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Movie Review: Zootopia

Zootopia is charming, funny, smart, and is cute as the dickens.
Aisle Seat, Rob Slack


Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore and Jared Bush

In Theatres

"Life's a little bit messy. We all make mistakes. No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you."

Zootopia is the movie I didn't know I needed. It's charming, funny, smart, and is cute as the dickens. It's a multi-layered cynicism and irony free two hours of the best kind of entertainment that only Disney seems consistently able to create. The message is pure and simple in its execution. It's the film going equivalent of putting on The Ronettes and sitting back with a smile on your face as Ronnie Spector sings Be My Baby. It's the kind of Disney film that best exemplifies what the Mouse House does right. 

The movie looks great, with an animation style that has one foot firmly planted in the past, the other in the future. It looks distinctly Disney, yet the textures of the fur, the fabrics, the vegetation, everything looks like you could reach out and touch it and it would feel exactly as expected. I don't know if I'm clearly explaining it here. Each individual hair on the animals looks organic, like it has weight. This is a truly spectacular looking movie. The bright colours and sunlight in the early going, the noir-ish turn as the mystery deepens, the return to the brightness as hard lessons are learned and growth is experienced. There are few live action films that put this much thought into lighting and camera angles and framing and cinematography. This is some kind of Roger Deakins looking animated film, where each rain drop is captured perfectly, where the air has weight and substance. 

Zootopia is the story of Judy Hopps and her dream to be the first bunny police officer in Zootopia, a metropolis where predators and prey live together in relative harmony but are still beholden to their prejudices and fears. After a brilliant montage of her besting each obstacle in her way in the police academy, she graduates valedictorian of her class. She shows up for her first day on the ZPD eager and proud only to be shut down by the police chief who assigns her to parking ticket duty, a come down that she optimistically tries to make the best of. Through some very solid story telling she partners up with a hustling fox and they find themselves in the middle of a mystery with some unexpected twists and turns. The whole thing moves very naturally, very organically, each character trait feeding the story and helping the plot move forward. Unlike a certain comic book movie, every motivation, every revelation feels real and not forced. The argument that movies made by committees always fail falls flat in the face of a movie like Zootopia. This is movie with three directors. And ten writing credits. But we never feel the different forces that created this movie, we're never aware of all the different motivations, the different egos at play here. Like the best of Disney's works, many cooks were in the kitchen working on this meal. And, man, this is one hell of a meal. 

The themes of Zootopia are very current, something that needs to be talked about now. Tolerance and acceptance and the attempts by some to use fear to divide us, to drive us apart for their own ends - these are themes and ideas that should always talked about. It's just that, with what's going on in the world maybe, right now, we just need some reminding. There is one theme at play in Zootopia that is very new and fresh and, if I'm going to be honest here, refreshing. With so many movies being very binary on the subject of specialness, in that either everyone is special or only a handful are and we should bow before them, with so many stories being told in these two very simplistic viewpoints it is very gratifying to see a film that tells us "you can be anything you can dream of, become anyone you want to become, but guess what? It's hard work." Judy Hopps may be an animated rabbit but she works hard to achieve her goals, her dreams don't come easy. There is heartache and there will be hard days and sometimes you'll question if it's worth it. This is kind of groundbreaking territory for a kid's film and it is handled with great respect for its audience. The filmmakers never forget they're making a kid's film but they never talk down to them, never treat their audience with anything less than respect. Unlike a certain comic book movie.

The performances, each and every one of them, are note perfect. Jason Bateman brings his very best Jason Batemanness to the role of Nick Wilde, the hustling fox. Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps captures every moment of unhinged optimism and every moment of willful determination and stubbornness. Her guilt when she says the absolutely wrong thing at the absolutely wrong moment isn't just sold by the lines in the script, it becomes heartbreaking with the performance. There are so many great performances in Zootopia. This could just turn into me listing the cast and writing fantastic beside their names. I'm not going to do that, no matter how tempting that is. But I am going to take this moment to praise the folks in charge of casting for snagging the mighty Idris Elba for the role of Police Chief Bogo. Not only does he turn in a truly awesome and authoritative performance but this means that, between this and Jungle Book and Finding Dory, a whole new generation of Idris Elba fans will be rising up to assist him in his conquest of the globe. Idris Elba is quite possibly the greatest actor-musician-voice actor-DJ-director to ever walk the Earth. And the idea that he is featured in three children's films this year makes me very happy. Very happy indeed.

There's not much else I can say here. Zootopia works on every level, the performances, the animation, the score are all top shelf. Hell, the catering was probably top shelf. The best thing any piece of entertainment can do is leave its audience wanting more. And when I left the theatre I definitely wanted more. This is a rich, fresh universe for Disney to explore. I can't wait to see the next chapter.