Directed By: Byron Howard & Rich Moore
Produced By: Clark Spencer
Screenplay By: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston
Premiered On: March 4, 2016
Distribution By: Walt Disney Pictures
I’m going slightly out of order here for two major reasons. First and foremost, the next film in line will be one that’ll likely require two separate posts to review as I’ve a LOT to say about it. Second, and more importantly, having just seen Zootopia and knowing that the DVD release will likely not be before the film’s actual place in line, I’m opting to review it now versus later.
Now first and foremost I will say this, there will be MINOR SPOILERS in this review but nothing plot related. Small tidbits that occur that can otherwise be guessed and/or assumed via previously released trailers and other such materials are going to be confirmed though.
The basic plot of the film is that a young rabbit appropriately named Judy Hopps aspires to become a police officer of the illustrious city of Zootopia. Unfortunately, she finds the task of being a cop far more difficult than she presumed as the so-called unity and fairness that Zootopia is supposed to represent is not as prevalent as she hoped. Managing her way into a missing mammal case, Judy forcibily enlists the help of a con-artist fox named Nick Wilde to help her investigation of the missing mammals and the supposed primal regression occurring amongst the predators of Zootopia.
In other words, this is a film about prejudice and stereotyping but not in a way one would expect. The film’s opening narrative, as presented to us by a younger Judy and a few of her classmates, reveals that predators and prey did not live in harmony with one another until some centuries past and the place which the accord was struck between them was where Zootopia was built. However, despite the centuries since those darker and far more primordial times, it is clear that there are still several stereotypes and prejudices occurring amongst the animals of the city.
A few key examples of this is featured primarily through Nick both in the present and in the past. As I shan’t spoil his backstory aside from stating that kids, no matter the species, are outright little monsters when they want to be. As to the present, Nick is shown attempting to buy a jumbo pop, a ginormous popsicle literally fit for an elephant from an ice cream shop that caters specifically to animals of gargantuan size.
The owner of the establishment outright waves a sign in the fox’s face that he has the right to refuse customers if he so choices and does so with Nick because he believes that the fox is up to something, despite a rather incredibly convincing act of Nick’s honesty.
Even Judy herself is shown to be somewhat prejudice insomuch that when she first spots Nick in the film, she immediately comes to the conclusion that he has to be up to something and follows him into the ice cream shop. Upon seeing him attempting to buy a popsicle for his “son,” she is immediately ashamed of herself and comes to his aid in purchasing the ice cream in question.
Of course, she’s justifiably ticked off at Nick when she discovers that it was actually a ploy for him and his partner in crime, a small fennec fox, to make use of the popsicle in a rather grand con scheme that gets Nick a good two hundred dollars a day since he was twelve.
Another, far more primary example though is with Judy herself being quite literally the first rabbit police officer in all of history never mind Zootopia. In the Police Department we even see that the majority of officers are either dangerous predators, like polar bears, wolves, lions, and tigers, or major powerhouse animals like buffalo, rhinos, and elephants.
There’s even an interesting interaction with Judy and Officer Clawhauser, a rather hefty cheetah, who calls Judy a cute little bunny to which she responds that while it’s alright for bunnies to make such comments amongst themselves, for another animal to do so can be rather… awkweird, to which Clawhauser profusely apologizes and proclaims his shame at being so prejudice to a fellow officer.
Heck, the assistant mayor, a tiny little lamb by name of Dawn Bellwether, is shown to be nothing more than a glorified secretary to the mayor Leodore Lionheart. Bellwether herself admits that she was hired by Lionheart to secure more votes from the sheep population of the city.
Despite the clear message of stereotyping and prejudice that this film has, it’s not one that is so… in your face about it. You see it in subtle actions and words yes, but it’s not… malicious. There are moments of cruelty, of that I cannot deny, but compared to acts that our own history has shown they are far more tame by comparison.
… I make no apologies for the atrocious pun.
The city of Zootopia itself is a miraculously fantastical city the likes of which I sincerely hope we get to see and explore again in the future. The city itself is well over the size of New York City, or at least heavily hinted as being of similar scale, and is similarly divided into several unique districts including but not limited to…
Tundratown, the polar district where a grand majority of the arctic residents live and is kept at such extreme temperatures by way of enormous air conditioning units whose vented heat is aimed towards Sahara Square, the desert district that features the popular nightlife activities of Zootopia. Little Rodentia, a portion of the Zootopia that caters specifically to all rodents and other similarly sized animals and includes such popular stores like Mousey’s.
I can count on one hand the number of films I’ve seen where I wanted to see more of the environment and this one pushes all of those aside to stand alone in the limelight. I hold no personal love or even an educated understanding towards architecture but it was the sole glance of the city via Judy’s train ride that got me ordering the Art of Zootopia book mere moments after having exited the theater.
Following a similar theme to past previous films, Zootopia only features one song in its entirety and is first introduced to us by Judy’s iPaw as she rides the train into the heart of Zootopia. It is played again at the films end during the credits in a sort-of-but-really ending to the film itself and features many of the characters singing or dancing along to the singer Shakira, or as she’s known by her Zootopian fursona, Gazelle.
It’s a good song but given the sheer number of visuals the first time we hear it, I paid it very little attention until it was played again at the film’s end. I don’t know if the directors and/or producer had come to a similar conclusion and opted to include the song a second time but it was a good call either way.
Lastly, I’ll wrap up this review with a bit of fun trivia I’ve learned of the film itself. Byron Howard, one of the two directors of the film, wanted to make this film as something of a spiritual successor to Disney’s Robin Hood whereas the film’s producer, Clark Spencer was inspired by Disney’s The Jungle Book.
As I hinted earlier in my brief description of Little Rodentia, there are many places and items that are spoofs of real world equivalents including such things as Preyda (Prada), Targoat (Target), iPaw (iPod/iPad), MuzzleTime (FaceTime), Hoof Locker (Foot Locker), and Trader Doe’s (Trader Joe’s). The real breadwinner of spoofing occurs with the weasel thief Duke Weaselton, so named for another character played by his voice actor, and his pirated DVDs that include such gems as…
Pig Hero 6, Wrangled, Wreck-It Rhino, and even a few yet-to-be-released titles like Meowana & Giraffic.
Last, but certainly not least, in this short list of trivia, there’s an interesting choice made for the film for its international release. There’s a part in the film where two news anchors are speaking and while one of them is always a female leopard, the other one is different based on which part of the world the film is being shown in.
For us in America, Canada & France the second anchor-animal is a moose, in Japan it’s a tanuki, in China a giant panda, in South America a jaguar, in Australia and New Zealand it’s a koala, and in jolly old England a corgi. They even went so far as to get actual reports/presenters to voice their animal counterparts and for some, like the moose, even gave them a spoofed version of theirs voice actor’s name.
Overall, I give Zootopia a solid ten out of five stars. It is by far my favorite film of the CGI generation of Disney Animated Films, not including those done by Pixar because that’s an entirely different studio in question. Is it a movie for kids though? Eh… kind of sort of. This is essentially a buddy-cop film and is certainly bright and colorful enough for any child to enjoy but the true message, and some of the darker moments, will either fly right over their heads or scare the freaking daylights out of them. This film had a jump scare, a honest-to-goodness, jump scare that actually startled me, which hasn’t happened in a long while let me tell you.
I’ve heard people have been comparing this film to The Lion King and in a way, yes, it certainly can be acclaimed to match it in many ways but that’s an unfair comparison to make. Aside from the generational differences between the two films, we’re talking a entirely different story and moral message between them. If you go see Zootopia, go see it with the idea that you’re about to watch another Disney gem but decide how much it shines in your heart only after you’ve seen its brilliance for yourself.