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Kyle T. (KingKong) from KINSTON, NC
Reviewed on 6/28/2018...
The last time a Disney feature received overwhelming critical and audience acclaim, such as Zootopia has been getting, was last year's Inside Out (a Disney/Pixar production). I allowed my hopes to get quite high, then was disappointed to find that film just didn't appeal to me as much as it did to others. In fact, I slept through at least twenty minutes of it in the theater. That's not to knock it for people that did enjoy it. I certainly intend to give it a second chance someday soon. However, that experience caused me to keep my enthusiasm a bit more in check when Zootopia was released to glowing reviews and big box office. I loved the trailers. They didn't give the whole film away like some do, and one of them was basically just the sloths at the DMV scene from the film, which I probably watched a dozen times because it is just so funny. Anyway, I went into Zootopia with high hopes, but level expectations. Thankfully, this time, I was not disappointed.
Is Zootopia the masterpiece critics have made it out to be? Some of them have claimed it is one of Disney's all time greatest animated features. I don't know that I would go that far. Disney has had great difficulty replicating the magic of their animated classics, such as Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmations and Alice In Wonderland. Those films are legendary, and I don't know that this generation's cynical kids, who seem to know everything before they see their first armpit hair, are able to become as emotionally invested in the fanciful worlds animated films create as the movie-going kids of years before could. And now those kids who grew up with Disney's animated classics are themselves world-weary adults. I guess what I'm saying is that while many of us movie buffs blame Disney for not making animated films as wonderfully as they used to, the audience has to bear some of that blame also. Still, there's no denying that Disney Animation Studios' output in current years has been hit or miss, with Disney's best animated features being those helmed by Pixar.
I am happy to report that Zootopia can stand toe-to-toe with most of Pixar's films. It starts with a great script. This script is funny, very funny. But it is also relatable, heartfelt and timely. There has been much discussion and praise of the films messages of embracing diversity and not giving up on one's dreams. While that latter message is a common theme in most family fare, the points the film makes about diversity couldn't be coming along at a better time. Many of us watch the news and see the stories of unarmed minorities being harmed or killed by police officers, or protests over the Oscars' lack of nominee diversity, and we realize there is truth and relevance to many of these issues. But how often do we stop to think about how our kids are responding to these things? They often watch, read and hear the same news we do. The main theme of Zootopia is not judging others based on their "species" and avoiding common misconceptions and stereotypes about anyone who may not come from the same origins you do. Admittedly, the movie beats this point more than a dirty rug (a skunk-butt-rug perhaps? You'll see.). But it doesn't interfere at all with the movie's enjoyment factor.
Aside from an extremely witty script, we have a well-cast group of actors bringing life to a plethora of unique new characters. In the lead is Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Zootopia's first bunny cop. One thing that set Disney's classics apart was their creation of unique and memorable characters. Think Genie from Aladdin, Dopey from Snow White, the White Rabbit from Alice In Wonderland or Timon & Pumba from The Lion King-characters that have thrived in the pop culture ether long after their movies' releases. Judy Hopps is one of Disney's best new characters in years and she deserves to be every bit as memorable as those others I mentioned. She could have thrived on the cute factor alone, but she is much more three-dimensional than that. She has experienced real bullying and prejudice in her life but insists on enduring through whatever others throw at her so she can become a cop and "make the world a better place". She's clever, funny and even a little flawed, making her easy to connect with and root for. Jason Bateman costars as the sly fox Nick Wilde, who must learn throughout the film to look past his cynical view of the world and his own selfish attitude. As a Jason Bateman fan, I was glad to see him lending his famously sarcastic tone to this project. In his character's first few scenes I wasn't sure he was the right fit, but once Wilde and Hopps partner up, his range kicks in as his character faces a new emotional journey. The supporting cast includes Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Maurice Lamarche, Jenny Slate and Shakira as a pop star named Gazelle who treats us to a fun concert during the end credits. Nate Terrance gets one of the film's best supporting roles as Clawhauser, the police department's front desk officer-a fat, goofy, over-the-top, donut-loving cheetah. He and Judy get one of the best scenes in the movie when he uses a certain word to describe her and she responds with a friendly "only bunnies can use that word" attitude. It is obvious what real world scenario this scene is mirroring, and it is a very clever part of the movie's diversity message.
All these characters are part of the movie's great mystery-why has there been a disappearance of multiple mammals, and why, in an evolved society where all animals live in supposed harmony, are some animals turning "savage" and attacking others? I certainly won't spoil it here; and while the big reveal may be a tad predictable, it fits the film well. The pacing is near perfect, never does the movie feel like it's dragging or rushed. The sloths at the DMV scene featured in the film's second trailer is probably the funniest scene in the movie. However, there is a little more to it and even though I had already seen it multiple times, it still brought me to tears laughing in the theater. Thankfully, there's plenty more great lines and gags throughout to keep the laughs coming.
Obviously, with any animated feature, the quality of the animation is an important factor. Zootopia looks great. It may not be jaw-dropping like The Good Dinosaur, but all the images are well drawn and crisply rendered. There is also nice attention to detail throughout-little things like the carrots on Bonnie Hopps' skirt, Judy's activity tracker watch, and Mrs. Otterton's thread-pilling sweater. Characters' fur looks to stand out and flow naturally. It is clear directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush and their animation team set out to make a visually satisfying movie experience that doesn't skimp on animation quality.
Disney should be proud of their latest effort. Zootopia works well not just as a animated movie or family film-but just as a good movie period. I certainly wouldn't oppose going to see it again. It works on multiple levels and should be appealing to the whole family. 9/10