nick are memorable characters such as Flash the Sloth (who immediately stole the audience’s hearts in that DMV scene from the first Zootopia trailer), Chief Bogo, Mayor Lionheart, and Assistant Mayor Bellweather. I feel that each character (even minor characters like Flash) was fully realized and relatable.

A Basket Full of Easter Eggs

Even though my wife would say I am easily distractible, I like to say that I am hyper-observant. I’m always paying attention to things in the background and that is why I really love finding easter eggs in movies. (For those that don’t know, since I mentioned easter eggs in my Deadpool review, the term easter eggs refer to hidden, inside jokes throughout the film.) Zootopia had a surprising amount of easter eggs! There was a Breaking Bad reference (which I almost missed and subsequently laughed very loudly at). The city of Zootopia is filled with shops and commodities similar to ours, but with an animal twist. Judy employs an obvious parody of the iPhone and the characters can be seen shopping at a Target-themed store. There’s also a wonderful Godfather-inspired scene.

MR. BIG — The most fearsome crime boss in Tundratown, Mr. Big commands respect—and when he feels disrespected, bad things happen. A small mammal with a big personality, Mr. Big is voiced by Maurice La Marche. Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Zootopia" opens in U.S. theaters on March 4, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Probably the easter egg that made me laugh the most was a minor character named Duke Weaselton the Weasel. He is seen peddling some bootleg DVDs on the street corner and when the movies are shown, you see that they are animal twists on Disney movies that have come out like Tangled and Big Hero Six and some movies that have not even come out yet such as Moana and Finding Dory. Judy addresses Duke by calling him Duke “Wesselton” which he responds “It’s Weaseltown” which was a reference to a recurring gag in Frozen. That made me laugh and I thought, it would be really funny if this Duke and the Duke from Frozen were voiced by the same actor and they totally were! Freaking Alan Tudyk, man! I love him!

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The Acting

L1-EXPphH3glThe voice acting for Zootopia was excellent. Even the minor characters were brought to life by great performances! Ginnifer Goodwin has this infectious joy and innocence in her voice that makes us love Judy Hopps even more. I wasn’t sure that Jason Bateman was going to perform the role of a con artist so well, since he usually plays the straight-laced guy in his films, but he nailed the role of Nick. He is quick with the delivery and matches Nick Wilde’s smarmy personality. Add to that Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, and Alan Tudyk and you have a stellar supporting voice cast.

The Music

Michael Giacchino was the composer for Zootopia’s music. He’s also known for The Incredibles, Up, Jurassic World, and Star Trek (2009). With such great scores under his belt already, would you really expect anything different from Giacchino for this film? Giacchino captures the quiet moments of Zootopia along with encapsulating the film’s quicker, action-packed moments.

The Kids

Is this movie appropriate for kids? Of course!

This is a Disney movie and, as you can expect, it is made for children. Don’t let the heavy themes of Zootopia discourage you from taking your child to see this movie. This movie can serve as a conversation starter for you and your child to discuss real issues of today. And these are themes that your child needs to be learning about, especially about overcoming old prejudices to achieve their dreams.

There are some scary and intense moments, but nothing I think that would terrify children or give them nightmares.

The Grade

Zootopia is real, funny, and a great film. It is definitely my favorite film of 2016 so far, and it may very well continue to hold that spot throughout the rest of the year. It is a must see for families. I would go so far as to say everyone needs to see this movie.

I give Zootopia a grade of…

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There you have it. Have you seen Zootopia? What do you think of it? I really cannot sing this movie’s praises enough. Let’s discuss what you think in the comments below!

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