March opened up with a slew of animated films hitting theaters on the 4th. Two Japanese animated films, Only Yesterday and The Boy and the Beast went in to wide release nation wide. I’ll get to those later, but first lets talk about Disney’s latest animated feature film, Zootopia!
I’ve been waiting for this film to come out as I was curious how Disney would handle an anthropomorphic film since Chicken Little fell flat back in 2005. I wanted to go in fairly blind aside from seeing the trailers so I avoided articles and early reviews not wanting to get my hopes up too high. Silly me, even if they were high, Zootopia would’ve exceeded my expectations.
This film worked on multiple levels but mainly because it had a strong story coupled with excellent storytelling. This is one of the few cases where multiple cooks in the kitchen actually paid off with a whopping total of SEVEN writers while Jared Bush and Phil Johnston handling the screenplay. Asides the storytelling the timing, wit and humor were amazing. The slapstick and bathroom jokes were balanced well with subtle adult humor and modern cultural jokes but “Zootopia” themed. It’s also a great example of how tech jokes can help the story vs distract from it which Hotel Transylvania 2 suffered from. Everything just felt natural and flowed really well in this contained universe. I think Rich Moore’s (co-director/writer) directorial experiences on many classic Simpsons and Futurama episodes played a role in this.
They also introduced this animal world by giving you the history of why predators and prey are able to coexist by showing you through a children’s stage play where they also showcase Judy Hopps and her ambitions to become the first bunny cop. The world is extremely rich and dense but it is gradually revealed in the beginning through both Judy Hopp’s police academy training, her journey via train in to Zootopia and then revisited and explored throughout the movie while investigating her case in turn not overwhelming the audience.
Without spoiling any key story points, I’ll just say that this film does a great job of correlating common issues in society today with problems that are present in the Zootopia world. It touches upon heavy topics such as bullying, prejudice, fear based campaigns, racism, inequality, discrimination, systemic oppression, and them vs us mentality (predators vs prey, cops vs citizens, rich vs poor, educated vs uneducated, etc); all without actually spelling it out or being presented in a pandering way.
Okay now on to the fun stuff! Holy smokes are these characters not only engaging but they’re really endearing as well. The character dynamics between not just the leads, Judy (bunny) & Nick (fox), but also their encounters with the many side characters were really entertaining and gradually showed the different sides of their personality making them really well rounded. Anyone else get charming Robin Hood feels from Nick? Just me? Okay… Anyway, I don’t think there was a single character I disliked, even the bad guys. I particularly enjoyed the tech savvy and social media obsessed Cheetah, Benjamin Clawhauser (side note: I’m now accepting all of his merchandise as gifts).
This film is also an excellent example of how to do a “star-studded” cast right. Much like the Kung Fu Panda franchise the cast was not pushed as the main selling point of the film. Zootopia was filled to the brim with not only talented actors/actresses but also spectacled with hidden cameos (Kristen Bell, the voice of Anna in Frozen, was Flash’s coworker Priscilla at the DMV) and veteran voice actors (Maurice LaMarche as Mr Big the mob boss and John DiMaggio as the ornery Ice Cream shop owner). A bunch of the writers also played some minor roles in the film such as the directors, Byron Howard & Rich Moore, provided voices for Judy’s rude noisy neighbors when she first moves to Zootopia.
I also love it when films have cheeky or playful marketing leading up to it’s premiere. Zootopia did a play on a bunch movies released in 2015 but with animal related puns for the titles along with a couple popular music singles and high fashion magazine ads. I highly recommend checking out all of them; some are purrrtty clever (I’ll see myself out).
Disney Animation had a bit of a rough patch in the mid-late 2000’s. Good films were made, but they just weren’t quite hitting the mark. Don’t get me wrong. Those films had charm, and were highly enjoyable but they didn’t have that oomph that was present in the revival of their golden age in the late 80’s and 90’s. That said I love to see that they’ve found their footing so to speak over the past few years creatively and storytelling-wise and have continued to improve with each new film release.
As one of my good friend’s said “It’s the movie we need right now.” Not just for those who feel there is a lack of quality family entertainment in theaters, or for people who may feel lost and downtrodden wherever they are in life, but for those who feel ignored or that they aren’t being represented. This film is important.
And on that note, I’m going to go buy all things Judy Hopp and Benjamin Clawhauser.
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% (8.1/10 average)
[Based on stats as of March 9th 2016]
Release Date: March 4th 2016
Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
108 Minutes | Rated PG
Directors: Byron Howard & Rich Moore
Writers: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston
Stars: Jennifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman & Idris Elba
What’d you think of Zootopia? Who was your favorite character or moment? Should Disney do more anthropomorphic features? Comment below or tweet me @teriarchibbles!
ARTing is all about animation, graphic novels, and anything in between that is art related. Regular posts coming on Wednesdays.
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