Walt Disney Studios
1 hour, 48 minutes
I have a feeling the early part of the 21st century is going to be looked as a kind of watershed period for Walt Disney. The company that so dominated animation for most of the 20th had been pretty much left in the dust there for a while.
Sure, they put their logo on the early Pixar movies because they produced them, but Disney had little creatively to do with “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo,” or the rest. Disney was looked at as a lumbering corporate behemoth, incapable of creating anything with real heart anymore, its last truly great film being 1994’s “The Lion King.”
In 2006, however, the company acquired complete control over Pixar and instead of ruining it, helped shepherd some of it’s greatest films, including “Up,” “Toy Story 3,” and last year’s “Inside Out.” It was about that time, too that Disney started putting out some decent animated movies under its own banner, starting with the surprisingly entertaining “Bolt,” and including smash hits “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “Big Hero 6.”
Of course, after that Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm and money ceased to be an issue. I think next they’re looking at purchasing Apple, Coca-Cola, The Catholic Church, and, as a storage lot, the country of Bolivia.
This all brings us to this week’s latest Disney hit, a film that continues in this latest trend of quality, and possibly produces one of the most heartfelt, emotionally complete movies they’ve ever done. “Zootopia” is the very definition of high-concept, and yet is one of the most entertaining, relatable, relevant movies I’ve seen in a long while.
The world of “Zootopia” is a little difficult to get a handle on. It’s unclear if this is the future or just some “other” place. Kind of like “Cars,” there’s never any mention of humans, though it is stated that the animals in “Zootopia” are evolved. Whatever the background, all the animals of this world speak and act like humans, though without giving up their individual traits. Large animals are aggressive, while small animals, like rabbits, are considered meek.
The heart of this world is a massive city, the titular Zootopia, where every attempt to accommodate animals’ particular needs are made. There are different biomes within the city itself — Tundra Town, Desertville, ect. — and within the different zones there are neighborhoods geared toward particular creatures. It’s amazing how this feels silly, and at once completely authentic. Little Rodentia is funny because it’s all miniature, but it’s also an interesting cartoon version of a classic ethnic neighborhood.
Our heroine is Judy Hopps, voiced perfectly by Gennifer Goodwin, a bunny from the sticks who dreams of making it as a big city cop. Little animals, especially small herbivores, get little respect however, and despite graduating at the top of her class, Judy is given nothing but parking duty once she makes it to the police force. She’s determined, however, and soon crosses paths with a smooth talking con man of a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). The two end up on a crazy adventure trying to solve the mystery of a handful of missing carnivores, but the specifics of the case matter far less than the complicated sociopolitical minefield that must be navigated in today’s diverse society.
I love that “Zootopia” tackles race relations as well as feminism with a subtle and creative approach. Of course, it’s never stated as such, but Judy’s inability to rise through the ranks of the force based on her perceived “weakness” speaks volumes. The conflict between prey animals and predators seems like an easy mark, but the screenwriters turn the issue on its head and give it real depth and complexity. The voice actors in the film are top notch, including Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons, among others, and the characters are more fully drawn than in most live-action films.
All that heavy content should not suggest that “Zootopia” is a chore to get through. On the contrary, the movie is hilarious. My family laughed through the entire thing and wanted to sit through the credits.
Not only is it funny, but it’s amazing to look at. This is animation at its best and, unlike “The Good Dinosaur,” which had world class backgrounds mixed with dippy characters, “Zootopia” is balanced. The animals are either cute or in other ways attractive, and the city itself has real scale. I could have taken a 90-minute tour of the city with no plot at all and been perfectly happy.
“Zootopia,” which at another time in the company’s history would have been a complicated mess, instead proves once again that good writing and the courage to refrain from dumbing down your product can result in something amazing.
“Zootopia” is rated PG for mild scares.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.