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Zootopia (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 25, 2020




Featuring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti and John DiMaggio.

Screenplay by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston.

Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore.  Co-directed by Jared Bush.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  108 minutes.  Rated PG.

Almost 30 years into the Disney Animation renaissance, a bumpy road that has led to a great deal many more highs than lows, the Disney animation department is pretty much split into two camps.  First there is Pixar, the fair-haired brainchild which exploded onto the scene in 1994 with the original Toy Story and has been responsible for some fantastically imaginative and groundbreaking technical work over the ensuing decades, with only a few duds in its impressive library.

However, it is easy to forget that the traditional Disney Pen and Ink division had significantly picked up its game even before Toy Story exploded, opening the 1990s with such classic films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.  While, like Pixar, the Disney Animation Studio has sadly pretty much abandoned hand painting in favor of computer animation – the last films to be hand-drawn by artists was The Princess and the Frog in 2009 and Winnie the Pooh in 2011 – the artists have still mostly adapted very well to computer animation.

In fact, in recent years some of the biggest Disney titles have been non-Pixar fare – like Frozen and Tangled, and now this film.  (Making this slight even harder is the leaked 2D hand-animated drawings that were used early on in the making of Frozen before it was determined to make it through computer graphics.

I’m not saying this as a complaint about computer graphics.  (Well, maybe a bit of one…)  There have been some fine, fine computer animated films over the years.  However, hand-drawn animation is much more warm, lifelike, much less sterile.  It may not be as technically precise, but it feels more alive.  So, is it too much to hope that there will be a resurgence?

Okay, I’m sort of getting off the point here.  That point is this: Zootopia is one of the rare films that is probably better for being computer animated.  It really does highlight all of the styles best attributes and reiterates that traditional Disney has caught up with Pixar when it comes to storytelling mojo.

Unlike Frozen and Tangled, which were essentially dipping into the Disney tradition of animated musical fairytales, Zootopia is more of a high-concept action comedy.  And while it has many of the studio’s storytelling touchstones – belief in one’s self, befriending those who are different than you, don’t judge a book by its cover, and even a slight hint of an offbeat romance (or at the very least a good friendship) – Zootopia is more interested in being an oddball buddy cop movie.  It works all the better for its audience-friendly nonchalance.

Zootopia feels more like a Pixar film than a straight Disney one.  That is meant as a compliment.

The concept of Zootopia is a pretty simple one.  In an alternate world where animals act like humans, a bunny rabbit decides she wants to join the police, unlike more traditional fuzzy-bunny professions.  No one believes she can do it – they literally think she’ll be eaten alive by the predators – but she has a spunky can-do attitude and the determination to prove herself.

It’s a smart and funny story, one that works surprisingly well.  Zootopia may be a bit on the slight side for Disney animation, but it’s sure a lot of fun.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: June 14, 2016.

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