Walt Disney Animation Studios is giving Pixar a run for it’s money.
I didn’t know much about Zootopia when I went to go see it. I knew the general setting, a world populated by intelligent animals. I knew the film was produced by the same animation studio that brought us Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6, and I knew Jason Bateman played a fox in the film. That was about it. What I didn’t know was that this film’s primary focus was topically covering race relations in a family friendly setting, delivered through a noir-lite buddy cop story. The movie had a lot of ground to cover, and it pulls it off exceptionally. I loved this movie.
I already went in with pretty high hopes. I loved Wreck-It Ralph and really enjoyed Big Hero 6, so I was expecting a lot from this studio’s next venture. That being said, Zootopia still greatly exceeded my expectations and is now my favorite film Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced in recent years. The film is just so smart and witty and mature, at times I forgot I was watching a movie meant for kids.
Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit who moves to the metropolis of Zootopia, a city seperated into various biome districts where predators and prey live together in harmony, in hopes of becoming a cop. Eventually she gets wrapped up in a kidnapping mystery, and has to employ the help of the sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). The relationship between these two characters is the classic odd couple, the bickering buddy cop team. This dynamic is played fairly straight throughout the film but helps give legitimacy to its noir influenced story. The chemistry between Judy and Nick is great and doesn’t feel forced at all, and I really bought into their friendship/partnership.
In the opening act of the movie, Zootopia already begins tackling issues of casual racism, personifying this struggle through the distrust between various species of animals, citing their nature, etc. It’s effective due to the the ridiculous and humorous approach that the filmmakers took with this theme. By showcasing racism through different species of animals, it really shined a light on how absurd the concept really is. One joke I thought was pretty clever deals with Judy getting hired to be a cop through affirmative action. Its jokes like this one that really help deliver on the overall message of the film, promoting open mindedness and acceptance.
The fact the film is able to deal in themes such as this within the constructs of an animated family comedy just shows the strength of the writing team. The writing of this film is extremely sharp and witty, the film is hilarious and I was constantly laughing throughout. The plot is well thought out, if a little predictable. The film unfortunately falls back on a similar trope for it’s villain as Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph did. But other than the over familiarity in the plot, all of the characters are well rounded and the two leads in Judy and Nick both have tremendous character development throughout the film. All of the characters have notable flaws, but that just helps make them feel more believable and endearing.
The humor in the film takes full advantage of its setting. Their is a lot of great subtle visual humor in the film, just showing the various animals living day to day life in Zootopia. There are a variety of interlaced pop culture jokes, referencing things such as The Godfather, Breaking Bad, and Frozen. The film utilizes and plays off these references well, and really add to the film instead of taking away from it, which could have easily happened.
The animation in this film is extremely well done. All of the animals move realistically and are able to emote very well, which just makes the film all the more immersive. The city of Zootopia is just plain eye candy. Every thing in the city is designed with a purpose and I just wanted to spend more time in the city, exploring all the different districts. I loved the general look of the film and the animation quality was top notch.
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of Zootopia, a lot more than I was expecting to. What I expected to be a cute animated comedy ending up being a topical commentary on race relations while delivering a good message to adults and kids, told through a anthropomorphised animal noir story. The film is smart, funny, and heartfelt. I loved Zootopia.