Sunday, March 6, 2016


Zootopia (2016) Starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate and Shakira. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Screenplay by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. Produced by Clark Spencer. USA Color Animation, Comedy, Drama, Action.

It seems like the takeover of Disney Animation by Pixar is finally complete. The latest film from the venerable animation studio feels more like a Pixar movie than anything Disney has done before. That’s not a bad criticism, but more of an observation.

Zootopia is a fantasy place where all land mammals (except man) live in peace and harmony, predators and prey, side by side. There are a multitude of climates, each designed to sustain the types of animals that live in those environments. Needless to say it is a sprawling place.

Enter Officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), the first rabbit on the staff of the Zootopia Police Department. Everything is working against Judy, including her parents Bonnie (Bonnie Hunt) and Stu Hopps (Don Lake), who discourage her at every turn. Then there is Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) the cape buffalo, who is the chief of the department. He doesn’t believe in her either and assigns her to the lowest level of duty, meter maid.

While on her first day of duty, she meets Nicholas P. Wilde (Justin Bateman), a clever fox turned conman. She gets played by him, but when she volunteers to solve the disappearance of Emmitt Otterton, one of fourteen predators who has gone missing, she finds she needs Nick's help.

I won’t go into anything more to do with the plot that hasn’t already been revealed in the trailers, so as not to ruin the film. But safe to say they work together to solve the mystery.

Along the way, we’re introduced to several characters from the top of the “food chain”, Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), the assistant mayor Dawn Bellwether (Jenny Slate) down to Flash (Raymond S. Persi), the fastest sloth at the DMV all the way down to Nick’s partner in crime, Finnick (Tom Lester Jr.). We also meet Yax (Tommy Chong), a nudist Yak, Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer), Emmitt’s wife; Officer Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrance), the obese cheetah and police dispatcher, and Gazelle (Shakira), a politically motivated pop singer. For the most part, an enjoyable cast, though there is a little too much Gazelle for my taste.

Zootopia is not above playing off stereotypes from the slow workers at the DMV, to the donut-obsessed cop to the sly Fox. And the character names don’t venture too far from species. But as in most story-telling, these are meant as short cuts to developing the larger plot and I don’t think were meant to pigeon-hole animals and professions.

In one of the film's funniest scenes, Nick (Jason Bateman) introduces Officer Hopps
(Ginnifer Goodwin) to Flash (Raymond S. Persi) the fastest sloth at the DMV.

Zootopia has that Pixar look and feel, computer generated animation mixed with humor and emotions. Even the credits, which list all the production babies, as well as who made the coffee, show the influence. All this is no doubt due to John Lassiter running the show at Disney. This is also sets itself up for a sequel, which is also something Pixar seems to love as well.

There are high standards set and the film comes through, from the excellent character designs, animation and voice work. Everything about the film is high class and no doubt will have long legs at the box-office and whatever media that comes after. Not sure if it will have the legs of Disney’s great films, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs (1937), etc. Those early films have become timeless, while more modern animated films seem more time bound. Zootopia is more about the now than say Sleeping Beauty (1959) was of its time.

A reference is made to The Godfather as Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) grants
a request of this daughter Fru Fru (Leah Latham) on her wedding day.

The film itself is a lot of fun as it delves into diversity versus individuality, nature versus nurture and of course, political corruption. This is also a police procedural, which add to the things you don’t normally see developed in an animated buddy film. Note: this a PG-rated film, so some of the references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad will hopefully go over the heads of the film's perceived target audience. Animated does not equal small children, so you might want to be sure of who you take to see the film.

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