Since Disney’s partnership with Pixar, the studio has put out a relatively impressive list of their own CGI features, and although films like Frozen and Wreck it Ralph certainly managed to find their audiences, none of the Walt Disney produced animated films have come close to coming to the quality of Pixar’s films (well, most Pixar films). That is, until now. Zootopia ranks amongst Disney’s best animated films, earning a spot alongside Disney classics, as well as Pixar’s best outings.
Zootopia tells the tale of Judy Hopps (Once Upon a Time’s Ginnifer Goodwin), a small town country bunny whose lifelong dream is to be a cop in the big city. When her dreams finally comes true, she finds life in the city of Zootopia isn’t what she had excepted. Determined to still make her mark, she finds herself involved in a kidnapping investigation, which ends up getting her involved with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). It’s a relatively simple story, one that even the youngest of viewers can follow, but with enough intrigue, entertainment, and laughs, that it holds the attention of older audience members as well.
The underlying theme of the movie is a not so thinly veiled examination of racism, which is fairly bold for an animated Disney film. We’re told at the top of the film that animals have evolved to the point that the predator/prey relationship has broken down, and all animals live in harmony. As you can imagine, this relationship is put to the test. The film manages to very accurately depict various degrees of racism, from overt, hate based racism, to those that are innocently ignorant in their racism, which is not often represented on film. While I applaud the film’s approach to the subject matter, I wish more thought was put into addressing steps we (or the characters) can take toward a resolve. If, anything, I suppose, it’s a conversation starter for the younger viewers.
Enough can not be said about the animation in Zootopia, which has set a new bar for the medium. The character designs, to start, harken back to classic designs of Disney films like Bambi, Song of the South, The Jungle Book, and The Fox and the Hound. However, what we’re treated to with Zootopia, are characters whose facial and body movements are so detailed and nuanced, that it far exceeds anything we’ve seen before in CGI films, let alone 2D animation (I’m hesitant to even say that, as I am a 2D purist, but I have to give credit where credit is due). Despite their very “cartoony” design, you almost forget they are animated. This is a far cry from Pixar’s last outing, The Good Dinosaur, whose characters were incredibly bland and uninspiring.
The same type of detail is given to the background as well. There is an incredible sequence early in the film in which we are introduced to the different habitats of Zootopia, and I was reminded of the public’s reaction to first seeing Avatar’s planet of Pandora. Zootopia is immediately someplace you find yourself wanting to visit. The environments presented are so richly detailed that they invite you to concentrate on all of the background action of the film (I strongly encourage to see the film in 3D, as it further enhances the experience). I don’t doubt Zootopia will find itself as part of the Disney Parks in the future.
I’ve been critical of stunt casting in the past, but Disney (as well as Pixar) has a history of at least casting well, and the same an be said of Zootopia. Despite starring in a successful ABC series, Ginnifer Goodwin isn’t quite a household name, and while Jason Bateman is a fantastic comedic actor, he isn’t known as a box office draw. That said, both actors are perfectly cast here. Goodwin’s earnest portrayal of Hopps, and Bateman’s “more than just a slick con” Wilde really breathe life into the characters. I was surprised to learn that the two didn’t record together, because the chemistry between the two actors is perfect. The supporting cast is great as well, particularly Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as Hopp’s worrisome parents. It was also very refreshing to see veteran voice actors Maurice LaMarche and John DiMaggio in the cast.
The only issue I have with the film, aside from the marginally unsatisfying resolve to the racism issue, is that the big reveal at the end isn’t entirely unexpected, especially if you’ve seen other films of the type. But both of those can not take away from the film, which is enormously entertaining. I’ve found myself lately judging a film based on how much I would like to revisit the characters, and I would return to Zootopia in a heartbeat.