Disney’s newest top-shelf animated feature has received some good praise already, but it was one of those films I didn’t get the chance to catch at the theatre for many reasons. Amending that this afternoon was the task at hand, so how did it all fare?
I’ll kick off by saying I won’t refer to this as what it is called in the U.K. and Ireland, “Zootropolis”. I still have no idea why the name change was given (stupid marketing I assume), but to simplify matters, we’ll just stick with the original title. Taking place in an anthropomorphic world where all animals both predator and prey live alongside each other, a young bunny takes on her life-long dream of joining the Zootopia Police Force. Finding the city to not be the perfect haven of optimism as she was expecting, she nonetheless gets tasked with solving the case of a missing mammal, with the hep of a slightly untrustworthy fox.
There you are, that’s all you need to know. Simple bread and butter to the structure of the base story, although if anyone is good at taking a basic plot and garnishing it with incredible detail, it is Disney. And it is nice to see them return to the animal-based world of which they used to tell so often such as “Robin Hood”. There’s always been something humorous in seeing the different traits and personalities of people visualised in different animals. And that aspect is essentially what a lot of this movie resides on in order to keep the story entertaining and interesting.
And the world is indeed astonishing in the detail and sheer levels of fun that are on display. It is certainly a “Sandbox” set up, where you have many different types of animals leading to an exponentially bigger level of combinations to how the environments are designed, and how everything interacts with each other. Just the additions like how smaller critters have their own transportation and even their own mini-city, show off how much of a creative dream this must have been to work on. And most importantly of all, the whole lot works together properly. The first time you see the city it looks chaotic and insane, and yet somehow, it all fits together like any big metropolitan hub should. It is the kind of film where you will be constantly surveying the background for little gags and interesting things going on.
The anthropomorphic side also gives way to the characters having very distinct and defined personalities. The head of the Police Force being a rhino for example, is very intimidating and short-tempered. Or maybe that’s JK Simmons channelling himself through the voice acting. But either way, the characters instantly stand out, with the two main leads (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman) being the most intriguing in their respective arcs. You kind of instantly like them, they’re not playing stereotypes (unless being a Hustler is a stereotype), and so their paths have more going on that you actually want to see play out. A similar thing is why “Finding Nemo” was such a big success.
Of course, I couldn’t go through a review for this particular film without pointing out the elephant in the room – the whole “It’s about racism” thing. It falls thankfully short of getting political about it, but nonetheless lays it on a bit too heavy at times. Don’t pick me up the wrong way, I think it works to the narrative and structure of the film as a whole very well. And it is a neat way of illustrating the issues to a younger audience in a way they can follow with ease. There was no problems with raising the topic in a movie – but there are a few points where it threatens to engulf the storyline and lose track of where things should be moving towards. It is a hard juggling act to progress the tale, and follow the lesson to be told to its conclusion, without keeping the scales even. I just feel that tightening up a few things here and there will have kept it that bit more balanced.
But hey, it isn’t the end of the world to be honest, they didn’t over-step the line and so the issue is a small one for me. Even when things end on a song-and-dance, the point where I usually stop the film dead, it managed to not make it a painful experience. A concert running over the credits, that’s all honestly. And emotionally, there are some beats that got to me a little bit. The problems being shown, when you break them down and looks at them closely, are very relatable. Things like the harsh reality breaking your dreams, the vision of the world against how it actually functions, and how even a small litle mistake in wording can cause ideas to be taken to their extreme, and dangerous ends. I’m not talking about emotional levels seen in “Inside Out”, but they’re there still.
With all that being said, it may be odd when you see the score I give this and ask “Hold on, but you were talking about it so well, why not a higher rating?”. You have to remember that Disney is held to the highest standard in terms of animation prowess and skill. They have the biggest budgets, the biggest pools of acting talent, and best animators and staff to make it happen. You usually expect one of their creations to blow your pants off, be the new benchmark against which all other films are measured against. Sadly, this isn’t that.
But “Zootopia” is still an exceptionally entertaining, funny, emotive, dynamic, and vivid construction. There is so much so see, little jokes to have a giggle at, great writing for the main characters, very creative animation styles, and a beautifully diverse landscape of art. It may not reach true greatness, but I’d hold no sour grapes against those who would say otherwise. I will definitely enjoy viewing this one again soon, and it is a step in the right direction for Disney in terms of creating new and original content.
Thanks for reading!