You really have to give Disney a hand for getting back in the animation game. Thanks to hits like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and last year’s Big Hero 6, Disney is once again a major force in the industry. Change is inevitable, and as things go, producing features using drawn animation could only have lasted so long. CGI powehouse Pixar hit their stride long ago, but now it is the Mouse House who is seemingly ahead of the curve when it comes to pixels and the digital arts. As the studio has come in and out of greatness, one thing has been constant – they are fantastic storytellers who are able to draw in the best talent in the world.
Disney’s latest offering is something that feels classically Disney, yet has the awareness and modernity of something like the above mentioned frigid Princess pic. Zootopia trades ballgowns and musical numbers for a sweet-natured but surprisingly adult story. Sure it gets a candy coating, thanks to the conceit of the civilized mammalian populus, but while not intended as a straight-up comedy, this cuddly whodunnit is an all-out laugh fest.
It’s expected that a film like this would be chock-full of colorful characters and have a moral at the end (one that had been well telegraphed leading up to it), but you would not believe the hilarity to be had. A lot of that has to do with the no less than seven writers, (one of whom is Jennifer Lee, the brains behind Frozen), but it is just hysterical! The jokes come in waves, and they do not stop. Animated features automatically embody a certain level of comedy and witticism, but even though Zootopia is cute and fluffy, it’s very likely to be the funniest movie of the year.
Acting can make or break a film, and the leads Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman do more than embody their characters, they fit the role without overshadowing their portrayal (think Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo). Further, the likes of J.K. Simmons and Idris Elba are equally crowd-pleasing yet somehow, you’re able to watch their digital character and not think of the actor. Credit to the casting agent, sure, but more praise to Byron Howard, Rich Moore and co-director Jared Bush for getting the most out of the voice talent.
Zootopia has a great message which is that “anyone can be anything“. And with that mindset, the film does better than tout a universal theme, they drive home a present one as well. Women are recognized in business, law enforcement, even politics, but just because you may look or act a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to take the label the society gives you. That’s getting a little too deep for a movie about an entire planet of animals inhabiting a world similar to own, but things never seem trite or forced.
A lot of times, animators have a thankless job. They build worlds replete with astounding visuals, yet their rich landscapes get but a few seconds of appreciation at a time. Whether you spot all the details at first or on repeat viewings, Zootopia‘s layers of complexity are on par with The Croods, or better, Mad Max: Fury Road in the sense that there’s a reason for everything you see on screen. The team at Disney have imagined and interpolated wilderness creatures into our world and it’s as believable as it is comical (have you seen the Popsicle-eating Lemmings?). Whether visual or verbal, the jokes are so laugh-out-loud funny you’ll very likely have a fixed smile the whole time.
At its core, this is a detective story that has all the makings of a revitalized ’70s crime caper. Add to that a very bright, and throwback sound from Michael Giacchino, and it all feels like an episode of Police Story with the playful attitude of CHiPs. Zootopia is entirely inventive, smart as a whip, and has fun every step of the way while still advancing the plot. Far superior to the studio’s Oscar-winning Big Hero 6, two minutes into your visit to Zootopia and you’ll never want to leave. Just hope you never have to make a trip to their DMV!