film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Zootopia 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

ZootopiaDirectors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Year: 2016
Rated PG
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba

Written by Cole Pollyea

I read somewhere that 2016’s early release, Zootopia, is this year’s Inside Out. Almost, but not quite. With that said, it is one of the finer animated pictures in recent years. It’s likely that this exceedingly entertaining family movie is going to be a contender for best animated feature in 2017’s Academy Awards for its bright screenplay, insightful political allegory, and most effective voice performances in recent memory.

In terms of outside-the-box thinking, February gave us Hail Caesar! and, now in March, we have Zootopia. It exerts a genuine craft and ascends in its own league due to its original storytelling and its ability to truly entertain every member of the family. I went with my own, ages 3, 5, 11, 17 (myself), and my parents; all were satiated.  

Zootopia chronicles the unlikely endeavors of bunny Judy Hops (energetically voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) who refuses to be “settled” by the traditional lifestyle that her parents, community, and co-species pressure her to adopt: carrot farming. Contrarily, she wants to make a difference in the world and feels that by becoming a police officer, she’s sure to do just that. When old enough, she enlists in the police academy, completes her training, and is assigned to the heart of Zootopia (the Chicago of Illinois).

Enter Jason Bateman as a sly fox who makes his living by tricking innocent passersby into paying for his “child”’s large Popsicle because he forgot his wallet at home. Once out the door, he takes the Popsicle, turns it into smaller Popsicle, sells them for a profit (because he has no explicit costs), and reuses the Popsicle sticks from his customers’ nearby recycling bin. He then bundles the sticks up, sells them as infrastructure to smaller species, and calls it a day. It’s all a part of his ‘hustle’. This, at least, is as much as he tells one of his innocent passersby, officer Judy Hops, who chases him down to see what he’s up to. Bateman’s voicework done here is pivotal, and so spot-on.

So when she is made responsible for finding a missing otter, she enlists his help (blackmail, she threatens to expose his tax evasion) and uncovers a conspiracy that may compromise the civility that defined what animals of Zootopia had based their coexistence upon for years.

At a time in our lives when all we see when we turn the TV on is the face of Donald Trump or scathing political debates, Zootopia’s timely release provided a unique, underlying perspective on heroism, underdogs, and the generalization of demographics. While it doesn’t stuff it in our faces, it’s there, and it’s intelligent.

A few more notable things about Zootopia can be chalked up to its wonderful costume design, aesthetic CGI work, and its ability to capture this period of American culture. The mafia polar bears sport black coats with white shirts and black ties, our sly fox wears a Hawaiian shirt with a yellow tie, and Hops herself always has a cut police uniform. It’s crafty through and through. It also boasts exuberant CGI and brings the world of Zootopia, and all of the characters in it, to a sort of life we’ve never before seen. Lastly, the movie employs a relatable usage of technology that shows the screenwriters’ grasp on today’s culture―Hops uses her iPhone camera, everybody’s using a face-swap app, Hops “FaceTime”’s her parents back home.

Zootopia is almost perfect except for that it stumbles along the way. It gets needlessly strange in its final moments, yet it manages to recollect itself and celebrate at the finish line. With a million different hilarious, reference-worthy scenes―sloths working at the DMV, confronting a childhood bully years later, parents casually telling Hops that she’ll never accomplish her dreams, small rodents imitating Don Corleone―Zootopia has all of the vision, voicework, meaning, and entertainment value of Inside Out. What it doesn’t have is the potency and the sentimentality of it.

Nonetheless, of course, it is a marvelous film and I certainly expect it to be one of the best animated movies of the year.

Written by Cole Pollyea

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