By Jon Gallagher
Zootopia (Walt Disney Pictures, 2016) – Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush. Writers: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston (s/p). Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, & Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon (story). Dan Fogelman (Additional story material). Voices: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Jenny Slate, & Maurice LaMarche. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 108 minutes.
Disney has been pushing this one hard. I’ve been seeing its trailers for months. You can’t turn on a kids’ channel on TV without being inundated with previews.
This worried me.
From the trailers, it looked like a fun movie. All the characters are animals with human-like characteristics. There are some scenes that look hilarious. I’ve seen this play out before, and usually, to be brutally honest, a movie with this much hype sucks.
Not the case here. For me, it actually lived up to its hype, and in some cases, surpassed it.
It’s the story of a female rabbit who wants to become the first rabbit in history to become a cop. In this animal populated world where stereotypes of each animal is common, the rabbits are usually relegated to being carrot farmers while law enforcement is left to the bigger, brawnier types like hippos, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.
Judy Hopps, a young determined rabbit, becomes the first rabbit ever to pass the tough police academy tests and be hired as a police officer. She is immediately assigned duties as a meter maid where she, still fiercely determined, vows to write 200 tickets….by noon.
Meanwhile, mammals around town have been disappearing with no reason. The entire city is up in arms about the disappearances and the police department (except Judy, that is) is working hard to solve the case.
Judy meets up with a fox who is a con man (keeping with the stereotyping of foxes being sly), and in the process of him hustling her, she manages to hustle him into helping her solve the case of a missing otter. They become partners, then friends, and work together to solve the mystery.
This is not the typical Disney fare. This film has more storytelling than the usual offering from the animation giant. There is humor that will go right over the heads of the younger audience members (my 12-year-old granddaughter sat beside me and had no clue at some of the jokes), but will resonate with the adults (while I found myself chuckling). The plot is easy enough for the kids to follow, but still one that the adults will be able to appreciate as well. This may have been the most impressive part. I especially liked the references to and parody of The Godfather, which the youngsters just won’t have a clue about.
For those interested in the plot, they manage to keep away from a murder mystery (which would be a little out of character for Disney) by using a little different plot device. The animals in the city who are known predators are being turned back into predators by some unknown person or persons. Judy and Nick (the fox) have to discover not only who, but why.
The music throughout is definitely aimed at the younger set, but it’s nothing offensive to those of us in the older generation, and something I could live with for 108 minutes. Shakira provides the voice and inspiration for one of the characters who makes a big impact.
There is a lesson to be learned (we shouldn’t judge people based on their ethnicity), and at times it feels as though we’re about to be hit over the head with the message very hard. Although the message is received loud and clear, it’s not done in such a way that it’s rammed down our throats. Since Nick is a predator, his friendship with Judy is questioned by both her and those around them. It’s nicely done.
There is a twist at the end which anyone who has EVER seen or read a mystery should see coming. There is also a final hustle towards the end that came as a complete surprise.
One other comment on content. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve jumped in my seat. The only two times I can ever remember jumping is when the hand comes out of the grave at the end of Carrie, and when the head pops into view while Hooper is underwater in Jaws (I landed three rows back on that one!). Zootopia has an instance where I jumped. Nice. Although I am a little embarrassed that I jumped out of my seat in an animated movie.
I won’t make many comments on the voices; they were all well done, but then, I expect that in an animated film. Since the actors are only using their voices, they can concentrate on that rather than having to deliver lines with the appropriate body language/facial expressions. The animators get a bunch of kudos for using just the right techniques to give us a further sense of what the characters are going through.
The animators also get extra credit for the beautiful scenery in and around Zootopia, whether it be the sparkling metropolis of the big city, the colorful canopies of the rain forest area, or the frozen polar tundras with the dazzling white drifts of snow and sheets of ice. Visually, they’ve outdone themselves.
On a whole, the movie gets an A-. My 14-year-old grandson liked the movie (he said it was “okay”), but thought from the previews on TV that it would be better. My 12-year-old granddaughter also liked it, but hesitated quite a bit before answering the question. Their mom (my thirty-something daughter) liked it, but was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as what the trailers purported it to be. Those around us in the theater seemed to be mixed in their reactions as well.
I still liked it and will consider adding it to my collection once it comes out on DVD. There’s a lot of humor that I’m sure I missed the first time around.
I recommend it for children 10 and older. Those children under the age of 10 may find the visuals entertaining, but there’s no way they’re going to follow the plot.