Zootopia is another very good entry from Disney Animation Studios, with gorgeous visuals and some intriguing themes for a “kids” movie.
The film follows a bunny, Judy, who becomes the first ever of her kind to become a police officer in the ZPD. Taken for granted due to her size, Judy’s first foray into the big city isn’t going as planned, but her tenacious attitude gets her into the middle of a missing animal conspiracy. When she wagers her job on the success of her investigation, Judy must enlist the help of a con fox, Nick, who she must trust after he once took advantage of her as he knows his way around Zootopia.
The animation and production design on the film is, probably, the best the studio has put out in the CG department. A couple of shots rivaled the photo real quality of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, but even beyond those moments the film is endlessly impressive. The character design harkens back to the Disney house style for anthropomorphized animals for some of the key players, who look great, but the animators have plenty of fun populating the world with countless animals that each have their own defining characteristics. I do wish we got to see more of the boroughs of Zootopia, but the ones we do get are full of wonderful little details that you will be able dig into on multiple viewings. The little town for all of the rodents was the highlight of the film for me, as the world building and chase that takes place in it were just excellent.
The plot of the film is a pretty straightforward affair, the aforementioned mystery/detective tale will feel familiar, but the Zootopia setting mixed with Nick’s antics gives it a fresh spin. The fourth act stuff feels like the film didn’t quite know where it wanted to go with things, but the bait & switch of the finale with Nick and Judy was well earned. This was mostly due to the intriguing racial/xenophobic sub-plot that is layered into the film, which sets up the “wild animal” angle of the film quite nicely. That said, I feel like the integration of these themes could have been a bit smoother, but the fact that they are in there, and are palpable, is a huge accomplishment for a film with this target audience. The film also speaks to the way police officers should act and stand for, something that has been forgotten in the face of all the police violence publicized in recent years. You hope the kids take the positive messaging Zootopia is trying to impart on them, and I love that a giant Disney animated film is able to tackle issues like this.
The voice cast isn’t doing anything fancy here, but are really playing into their strengths. Actually, I guess I’ve never heard Ginnifer Goodwin play an earnest, fast talking goody-goody before, but she is great in the part as Judy. Jason Bateman is doing what you love to hear from him, the smart-ass know it all, while Idris Elba is excellent as the tough guy police chief. Jenny Slate is another standout in the cast, as her role allows her to play quite the range as she evolves over the film. Alan Tudyk also deserves a special mention for having the best Steve Buscemi impression I’ve ever heard as a weasel.
Zootopia doesn’t trade on showing a bunch of cute sight gags and animal jokes that it could have in this world, but instead decided to tell a compelling mystery set in this wonderfully realized world. Judy and Nick are two great characters at the film’s core, and their dynamic is one you can easily get behind as they help push the thematic messages of the film. You can’t help but appreciate the number of things Disney is going for with this film, and they mostly achieve it. Inspiring social messages, a compelling story, plenty of laughs and a couple of great characters, Zootopia is a film that will resonate with all audiences.