Let’s start this review by acknowledging the difference between Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Some people may be surprised to know that Disney makes animated films separate from Pixar and they are two separate entities. And in the last couple of years, Disney Animation studios has silently been building an impressive repertoire of movies. While Pixar was busy with Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur, and Inside Out (R.I.P. Bing Bong), Disney Animation Studios made the wildly imaginative Wreck It Ralph, the unbearably adorable Frozen, and the enjoyable Big Hero 6. It’s hard to ignore the impressive streak the studio is on and they’re back at it again with Zootopia. The idea of talking animals is nothing new and is downright trite at this point, so the question is can Disney bring something new to the table? Let’s find out.
Ambitious and creative in its storytelling, Zootopia is a cut above the rest in the animation genre and pure fun for pretty much any age. Directors Bryon Howard, Jared Bush, and Rich Moore make the most out of the idea of a society of anthropomorphic animals as they jam pack every single frame with ingenious visuals, creating an amazing and well realized world for the viewer to explore. It’s hard to not get a smile on your face when you see how much heart is put into the film. Our end product is amazingly crafted that includes a perfect voice cast, relentlessly witty humor and lively animation, but the movie goes the extra mile and truly stands out by providing timely social commentary that never comes off as heavy handed. Zootopia is not only great, but socially relevant.
The message of Zootopia is clear: don’t be constrained by stereotypes (in both how others view you and how you view others). How Zootopia goes about conveying this message is what will make or break the film. It could go the route of being unbelievably overbearing (god knows there are about a dozen other Disney films that hammer you over the head with a “be yourself” message) or it could be subtle in its approach. The film goes with a subtle touch in its message, to amazing results. Our main character of Judy Hopps is an ambitious rabbit that becomes the first bunny cop of Zootopia. Through her, we see the prejudice and preconceived notions of prey species and predator species in this animal society. Her struggle to be recognized as a real cop in a police squad full of large, strong predators speaks volumes on our society today. Seeing such mature and important themes talked about in an animated family film and done so tastefully and with such nuance with these animal characters was so refreshing to watch.
When it comes to the animation, it’s marvelous. Everything is so detailed from the locales, to the character designs and right down to the mannerisms and facial expressions of the characters. The animation is energetic, bright, colorful, and aesthetically awesome for the eyes through and through. It is evident how much effort went into this and it pays off with a great visual experience. The voice cast also enhances the film greatly. Ginnifer Goodwin gives a heartfelt voice performance that fits perfectly with the character of Judy Hopps, but the true standout is Jason Bateman as sneaky fox, Nick Wilde. His sly voice is effortless with the comedic material, never coming off as trying too hard. Elsewhere, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, and Nate Torrence also turn in memorable and fun voice performances as well.
Flaws are rare in this film, but still present. When it comes to the progression of the story, there are some plot conveniences and certain plot points feel familiar, but these conveniences and plot points are so written so creatively, they can easily be forgiven. Additionally, a certain character reveal at the very end of the film is a tad too over the top. Otherwise, I got no other real complaints.
Overall, Zootopia nails everything it tries to do. The world building, the animation, the voice cast, the pacing, the social messages, the writing, the emotion: all splendid. No character is forgettable and almost every joke hits. So many elements are executed perfectly and it results in my favorite film of 2016 so far. Zootopia deserves your money this weekend.