Sunday, March 6, 2016

Movie Review: "Zootopia"

Disney has a long history of talking animal movies, and with their latest animated movie, Zootopia, they manage to go beyond the usual trappings of almost every other talking animal movie to make the strongest movie Disney Animation has put out since the Nineties.  Now I know that's a bold claim, considering in just the past three to four years alone we've had the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6, but there is something special about Zootopia that makes it such a strong entry in the Disney canon.

The titular Zootopia is an animal metropolis in a world where all animals have evolved to become anthropomorphic beings who dress, act, and live like the humans of our world.  Our heroine is Judy Hopps, the first rabbit cop Zootopia has ever seen.  Judy is belittled by her superiors and only has 48 hours to prove herself by solving a missing animals case or else she'll have to turn in her badge.  With the help of a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, Judy just might be able to do just that.  What follows is a story that is as warm and fuzzy as anything that Disney has ever done, but with more shades of our real world sewn thematically throughout the narrative.

The whole of Zootopia is about the concept of prejudice against others, or more particularly, our stereotyping people and wanting to put them in a box, saying they cannot go beyond those limitations.  We see that everyday in our real world and it's heady stuff for an animated Disney movie, which is why it is great that the movie is as funny as it is.  Seriously, this is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while, animated or live action, which allows the larger ideas at work in the story to never feel preachy.  The greatest feat of this movie is how gracefully it skirts around its real meaning without feeling as if the moviemakers are pushing their own personal agendas.  The movie is made in such a way that moviegoers can graft their own experiences onto these characters because we've all felt the ways that these characters have felt at one point or another -- bullied, underestimated, and misunderstood.  In doing this, Zootopia becomes something special, that rare breed of movie that makes you think, feel, and have fun, all in equal measure, with a lot of the fun part coming thanks to the sheer originality at every turn.

Zootopia is one of the most original movies Disney has made in a long while, with the city of Zootopia being such a unique creation.  All of the different ecosystems in Zootopia are a joy to see, from a rainforest area, to a tundra area, all the way to Little Rodentia, where the mice live in miniaturized skyscrapers, the animators, led by directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore, really capture the essence of both city life and the animal kingdom, in a perfect design meld.  Then there are the countless jokes that play off of all the unique traits that each animal species is known for, such as bunnies being good at multiplication or there being only sloths working at the DMV.  You can't help but laugh and be amazed at every turn at how nimbly the movie keeps clipping along.  Then there's the fact that Zootopia is also a mystery yarn, with the movie often mimicking old detective flicks in the way that Judy and Nick try to solve their case, adding elements of suspense to an otherwise traditional animated movie.

So if you can't tell, I loved Zootopia and thought it was a real joy from start to finish.  From top to bottom, this is just a well made movie, featuring exceptional writing, directing, voice acting, animation, and music, with Michael Giacchino's musical score infusing lots of tribal African instrumentation to create a score that is different and engaging.  While the movie is a little rougher than most parents might expect, due to some frightening moments involving bullies and some rabid animals, kids about seven and up should have a blast with it.  I know this big kid did.

I give Zootopia a 10 out of 10!

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