de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Out of 4 Stars3.5

Zootopia (2016, USA, d. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, & Jared Bush, 108 Minutes)

by Jesse Stringer

For the past few years, there appears to have been a small competition between Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. It seems with films like Big Hero 6, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and their biggest hit yet, Frozen, that Disney Animation may be trying to dethrone Pixar as the reigning kings of big box office and quality animated films. Now, although Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, that doesn’t mean Pixar can be stopped. They proved with last years Inside Out that they still have a lot of power, not just at the box office, but even in original storytelling. The film was hailed by critics and audiences around the world as one of the best animated films ever made. Inside Out even managed to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film and they also snagged a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. So now, Disney Animation Studios may be trying to one-up them once again with their latest film, Zootopia.

Zootopia is quite possibly Disney Animation Studios most creative film yet, and maybe even their best film. The marketing behind the film made it look like just another fun, cute animated movie that kids will love and their parents may hate. They never gave away the fact that Zootopia is just as much for adults as it is for children. There are so many layers working together throughout the movie that make for a truly heartwarming and fun film; but looking past that, Zootopia makes big statements on current issues like racism, gender norms, and even the drug problem in this country. It is kind of astounding that this film goes to the places it does with its message and it could certainly spark some really interesting conversations between kids and their parents.

The film follows Judy Hopps, a young rabbit whose lifelong dream has been to become the very first rabbit police officer. After a lot of hard work, she manages to fulfill her dream and move to the Manhattan-esque, Zootopia, a place where predators and prey can live together in harmony. There, she ends up meeting a sly, hustler fox named Nick Wilde, and through a series of events, the two have to team up to solve a case that could cost Judy her career. This plot could have easily switched out the animals for humans, and a live action setting, and worked just as well as a gritty detective film. That’s a big reason why this film is so great. Zootopia found an awesome way to take an adult story and make it accessible to children.

The screenplay for this film is quite genius, if that isn’t already a given. The film’s writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston really know what it takes to write a film enjoyable for all ages. They took adult themes and subject matter and found a way to sneak it into this film without hammering the film’s message over the audience’s heads. Sure, the adults watching Zootopia will likely catch everything the film is trying to say and even some of it’s cultural references to things like The Godfather and even Breaking Bad, but most of the kids in the audience won’t even notice that they are likely learning a lot about how our society works and the problems our country is facing. Zootopia’s moral compass is pointing children in the right direction for their future. And dropping the themes and messages, Zootopia is at it’s simplest a really fun and entertaining story. There is a warm heart at the center of this film, pumping its story and characters full of life, humor and important values. One can care about every character displayed in this film and be more than willing to follow them through every turn they make in Zootopia. Even with a total of eight people working together to develop this story, none of it feels cluttered. Everything has purpose and furthers the story and characters along to a great conclusion that will leave audiences feeling exhilarated and joyful.

Disney put together the creative forces behind Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled with directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush co-directing. Clearly, these three work wonderfully together for they created a really believable and captivating world with Zootopia. The animation here looks beautiful. A lot of work had to have been done to bring this world to life. One could only imagine the concept art and storyboards that their crew had to draw up before they even got to animate a single frame, and it shows. There’s so much detail in every location and even on the characters. The directors also brought the characters a lot of depth and life through the excellent voice performances of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons and more. They treated the film’s story and characters with a lot of care. So much so, that it pushes Zootopia from being just a great animated film, to a great film.

It is likely Zootopia will continue to be discussed all the way through this years award season. And to have it released so early in the year is such a surprise. No one really expected this film to be as great as it is. It is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, provides a lot of moral heft, and will likely leave audiences with a smile on their face. Take the kids or go alone, the experience can be enjoyed either way.