Film review: Zootopia (2016)


This is an excellent animated film from the Walt Disney studios that tells the story of the town of Zootopia where all animals, even those who used to be predators and prey in the distant past, have learned to live together in harmony. The story focuses on a rabbit Judy Hopps who realizes her dream of becoming the first rabbit to become a member of the police force that has been dominated by large mammals. She graduates top of her police academy class but faces all manner of discouragement, from her parents who fear the dangers of the job to her precinct boss who thinks that rabbits have no business being police officers and assigns her to parking meter duties in an effort to get her to become frustrated and quit.

Hopps stumbles onto a case involving animals who are mysteriously disappearing and which expands into a more sinister situation where some animals seem to be exhibiting predatory behavior. Defying her boss, she sets about trying to solve the case with the help of a street hustling fox whom she maneuvers into becoming her partner.

On the surface level this is a straightforward comedy-mystery buddy-cop flick and it works very well purely on that level. It is hilarious (it does a nice parody of The Godfather) and the mystery plot is plausible and resolved deftly.

But the film is quite political in that it also has as a subtext containing remarkably strong messages about stereotypes and prejudices and how politicians deliberately stoke animosities and fears about one another and perpetuate ideas about supposedly primeval violent tendencies in order to divide and rule.

Recently I have found that animated films are often some of the best ones. I suspect that it is because I value a good storyline and dialogue and animated films have to depend on them exclusively and thus put a lot more thought into them. Because they are animated and are targeted at children, they cannot depend on the star appeal of actors, sex, violence, profanity, and special effects to draw in the crowds and mask the weaknesses of plot and dialogue. (Of course, one could argue that animation is a kind of special effects, but you know what I mean.)

You should really see it. Here’s the trailer.

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    Also, regular films these days seem to shoot a lot more footage than they can actually use, and wait for the editing process to actually come up with a movie — which makes it a bit tough to maintain coherence (just got back from Suicide Squad, a prime example of this). Animated movies figure out all that stuff during the storyboard stage, so the pacing is built in from the ground up, not imposed at the last minute.

  2. smrnda says

    Kind of adding onto what brucegee said above – animated films are incredibly labor intensive which both discourages the ‘shoot a lot and cut down’ (where you can end up with action set pieces galore but missing chunks of character and plot) but also means that unless someone has a good story, nobody wants to put animators to work for a year to release a film that’s going to be a dud.

  3. says

    brucegee1962@#1:
    Animated movies figure out all that stuff during the storyboard stage, so the pacing is built in from the ground up, not imposed at the last minute.

    That’s a great way of explaining it!!!

    Animated features do tend to have a certain tightness that badly directed film seldom has. I guess it’s because “shoot lots and edit it into something that works” doesn’t actually work as well as storyboarding it all out. Some films (e.g.: blade runner) that were heavily storyboarded – it shows. And whenever I hear that a director went for an “edgy look” I now interpret that as “really sloppy.”

  4. Jockaira says

    If all the animals had learned to live together in harmony then why did they need a police force?

  5. Mano Singham says

    Jockaira,

    While Zootopia had solved the problem of animals eating each other, they were not perfect. Other crimes still remained.

  6. kyoseki says

    Animated movies can have a lot of the same problems as real movies, Brave, for example was a complete mess during production, which is why it falls off during the second half of the movie (Wreck It Ralph was robbed of the Oscar that year in my estimation). The Good Dinosaur, similarly, was heavily rewritten during production, but they still ended up with a solid film.

    If you really want insight into how catastrophically wrong an animated feature can go, read this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/movies/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-computer-animated-foodfight.html?ref=movies&_r=1&pagewanted=all

    That said, storyboarding & preproduction go a long way to producing a tight movie – Mad Max:Fury Road was heavily storyboarded all the way through long before the movie ever went into production, which is why they were able to deliver such a great movie on a relatively small budget. Compare that with crap like Suicide Squad, which invariably start life as a release date rather than a script (an increasingly common way of working) and then they try to slap together a movie before they run out of time, which sometimes works, but usually doesn’t.

  7. says

    @Kyoseki — Brave is one of those movies that really gets you in the feels, though.

    ======

    As for Zootopia, I do plan to see it… once it’s available thru Netflix, or via On Demand. I don’t really do movie theaters.

  8. Mano Singham says

    WMDKitty,

    The film is available on Netflix (DVD only so far) which is where I watched it.

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