Fresh from my latest trip to the movies, here's my review of Disney's latest film!
As always, the teasers and trailers first: a teaser for an animated film with Kelsey Grammar, Storks. Trailers for The Angry Birds Movie, The Secret Life of Pets, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Jungle Book, and Finding Dory.
Now to Zootopia proper: My first reaction was is it was a standard Disney film, formula B. Underdog (or under-bunny, in this case) goes through childhood adversity, travels away from home, overcoming obstacles on the way to achieving their dream. (Since you're now dying to know, formula A is a musical, possibly with Shakespearean themes. You're welcome ;) )
While that is definitely oversimplified, it pretty much sums up the movie. Like any good Disney film, however, it's really more of a social commentary for adults, dressed up in kids' colors.
Speaking of the colors, the animation is gorgeous. It would've been nice to see in IMAX format, but my IMAX showtimes were only in 3D. Definitely avoid the 3D showings, as the lens tinting will likely hurt some incredible detail and color schemes, only for a handful of needless up-converting in the action scenes. If you have a 2D showing at IMAX, go for it, but stick to the standard 2D showings.
Back to the social commentary. The city of Zootopia references New York, complete with separate temperate zones, aka boroughs, with predator and prey living mostly in harmony. Some real-world parallels regarding racial insensitivity are evident from the start; as Ginnifer Goodwin's voiced Judy Hopps arrives for her first day on the police force, the receptionist tells her what a cute little bunny she is, only to receive an awkward gentle scolding from Hopps: "bunnies can call each other cute, other animals, well...." The theme of trust across racial lines continues as prey Hopps is forced into a partnership with predator fox, Jason Bateman's Nick Wilde. His classic hustler persona, mannerisms, and style are animated wonderfully.
This theme, as well as the dangers of rushing to judgement, out-of-context headlines in the 24-hour news cycle, and their instant spread via social media, are explored in more serious terms, as some predators return to their natural state, and begin attacking prey. Hopps provides the facts in her first press conference, however due to her inexperience with the media, provides them in matter-of-fact terms that are quickly spun into fear and panic towards prey animals' safety from predators.
While not quite on the same definitely-adult level as Inside Out or WALL-E, those in later elementary school might understand these parallels, but younger than that, (hopefully) I would think most of the social commentary would go over kids' heads.
The dramatic elements of the film's plot are comically relieved via numerous real-life parodies. Given directors Rich Moore and Jim Reardon's history in doing just that on "The Simpsons", Zootopia hits the jackpot. Anyone having experience in urban living will easily identify with other real-life parallels to Zootopia: Tiny paper-thin-wall apartments, parking meter patrols, and street-corner hustlers selling legally questionable merchandise.
Quite surprisingly, Moore and Reardon are able to make blatant fun of Disney, and are even allowed thinly-veiled shots at rival animation studios. Hopps' boss Chief Bogo, voiced by Idris Elba, chastises her with the hilarious quote of "This is real-life Hopps. Not some dream where everyone bursts out into a musical that solves all your problems. Let. It. Go." Characters from "Ice Age" are portrayed as crackling statues, frozen over in the borough of Tundratown and in the Natural History Museum.
More adult references are found in "The Godfather"-esque capture of Wilde and Hopps, and Disney fans will love the parodies of those legally questionable movies being sold on the street. Possibly the most hilarious is blatantly telegraphed, but it still lives in "Disney won't go there" territory. As it serves as a major plot device, I won't spoil it that much. I'll just say thanks to AMC for allowing its inclusion, to the delight of science fans everywhere ;)
The music is another shining aspect of Zootopia. Michael Giacchino does an outstanding job in providing mood and accenting scenes, and the during-credits percussion ensemble-led film score is great to hear. Shakira plays a pop-star like character, and her mid-credits single "Try Everything" makes for an upbeat, semi-uplifting pop anthem. No post-credits scene this time, but definitely stay to hear Giacchino's film score. Percussionists will thank you.
Overall, the animation and colors in Zootopia are awesome, and the parody humor makes great references. While Goodwin and Bateman voice their respective characters nicely, and the storyline of the unlikely pair of bunny and fox cop-drama is good, it falls to third on what is a visually powerful and parody humor-filled entry to the Walt Disney Animation Studios catalog.
As Zootopia is receiving high praise for its social commentary, non-movie critics with interest in animation, any Disney fan, or parents looking for a conversational piece with their kids about some of the challenges of adult society will enjoy their trip to Zootopia.
(Just don't be surprised if Hopps' recording carrot trick is used against you, or you learn the necessity of punctuation and grammar from Wilde. Who said animated films weren't educational?? ;) )