Growing up, my favorite Disney animated movies were always the talking animal films. I grew up loving animals, so movies like Lady and the Tramp, Bambi, and The Jungle Book were the ones I usually gravitated towards. When I heard Disney would finally be making another talking-animal movie, I was overjoyed, but honestly, our fist look at the film back in 2013 was a bit of a let down. Fast forward to the 2015 D23 Expo, and we were given a preview of the film the was genuinely hilarious. That’s when the anticipation started for me. It’s fair to say after all of the clips shown online or at various events, I had seen a good 25 minutes of Zootopia before sitting down to experience the entire film. Every preview or clip I had seen made me more and more excited to finally see the finished product, but what I saw on the big screen far exceeded all of my expectations.
The new renaissance in Disney animation has brought us a lot of movies that I think are absolutely fantastic: Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and yes, even Frozen. But I honestly think Zootopia is the overall best film of the current crop, probably the best put together since The Lion King. It’s a radical departure from most of the current Disney lineage in that there are no princesses, there’s no love story, and it isn’t a musical. In a lot of ways, it shares a number of similarities with co-director Rich Moore’s Wreck-It Ralph, but I think the storytelling and animation in this one are just a notch above.
The story takes place in probably the most fleshed-out fantasy world of any Disney film to date. It’s an entire planet where mankind never existed and animals evolved to create great civilizations where they all (somewhat) coexist. The creative team spent months crafting this backdrop for the story, one that proves to be as important of a character as any with a speaking part in the film. The level of detail is what you expect from this studio by this point, but it’s really fun to see them finally get to play with more modern material (iPhones, apps, etc.) in a sprawling world of their own design. The movie is worth watching a few times just to take in signage and different items that populate the backgrounds. The film is also littered with “eater eggs”, some subtle and some that could not be any more in your face.
The characters are magnificent as well. Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde make up one of the the greatest duos in animation history. Their pairing provides fantastic comedy, a lot of heartfelt moments, and they just gel together very well, no doubt a product of the incredible performances from Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. The pairing reminds me of Bernard and Bianca from The Rescuers, but there’s something about this pairing that works a little better, maybe because we get to see a friendship built rather than just a continuing story of two characters who already knew each other. The supporting cast is phenomenal. Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate), and Flash (Raymond S. Persi) are among the more memorable characters, but the film is littered with some really exceptional, albeit short performances.
The movie also makes a pretty strong social commentary you may not see coming, but one that is especially poignant at this time. I could see a lot of parents being very happy about the overall message of the film, and who knows, maybe some adults can learn a thing or two from it as well. In an effort not to spoil the film, I won’t divulge it, but it feels fresh and different (maybe sometimes even edgy)for the realm of animation.
I do have a bit of a bias towards the talking-animal animated classics, but having spoken with a number of people who have seen it, Zootopia is something really special. It’s the funniest Disney animated movie in a long time and it breaks away from the princess stories to deliver something poignant, heartfelt, and fun. The end of the movie leaves me wanting to spend more time in this world, to see what Nick and Judy are going to do next and just explore more of the city and what may exist beyond its borders. I couldn’t possibly more highly recommend you see Zootopia, I think you’ll have a “Wilde” time.
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