VOD Review: Zootopia.
Disney’s animal menagerie has big visuals and a social message in addition to cute bunnies.
Did you miss Zootopia when it was dominating the box office? This Oscar nominated animated feature is worth a second look. While it may not be the most original creature, Zootopia is packed with some excellent animation, enjoyable characters, and themes like confronting bias, understanding privilege, and encouraging diversity that are handled in a mostly effective manner, though the film does itself rely on some stock characterization. There’s plenty of pop culture references to entertain adults while providing an uplifting message for children.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin,) a young bunny living on a carrot farm, dreams of moving to Zootopia and becoming the first ever rabbit policewoman. After working twice as hard as the rest of her class, she is finally selected to serve in Zootopia’s police force…as a meter maid. Zootopia, a mega city that is divided into different biomes to accommodate nearly all creatures, may not be as perfect of an animal utopia as she was led to believe. Bunnies are still seen as cute and dumb, foxes as sly and conniving, and predators dominate the halls of power while being feared by their herbivore citizenry. When some predators go missing, Judy disobeys orders and investigates the case. Along with a reluctant fox informant, Nick (Jason Bateman,) she discovers a conspiracy to divide Zootopia along traditional hunter/prey lines.
The cast of Zootopia is a mixed bag. Judy and Nick are dynamic and engaging, which helps keep the plot grounded. The rest of the creatures are mostly one note. It is a bit strange for a movie that has at heart a message of non-judgement. Most of the animals have exactly the personality you would expect based on their species, or else have exactly the opposite personality. It gets a touch repetitive. Chief Bogo, voiced by Idris Elba, is just the stubborn, irascible type you’d figure a cape buffalo to be. A weasel is shifty, an elephant is stodgy, and a sloth is slow. Except for when he’s in a sports car. There’s not really any nuance, and most of the characters are pretty binary.
The inflexibility of the cast hurts the social messaging. Judy and Nick manage to confront preconceived notions each has about the other, and they grow as characters in fits and starts. In a nice touch, Judy actually ends up being prejudiced precisely when she thinks she’s being PC and fair. Nick pretty much tells her to check her privilege, and it’s a nice way to keep the message from being preachy. Just because you’re hyper aware of group identity doesn’t mean you can’t fall into easy and offensive stereotypes yourself.
Judy learns her lesson, but the movie itself seems to want it both ways. It may talk a good game about not judging an animal by its spots, but it sure indulges in plenty of throw away jokes about animals being exactly their stereotypes. Having one or two major characters play against type is just another instance: the joke only works because we expect them to be a certain way, and the movie is trading on that.
While I did not originally understand why this film was picked for an Oscar nomination over some really deserving films abroad, Disney does flex some technical muscle. There are lavish settings and some really stunning rain and snow effects that are as good as any I’ve seen in a cartoon, even in this digitally driven era. Between Moana, Frozen, and Zootopia, it seems that Disney has really nailed their approach to physics-driven weather effects. It’s a small touch, but another step towards creating CG landscapes that are photo-realistic. When we cross the uncanny valley, we won’t need to worry about the weather at least.
Run Through the Jungle.
Zootopia sets a brisk pace with three acts. We have Judy training to make her dreams come true, her discovery that both she and Zootopia are not as egalitarian as she thought, and then her acceptance of her abilities and flaws in order to solve the case. The film moves at a sprint for most of the run-time, and it works. We get a chance to see many facets of the city, meet lots of characters, and still have a solid crime thriller with a few big twists.
That’s All Folks!
Zootopia is a fun film that has quite a few nice touches. The visuals are excellent, and story is brisk and exciting, and the main characters are both enjoyable. On top of the solid animation, Zootopia endeavors to have a timely message about stereotyping and overcoming one’s environment, but is only marginally successful in this. Like our hero and the city she loves, this film has a few blemishes. Luckily, like Judy, the film manages to overcome most of them and remain an all-around good time.