Genre: CG Animation
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, John DiMaggio, Tommy Chong
Runtime: 1 hr 49 mins
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Opening Day: 25 February 2016
Synopsis: The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together— a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when optimistic Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.
Zootopia is the latest Disney animated flick to be released this year. Byron Howard, who previously directed Tangled and Rich Moore, who previously directed Wreck-It Ralph are at helm this time around. With such experience in the animation department, Howard and Moore manages to live up to their pristine track record with Zootopia.
In Zootopia, an unusual partnership occurs. A sly fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is a small time criminal in Zootopia pairs up with Zootopia's only Rabbit cop, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin). In this city of anthropomorphic animals, they must unwillingly work together when both become targets of a conspiracy. Their partnership shows that even natural enemies can become best friends.
Zootopia is a movie that takes place in an anthromorphic world without humans. It is definitely not an original concept as seen from previous Disney and Pixar films such as The Lion King and Dinosaur. In addition, this concept is used numerous times by other non-Disney/Pixar franchises, like Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda. Zootopia is also released in a year crammed with animated films, especially those that features a world run by animals. However, despite the aforementioned, it is safe to say that Zootopia sets itself apart from and the bar high for the upcoming animated releases this year.
Differing from other anthromorphic films, Zootopia begins by explaining to us how these animals evolve from their primitive state and live in harmony. This is a core theme in the film, showing us that even prey and predator have evolved to live together. Judy Hopps, despite everyone discouraging her, manages to become the first bunny cop. She then travels to Zootopia to begin her journey as a cop. Audiences witness the elaborate metropolistic world of ‘Zootopia’ within her eyes. From the initial train sequence, viewers are being sucked into a world of awe and amazement. Breathtaking visuals with tons of details splattered all over the screen, is a typical trope for most Disney films. That whole sequence is worth the price of admission alone. The different parts of the city, how the animals live together despite physical differences, all of it is a feast for the eyes and it’s perfectly rendered. Major props should be given to Howard and Moore for managing to still surprise us despite it being an anthromorphic world.
Furthermore, this animated metropolis features some familiarity from the latest few Disney films. It seems like Disney created a world in their films to build more theme parks, as evident previously in Inside Out. This is not a criticism as these films allow the viewers to feel like they are in the world and having the same, if not more, amount of fun than being in a theme park. The spectacle of Zootopia also feels similar to last year’s Tomorrowland. The difference here is the execution. Both movies featured a theme of following one’s dreams but Zootopia does not beat audiences over the head with it.
Speaking of audience, this film although made for kids, do cater for adults too. The jokes here do not come of as dumb or cringe worthy at any particular point of the movie. They were also consistent, leaving audiences laughing form the start to the end. This is what is expected of the Mouse-House. As usual, there are tons of Easter eggs to previous animated films. Even though there were numerous blink it and you will miss it moments, one scene in particular explicitly shows a major Easter egg that features majority of Disney’s latest films. Moreover, adult humor is added inside the mix, with one notable one referencing, Breaking Bad a popular adult TV series. Another, referencing the classical gangster film The Godfather.
There are even other more mature themes scattered throughout the film. One being racism. Zootopia manages to infuse such a real world issue into the film subtlety without offending anyone. This is evident in the scene whereby Judy scolds Nick for calling her “cute” and says it’s fine when a bunny calls another “cute” but when other animals call them “cute”, it’s not Ok. There are also other themes such as gender discrimination, social class discrimination and the influence of pop culture featured in the film. This may put off certain people affected by such real world issues. The Zootopia screenplay which the directors share credit with Phil Johnston and co-helmer Jared Bush, deserves praise for not only it witt but also it bravery for infusing such topics.
There is also classical noir tone to the film due to its mystery elements. But it is a little tonally awkward at times when the noir tone shifts into ‘buddy cop’ tone. However, due to the fast pace of the film, these shifts in tone are not noticeable. The animation style of the film is nothing we have not seen before; Disney could have done something innovative and different. Still, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, it was a safe move and one that does works for the plot of the film. This animation style does widely appeal to kids, as “Aww”s can be heard when cute characters pop up on screen while adults are kept engaged.
Zootopia is essentially an underdog story, with Judy doing her best as a cop, despite everyone doubting her. An as usual for all underdog stories, the ending is packaged up neatly and tied together with a ribbon. Likewise, for Zootopia. A darker ending would have suited the noir tones and could have change the game for Disney but it is understandable why they decided to play it safe. Furthermore, this is a kids movie, a downer ending would have puzzled them or left them in tears. Zootopia also choses to end it with a musical act, whereby the movie’s biggest recording star Gazelle (Shakira) performs a dance song, “Try Everything.” This may be hard to watch for certain members of the audience and the song really sticks in your head for quite some time, but who would argue against a glorified cameo by Shakira.
The voice work in this film is really well done. This is especially so for the two leads voiced by Bateman and Goodwin. They manage to solidify the chemistry between Judy and Nick and make them really likable character. Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons and Jenny Slate also did a fine job voicing the supporting chracters. This ensemble of talents manages to bring these non-existent creatures to life and give the film its heart and soul.
Overall, Zootopia is a fun and relatable film for everyone. It is a film that will make one want to live one’s dreams and live life to the fullest. Although not an instant classic in the Disney and Pixar track record, it will be a film that will be revisited from time to time again. Despite being at 108 minutes, the longest movie by the Walt Disney Animation Studios, audiences are left wanting more from this world and eagerly await the sequel and return to this animal metropolis. It is my pleasure to say that the Mouse-House has succeeded once again!
(This anthromorphic adventure has everything a Disney film offers, a wave of heartfelt emotions, a strong message and a consistently fun ride for all to enjoy)
Review by Celestine Pang