After Walt Disney Animation Studios essentially shaped modern animation throughout the 20th century, Pixar more or less took the baton and ran with it in the early 21st. It must be nice to compete with yourself for the top spot in your industry, and both branches of the entertainment behemoth tend to deliver time and time again. Between so many highly anticipated films in the 2016 schedule, Zootopia snuck up on a lot of moviegoers. With their latest success, Disney again gives us a treat to be enjoyed by all ages.
The city itself is beautiful, as the newer wave visual capabilities of Disney’s Frozen/Big Hero 6 era are put to good use. The concept of the different habitat themed boroughs is incredibly well thought out, incorporating the many different species that call Zootopia home. And, of course, the clever attention to detail given to each animal’s typical role is equally well thought out. The sloth-run DMV, for example, is genius. However what raises Zootopia above even most other Disney greats is the layered body of humor. Most movies of this nature would’ve taken the very basic yet effective premise and beaten it to death. Oh look, it’s funny because the city has animals instead of people. That’d be enough to make some kids happy and sell stuffed animals.
But Zootopia doesn’t stop at the easy jokes. This movie would even function well, almost too well, if they were all people and the plot were altered just enough to incorporate that. The detective work takes over before the city’s charm and stunning visuals have a chance to die down, and then you have an animal themed Disney noir story. Zootopia is also surprisingly meta, referencing other Disney films as well as some external winks and nods. Now that we’ve seen a Disney animated film carry out a Breaking Bad reference, we may be running out of things we haven’t seen in a movie.
The chemistry between the two leads contains some of the sharpest dialogue Disney has ever created, bringing a liveliness to the screen that you more often see in live action films. Usually, animated characters speak more deliberately, which isn’t by any means a bad thing because you’re not supposed to be under the impression that they actually exist. This style is demonstrated by some of the lesser supporting characters, but Judy and Nick are more believable on screen than most furless characters you’ll find in theaters.
Zootopia tackles some social issues that are prevalent in our society today, and they don't hide it. This sends a positive message, but does come off a bit preachy at times. Even the most lovable and cuddly political statement is still ultimately a political statement, which is something that could theoretically rub people the wrong way with its very loud and clear presentation. But this is a movie that primarily speaks to children and families. For that reason, they maybe can’t afford to be as subversive as films that are predominantly aimed towards adults. Luckily, equality or a community-wide love and respect for each other aren’t the worst things to preach, especially considering how the writers were able to poke a little fun in every direction.
Above all else, Zootopia is off the charts entertaining. A fun, even suspenseful adventure takes us through a beautifully unique setting while we get to know some lovable characters. Throw in some topical humor, clever references and positive messages, and that more or less sounds like a Disney checklist. So go down the list and rank this safely amongst your favorite Disney movies. And if you haven’t heard much about Zootopia by now, you will soon.