Article by: James Kidd
Looking back on the rise of Disney’s animation division, no one could have really guessed that it could possibly reach the heights that it has over the past few years. While movies like The Princess and the Frog and The Emperor’s New Groove were solid outings, there was also a Brother Bear and Home on the Range that greatly hurt Disney’s once great reputation.
However, thanks to a brilliant switch up in their company that brought in a ton of talent from Pixar Studios, the house of mouse has recently been releasing hit after hit. With Tangled often hailed as one of the best Disney princess movies and both Frozen and Big Hero 6 wining best animated picture back to back, it seemed impossible for Disney to ruin their hot streak.
The good can only last for so long though, as the studio’s latest feature, Zootopia proves. The newly released animated film bites off far more than it can chew, proving it a jack of all trades in regard to many aspects, but a master of none in the end.
While the movie and trailers for Zootopia went out of their way to explain the general premise of the movie, it can actually be explained pretty easily. Instead of humans being the defacto species, intelligent and bipedal mammals coexist together, living and working side by side. While the thought of a lion and a sheep hanging out might seem surprising, the film occasionally references a treaty of sorts between all species that results in the current civilized world.
From there, we are introduced to Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a diligent and unwavering rabbit that decides to take up the mantle of police officer in the titular Zootopia. The only problem? There has never been a rabbit cop before, and despite gaining the bragging rights as the first, Hopps is still treated like a joke to her coworkers. However, things change in her favor when she finds herself tracking down a missing otter — with the help of conman fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). With two days to fix things before she is fired, Hopps and Wilde quickly find themselves down a rabbit hole (pun!), one filled with mystery and corruption, than they ever could have realized.
First off, one can’t help but admire the gorgeous animation that Disney Animation has pulled off yet again. For those who don’t know, each of the studio’s recent movies have brought entirely new animation developments to the table, with Frozen boasting realistic looking snow and physics, to the entire city of “San Fransokyo” created for Big Hero 6. For Zootopia, the animators went the whole nine yards, animating EVERY hair on each character’s body. If that isn’t dedication to a craft, I don’t know what is. The city of Zootopia itself also looks amazing, with aerial shots showing off the enormous size of all five distinct districts of the city, from luscious rainforests to appropriately cold Tundraland.
The most talked about (and probably controversial) aspect of Zootopia, however, will be the surprisingly mature tackling of race and stereotyping. While previous trailers have hinted at this aspect to a degree, Zootopia surprisingly shows a society all too familiar to our own, with predators and prey seemingly functioning peacefully, but with unresolved tensions due to years of the food cycle. While this was a bit too blatant at times (“A bunny can call another bunny cute, but when another animal does it…” Hopps points out to a coworker at the beginning), the movie treats this message of inclusiveness surprisingly well, perhaps better than most other movies with similar themes.
This brings us to the biggest issue in Zootopia, in that it doesn’t matter at all if a movie has tons of great aspects — that doesn’t matter if they can’t blend well together. While almost everything besides the expected simple plot (one can probably guess the villain early on into the movie) is on point, there just isn’t enough run-time for the movie to focus on every aspect that it wants to. Zootopia constantly bombards the viewer with world building, wacky characters, and social messages … but it never truly does any of them proper justice in the allotted time.
Zootopia is far from being the worst animated film released, it just could have been so much more. With its surprisingly deep social commentary and interesting world, there is much to love here, but the execution is flawed. However, this is a prime example of a movie that would greatly benefit from a sequel or television series, and with that, hopefully a much more balanced execution.