Walt Disney Animation Studios' 55th feature film, Zootopia, is a surprisingly sophisticated fur-noir tale. Although the impeccable world-building, amazing character design and animation, and the unforgivingly talented voice cast stand out as some of the greatest aspects of the March 4th release, Zootopia proves that story is king of the jungle (or uh mayor of the city, in this case). While not a perfect film, Zootopia looks to stand next to Disney's very best in the new, golden resurgence that the studio so desperately needed, and respectfully deserved. Read the rest of my spoiler-free review of Disney's Zootopia after the break!
Before I go into the specifics, I have to state the obvious: the story of Zootopia is marvelous. Calling this film an action comedy adventure is only scraping the surface of the level of story-telling sophistication that directors Bryon Howard and Rich Moore have devised. What Zootopia does far better than any of the recent Disney Animated features is tell an extremely compelling story laced with a timely message about the importance of breaking down stereotypes. With that said, the political message of the film is not overbearing; it's swiftly sewn into the fabric of the character-driven drama between the film's two main protagonists, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde. And while at the beginning of the film the message may seem heavy handed, allow the story to introduce new elements of drama that will surely sophisticate the message far deeper than you would initially think.
This point illustrates my only big fault of the film, which is the beginning. The introduction to the film, while sweetly introducing the society in which the anthropomorphized mammals live, is a little too by-the-numbers for my liking. Just as Pixar's The Good Dinosaur did, so too does Zootopia try to introduce the world through an almost story-book like narrated display. With that said, once we zoom right into the city of Zootopia, the child-like storytelling of the introduction fades as Judy Hopps discovers that Zootopia isn't the utopian city she learned about as a young bunny.
With that said and done, I want to highlight how deliciously realized the relationship between Judy and Nick is. The two have an extremely well-realized chemistry, very reminiscent of that of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in co-director Byron Howard's 2010 feature, Tangled. However, while Rapunzel and Judy have similar characteristics just as Nick and Flynn do, this is only apparent after reflecting on the film. While watching the story unfold, never did the idea that Zootopia was inorganically stealing from a previous film arise. The pairing of a bunny and fox naturally plays out in the juxtaposition of the overly confident, glass-half-full Judy, opposed to the smart and cunning Nick.
I also want to note how deep the relationship between Judy and Nick evolves. Both characters reflect on similarly traumatizing experiences as young children, making the bond between the two all the more fulfilling (while also progressing the message of the film deeper into more sophisticated waters). And this is proven through numerous precious moments where the film pulls at the ol' heart strings, doing so not in a manipulative way, but as an honest, true experience.
While I could go on and on about the relationship between Judy and Nick, the other elements of the film that I really want to note I fear would not be given the light they deserve. As I previously noted, the character design and animation in Zootopia is some of the best I have ever seen. With each new Disney and Pixar feature, the rendering and control that animators are able to achieve in the facial expressions of the characters continue to progress, and Zootopia is no acceptation. Similarly flawless is the world of Zootopia, as pictured in these high resolution stills below, which show off just a few of the gorgeous shots achieved in the film. I can't go acknowledging the gorgeous world without saying that I wish elements from Zootopia are incorporated into Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. The setting is perfect, and I feel that if audiences love the film as much as critics do (Zootopia currently sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 90 reviews), I hope that Disney takes a hard look at theme park integration.
While I could go on and on about how much I truly love this film, I do need to keep my thoughts short and sweet. So, to reiterate some of my main points, I think that what Zootopia does better than anything else is tell a truly unforgiving story about the importance of overcoming stereotypes, while still understanding that these prejudices do exist within our world. And while the beginning of the film is a bit rocky, once we fall in love with main character Judy Hopps and her cunning side kick Nick Wilde, the dramatic, thrilling story about uncovering a clever mystery becomes all the more enthralling. Added with the beautifully rendered world of Zootopia, gorgeous character design and animation, and (again) a seamlessly invisible voice cast, Zootopia does the best that a Disney Animated film can do: make us laugh, make us cry, and attempt at leaving the world a better place, one heart (or tail) at a time.
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