Friday, March 25, 2016


I'm usually down for a Disney movie, but the trailers for Disney's latest film Zootopia (2016) did not thrill me at all. They consisted of genuinely humorous blips featuring talking animals but not a single thing about plot. It's usually a red flag when a movie trailer doesn't tell you anything about the plot, or interesting details about the characters, or even innovative cinematography to perk one's interest. More often than not if a trailer says nothing about the story, it's because they're trying to hide the fact that there is none. Fortunately, I ended up seeing Zootopia and I loved it! It's full of delightful characters, stellar animation, and tackles touchy social issues in a tasteful way.
From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is an anthropomorphic  mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious missing person case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a cynical con artist fox who is her only lead and who makes her job even harder.
Who doesn't like talking animals? Disney's been doing it for years. They're usually good at it to be honest. This is the first time anthropomorphic animals have been used to illustrate a complex and diverse society. It's a highly creative setting and atmosphere that is deliriously fun to watch. It also creates a safe environment to explore the complexities of race, privilege, and social stratification. There are generalizations made about different species; foxes are cunning and sneaky, elephants never forget, rabbits are passive and meek, cheetahs are fast and agile, etc. However, none of those traits are accurate to the specific characters we meet, and it's even a little offensive to them when they are stereotyped that way. We have those generalizations proven wrong by these characters time and again, showing that you can't make broad generalizations about people based on their appearance or standing in life. It also addresses the idea that our circumstances profoundly affect what we can and cannot do. It's not the ghastly sweet trope of "you can be whatever you want to be" which sounds nice but is effectively untrue. Zootopia acknowledges that life is more complicated than the cute slogans we often try to attach to it, and that we all have limitations and make mistakes. All of this is beautifully illustrated, symbolically, through these talking animals and their fascinating world setting. One of the best lines that demonstrate this is from Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), "Life isn't some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go." This was also a delightfully playful jab at Disney's Frozen.
Another thing that sells this world setting so well is the animation. It's amazing! The detail is impressive and the designs are astounding. It is difficult to animate fur because each individual stand of fur needs to move on its own, such as when wind blows through the fur, when the fur it touched, or when the skin bunches as the body moves. It needs to move in such a way that it looks natural and like actual fur moves. Fur gets wet, mussed up, sticky, muddy, and physical contact between furry creatures happens a lot, and it all looks fantastic! In Zootopia the little details are astounding. My favorite is how the small stands of fur on top of Nick's muzzle bunch up on the rare occasion when he starts to bare his teeth. It looks so believable and lifelike, for a fox wearing a Hawaiian shirt and tie.
These characters are utterly delightful. Judy Hopps is an optimistic, bright-eyed character with high hopes. This isn't out of the ordinary for Disney, of course. Judy is expected to be naive or innocently stupid. While she is a good girl through and through, she's not a dumb bunny. She's intelligent and resourceful and regularly caused me to do a double take when I realized how she'd out witted or out talked characters who don't take her seriously. She's a fantastic character. Judy was a much needed and delightful change of pace from Disney's usual heroines. Unlike most of Disney's female protagonists whose stories revolve around romance or family loyalty, Judy's focus is on her dream career as a police officer and serving her city. Nick has a wily, dry wit and is crafty and sarcastic, not unlike how one would expect a fox character to behave. But he frequently shows a great amount of heart and depth, especially when we learn about his past and why he seems so emotionally detached. I loved these characters and I almost wish the movie had been longer so I could see them shine longer. It was fantastic to see two characters who form a strong friendship rather than romance for a change.
The story was that of a classic mismatched buddy cop movie. Judy and Nick get along like cat and dog at first, but are forced to cooperate to the mutual benefit of one another. The suspects keep changing and it keeps the audience guessing. As of this writing I have seen the movie twice in theaters (it's just that good) and knowing the end from the beginning allowed me to notice the little hints at the big picture. The ending is still a surprise, but it doesn't come out of the blue like some poorly written "whodunnit" stories do. The whole movie is really well structured, well written, and has plenty of action and gags to laugh at.
Zootopia is fun, funny, cute, charming, well written, and thought-provoking. The cast is great, the characters are lovable, the action is fantastic, the story is complex and entertaining, the theme is tastefully implemented, the animation is amazing, and it's suitable for viewers of all ages. I honestly can't think of a single negative thing to say about this movie. It's just so much fun! It's timely message about the harm of prejudice in the face of prevailing xenophobic political rhetoric is very much needed and welcomed. Zootopia is absolutely worth the cost of tickets at the theaters. This is the kind of movie we want to encourage Disney and other studios to keep making. I encourage you to go see this and to consider getting a copy on home video when it's available.

What's the best family-friendly "buddy cop" movie you've ever seen? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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