(Byron Howard & Rich Moore, 2016)
I don't quite trust my critical faculties on this one. It seems like the kind of film that on another day could have left me totally numb — like, for example, The Lego Movie
. I don't think those two films are all that dissimilar, really, so I'm questioning whether my positive reaction to Zootopia
is largely a factor of my wanting so badly to like it.
One thing in the movie's favor is its fairly strong world building. I look forward to mañana's watching Zootopia
and reporting back with a thoughtful essay on urban planning considerations in an interspecies society. What a challenge that would be, if our cities had to accommodate humans as tall as giraffes and as small as mice. The movie plays with this idea inventively in its first act, to good effect and with enough detail to merit a second viewing.
The other key aspect of this domesticated interspecies society are, of course, the parallels to racial and ethic divisions in human society. For the most part, the writing handles these themes thoughtfully and even admirably, though probably not in a way that would stand up to close analysis. It's a bit dangerous, for example, to suggest that racial divisions in humans are as distinct as different animals species. That's 18th century thinking that's cringe-worthy in the 21st century, at least to most viewers. I don't think the film really demands to be taken that seriously or presents an exact allegory, but it nonetheless toes a very tricky line. I might return to this below.
The character animation of Zootopia
really appeals to me. There's kind of a clean unreality to the animals that's less suggestive of true wildlife than of plush animal toys — and that fits the world of the film nicely, evoking the evolved state of these creatures. The backgrounds are nicely animated as well, with the urban grid of the city and the waterfall at animal imprisonment site striking me as extra impressive. It's the interplay between the backgrounds and the characters that I found a bit wanting. As often seems to be the case with computer animation — exacerbated in films targeted for 3D release — the look of the film is often too planar, with foreground and background seeming like separate realities. At times it's a bit like watching puppet theater, but more distancing.
Animated films seem to be held to a lower standard when it comes to storytelling, and Zootopia
meets that standard. The setup is wonderful, and at the end of act one, I'm excited to it all play out, like 48 Hours
meets L.A. Confidential
or Minority Report
or some other conspiracy mystery. But then things keep getting degraded by a bunch of Screenwriters' Playbook stuff, like the arbitrary deadline and phony obstacles ("I'm not in the system yet!") and characters acting out of character just to be of service to the narrative and very trite plot points. Luckily, the plot is largely just an excuse to spend time in this world with these characters, exploring interesting themes, but a stronger story really could have elevated Zootopia
to something special.
In the Filmspots, I actually would have given this film Ensemble Cast consideration, if only to reward the casting director for assembling of group of actors that fit the film without ever distracting from it. I didn't recognize a single voice in the entire movie and was shocked to see so many familiar names in the end credits. That's a great tribute to the film, even if I'm as bad with voices as I am with faces.
(Nit-pick, doing sit-ups while reading a book looks cool, but anyone who's ever done a sit-up knows this is visually impossible.)
Haha, I had that same reaction.
Also don't get her giving herself a ticket. I get the joke, but come on. Now her goody-goody side is going too far.
And this one as well. There were a few other moments like this where I felt like the film put Judy's character secondary to either humor or plot development, and I thought it was a mistake every time. By the end, she wasn't fully believable to me as a character because of the inconsistencies introduced along the way.
Here we get the full extent of Nick's con game and it's a doozy. So nice to see the writing extend Nick beyond a simple hustle into a full enterprise with a legal answer for everything. In contrast to Judy's honesty, what makes Nick likable is his ability to leave no opportunity unworked. Even his harsh reality check on Hopps' past in Bunnyburrow and future with the police makes the character likable because he's clearly very good at this. Now let's see him apply those skills against someone we don't like.
Yes to almost all of this, though I didn't quite like the initial interaction between Nick and Judy. I couldn't make sense of Nick's being there to buy a popsicle. He must buy one a day, right? Does he always find some other sucker to pay for it? Does he always go to places reluctant to serve foxes? Are there enough of those to go around? Just a few niggling quibbles like that that distracted me there. I much preferred seeing the full extent of the con, as you elaborate on above. That all worked great for me and cemented Nick as immensely likable, as aided by the character design and Bateman's voicework. (I hope Zootopia gets paired with The Fox and the Hound
double features for the rest of eternity, so we children can see foxes as both prey and predator and grow up in a world without barriers.)
I agree about the voice casting of Nick's partner as well.
There's an odd bit of stereotyping, with a Jersey Shore, Italian shrew (named Fru Fru), shopping with her friends.
Idris Elba does a great job not being the typical angry police chief. He's gruff and it's nicely done in an animalistic way with grunts and pounding his hoof on the table. He's also openly racist towards Judy, who he would rather fire than let her be anything other than a meter maid.
I meant to discuss this type of thing in the heart of my review, in relation to the film's tricky allegorical footing. The casting of Idris Elba as the police chief falls into the same realm as the Fru Fru character, because for the past few decades, tv shows have made a habit of casting black actors and police chiefs and judges, which are leadership positions in the real world but falsely suggestive of progressive diversity in television, where those are supporting roles. It's too late to articulate this well, but what I mean to get at is the way the film often relies on stereotypes as shorthand to tell the story or for laughs (very typical things in animated films), somewhat undercutting its core message.