Tuesday, March 8, 2016


As you may be aware, I am a huge Disnerd. So I've been anticipating this movie for a LONG time. And it did not disappoint. This could arguably be the perfect Disney movie. (Note, that doesn't make it a perfect movie, just a perfect expression of the Disney formula.) Believe in yourself? Check. Friendship will conquer all? Check. Tolerance is better than hate? Check. Animated animals are totally cute? Check.

Seriously, go see this movie. Right now.

Probably the best summary I heard of the plot here is "a furry version of 48 Hours". Judy Hopps is a bunny with big dreams of being a cop. She makes it, only to find out that being a token is really demoralizing. Nick Wilde is a fox with big dreams of being rich. And since everyone assumes that foxes are nothing but no-good con men, he figures there's no profit in swimming against the current. They are forced to team up to investigate a series of bizarre disappearances that turn out to much more disturbing than anyone could have thought.

But in a kid-friendly way, of course.

Disney seriously pulled out all the stops on this one. You have two different "you can be anything you want to be" plotlines. You have the mismatched buddies plotline (and trust me, Hopps more than holds her own here). You have a mystery plotline. And they all weave together seamlessly. Disney has a long track record of painting their plotlines in bright, simple primary colors for the kids to follow. This time around, they chose to keep the signposts in the bright colors, but leave the paths from one to the next a little more nebulous.

And speaking of nebulous, the movie speaks very directly to a lot of the current issues with racism. But unlike the standard line of "intolerance is bad, mmkay?", this movie goes into a much more nuanced treatment. Intolerance is bad. But, on the other hand, stereotypes exist for a reason. We may be all the same under our fur, but that doesn't actually mean we're all the same. And, sometimes, you will meet bad people who belong to a historically bad group. But those people are bad for their own individual reasons, not simply because they belong to the group.

Honestly, this movie is a master class on how to write for a wide range of maturity levels. Little kids will mostly just see cute animals jumping around on the screen, and get the message that being true to yourself (and just a bit more clever than the bad guys) will win the day. Older kids and young teens will get some of the clever jokes (and there are a LOT of clever jokes), but also get that there are important messages in there that aren't the overly simplistic lines they're used to. Adults will be able to read the subtext and recognize the references, and will get a lot of serious meat to chew on.

But there is far more to recommend here than just the script. The world of Zootopia is fantastically done. I would love to see a LOT more exploration of it. I might even buy the video game. It is also beautifully rendered, particularly during the big intro sequence. The art in this movie is truly superb. You also have to watch carefully for the endless parade of references, puns, and similar jokes. (See if you can catch the excellent Breaking Bad reference!)

If I had to point to one major flaw, it would be the lack of songs. I'm not really sure what Lasseter has against musicals. The one song that is in there (by Shakira, who also has a great cameo) is great. But I want to come out of a Disney movie humming and trying to remember lyrics. Of the last several Disney animated features, few of them have had strong soundtracks (though, admittedly, the couple of exceptions have been truly exceptional). I was similarly disappointed in Big Hero 6, and thought that it was a divide between "girl" movies and "boy" movies. Zootopia, admittedly, doesn't fit into either of those stereotypes, so maybe that's part of the difference.

My recommendation is, obviously, to see this movie as soon as you can. If you are willing to brave the kids, see it in the theater. Even see it in 3D, because the few times that 3D is really used, it is used very well. And, eventually, I'm sure you will want to own it. Because this is destined to join the hallowed halls of Disney Classics. (I think it may have ousted Aladdin from the number 5 spot in my all-time favorites list.)

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