Zootopia (2016)

I’m a big Disney fan, but I never find trailers for new Disney animated films particularly appealing. Maybe it’s because the trailers are more marketed towards kids and I’m still mentally stuck in a place where I’m trying to be highbrow enough to understand crazy “art” films like Knight of Cups. (Probably won’t happen…) I still remember the first trailer I ever saw for Wall-E, one of my favorite Pixar films of all time, and being pretty bored and turned off by it, because it was a one-minute clip of Wall-E collecting trash. And that was the whole trailer.

So, when a Disney animated feature film comes out, I usually don’t get particularly excited until afterwards, when the adults get hyped. In the case of Zootopia, I didn’t know much about it before the movie came out except that it was about a rabbit cop voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and a fox voiced by Jason Bateman. Basically, everything I knew about Zootopia came from that first teaser about anthropomorphic mammals and that DMV sloth scene.

BUT, when Disneybound founder Leslie came back from an early screening raving about the amazing message behind the movie, I was really curious. All Disney movies have a good message behind them, but people don’t usually come away from watching them thinking, “Man. What a GOOD message.” However, that seemed to be the consensus after watching Zootopia, so I took Ben to see it when we had a free evening last week.

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Wow.

One of my first thoughts while watching and while walking out of Zootopia was, “This movie… is maybe too real for kids?” On the surface, it’s about a cute bunny (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) who dreams of being a cop even though all police officers are big, tough animals. (See the no-nonsense police chief cape buffalo voiced by Idris Elba.) There’s also a slick fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) and the rabbit seems to have something to prove… that’s all I really understood.

But it’s much more than that.

There are little moments in this movie that made me realize Disney really wanted audiences to draw the parallels to the real world, despite the fact that our world does not consist of anthropomorphic mammals. One was when the chubby leopard (voiced by Nate Torrence) calls Judy Hopps, our rabbit protagonist, so cute! And she kindly but firmly lets him know that, “Well… it’s okay for bunnies to call other bunnies cute, but… you know…” The best thing was when Clawhauser immediately apologized for being that guy who reduced this stranger who worked so hard to get to the precinct to a simple, mildly offensive stereotype. It was a short, throwaway exchange (as was Judy asserting that she didn’t want to be just a “token bunny”), but it really struck me.

Demagogues Pitting People Against Each Other

A scene was a little too raw, too real for me, let alone for the kids, was when Judy comes home from her first day of work, realizing that even though she is the first rabbit officer on the police force, she will still face prejudice at every turn in her dream job just because she’s a rabbit. (Yeah, it’s heavy.) She comes home to her tiny apartment and lies to her parents back in rural Bunny Borough, who don’t quite believe in their daughter’s dreams. While Judy is crushed that she has been assigned parking duty rather than be allowed to help on a missing animals case, her parents are relieved that she is not in danger and “not a real cop”. Ouch. Rough.

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But what makes this scene so real to me is how they showed us how lonely and sad she was. She is sitting by herself in this bare apartment that is dark and damp and she can’t afford to decorate. She’s lying to her parents about how her dreams are coming true, and they’re all too glad to realize that she isn’t the cop she wanted to be. She heats up a “Carrots for One!” microwaveable meal that is pathetically far from being as delicious-looking as the packaging implies. This (paraphrased) exchange comes from her very loud neighbors (who warned her when she moved in that they would be unapologetically loud):

“Hey! Turn down your depressing music!”
“Give her a break, didn’t you hear? She feels like a failure!”

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I felt like this scene in particular really nailed this feeling. That feeling where you’re on your own for the first time, after working so hard to get here, to be independent and chasing your dreams, and it not being at all what you thought it would be. And that you wanted to prove naysayers wrong but the world is doing its very best to show you that maybe they were all right.

Anyway.

Aside from how expertly Disney made a movie about mammals in clothes relateable, I really loved the pacing and structure of this movie. It felt like there was so much going on, but I was not exhausted with that “this movie is way too long” feeling. Quite the contrary; I felt pleasantly surprised when the movie kept moving forward, and I couldn’t wait for more! There were a lot of pop culture jokes in the movie that I think are great for older audiences. Because, as much as we might hate to admit it, kids born after the year 2000 probably don’t have The Godfather in their pop culture knowledge base. (And also, they might not be familiar with the hairstyle of the mob boss’s daughter, but millennials likely will be.) Breaking Bad fans will get a big kick out of a small Easter egg reference to their favorite meth dealers.

TL;DR, here are a few bullet points about what I loved about Disney’s Zootopia, before this review gets too unwieldy:

  • Terrific voice acting
  • Awesome world building
  • Great character dynamics (!!! ALL I EVER WANT IN A MOVIE)
  • Excellent storytelling
  • Amazing message about prejudice and overcoming obstacles
  • Incredibly raw, real portrayals of loneliness, failure, regret, self-doubt…
  • Fun, not-overdone pop culture references
  • The intersectional feminism! (Please watch this Laci Green video; it gets to important parts of the message in the movie in less than 4 minutes)
  • Beautiful animation to go with the beautiful world that is built

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Also, can we talk about some of the great promotional material produced for this world-building?

Ex Yakina, Cinderelephant, Fifty Shades of Prey, Giraffic World, Star Wars: The Furce Awakens, and Straight Otter Zootopia
Ex Yakina, Cinderelephant, Fifty Shades of Prey, Giraffic World, Star Wars: The Furce Awakens, and Straight Otter Zootopia

Basically, please go see it. You won’t regret it, and I think this is a movie that is not sooooooo “for the kids”. I went to a showing at 9PM on a weekday and there were no children there; it was almost all adults, maybe some teenagers.

Spoilers below the trailer! Zootopia is in theaters everywhere, and you can see it in IMAX and 3D.

Oh man, this was so well done, Zootopia is easily one of my favorite recent Disney animated features and, to be honest, I’m really glad that it broke Frozen‘s record for biggest Disney animated feature debut.

I think I am appreciating that Disney films are going for the greys rather than lazily chilling with the black and white. It seems like Disney is hitting their stride with surprise villain twists, rather than having our villain introduce the conflict at the beginning of the movie and get defeated at the end. (See everything from Snow White to Tangled for examples of that.)

Also, this scene was great for a) Cheech and Chong fans and b) people who like to go a little meta with their anthropomorphism

There were a lot of little twists that, in retrospect, were definitely foreshadowed in the movie, but you’re so caught up in the world that you don’t see them, and I really appreciate that. Assistant mayor Bellweather being the actual villain? (And Mayor Lionheart admitting that he did the wrong thing, at the end, even if it was good reasons? And he remains in jail at the end, which is good. Because he did a bad.) When that realization starts dawning you that this little sheep (voiced by Jenny Slate) is actually not as nice and, well, sheepish as you initially thought? Oooh you feel so had and it’s kind of a good feeling. Because you see the seeds that Disney planted! How she keeps getting pushed aside by the mayor. How she is glad that Judy is representing the little people, the prey species of Zootopia. How she so easily stepped into the mayoral role when Mayor Lionheart was arrested… oh yes, none of that was an accident and she knows it and now you do, too!

Ben and I discussed the fakeout with the Night Howler pellets. “Did you know they were fake at the end?” he asked me. “Nope!” “OH thank G*d, I thought you would be like yeah it was obvious and I was going to feel so dumb because I didn’t know.” But again, if you think about some cues and remember that everything that appears on screen serves a purpose, every second of screentime is valuable, and even moreso when every second is animated frame by frame. You really feel tension that Nick Wild has gone savage, that he’s going to attack poor Judy who truly trusted him not to be what her preconceived notions of foxes and predators were, and you’re so sad that this trust is about to get tossed out the window because of the fiendish plan of a harmless-looking sheep.
AND THEN THE REVEAL! It was blueberries. And you remember the scene where Nick remarks how he thought rabbits only grew carrots, but whaddya know, they grow blueberries also. And you think about animators spending time on that scene, having Nick eat blueberries, and you hadn’t even paused to wonder why they did that all and now you don’t have to because you know.

You don’t think too much about the little carrot pen that pulls double duty as a voice recorder, except as how Judy manages to coerce Nick into working with her. And then, as the villain of the movie starts talking too much, you realize… that little carrot pen is the real hero of the movie!

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Loved it. Really well-done storytelling.

And don’t even get me started on how my inner Jersey girl got so excited about the Godfather/Jersey Shore references with the shrew family. So good. Sooooooooo good.

<aggressively listens to the theme from The Godfather>

I also liked that they included the cute little otter as a predator to be targeted by this whole predator savagery deal. It would have been really easy to just have large beasts go savage, but yes, otters are predators as well, and even cute little creatures can have someone below them on the food chain. (Which is why it’s also nice to consider that our police chief is a big, strong buffalo but is still a prey species.)

There is so much I want to talk about for this movie, but this review is already unwieldy. There are a lot of great thinkpieces about how important Zootopia is and what it means at this time for all of us. It means a lot. It’s an important movie. Considering that Disney hasn’t done anthropomorphic animals since… Robin Hood, maybe? The last storybook opening sequence for a Disney animated feature? With a budget so small that much of the animation was recycled? Zootopia really knocks it out of the park.

Watch it. Take your friends. Take your kids. Take your parents. Take your coworkers. Take your significant other. Take your ex.


Have you seen Zootopia? If so, what did you think of it?
Are you going to see it? If not, why not?

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3 thoughts on “Zootopia (2016)

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