This is the first big animated release of 2016, "Zootopia!" Disney, at this point, is releasing two, sometimes even three, if we're including Pixar, films a year. They are all pretty awesome too. So whenever Disney Animation releases a film, even sans Pixar, they are well worth all of our time. With recent hits like "Tangled," "Frozen," "Wreck-It Ralph" and last years "Big Hero 6," "Zootopia" has been on my radar ever since they released the hilarious Sloth trailer last year. I went into to this only knowing it would be a police-like mystery set in a world where the population is anthropomorphic animals. I left it feeling good. I laughed and I was entertained, but I was also a bit surprised, cause at times "Zootopia" really makes you think. It's not just mindless, fun animation film, it gets you thinking about what's going on in our world a little bit as well.
"Zootopia" follows the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as she becomes the first bunny to become a police officer in the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), a dream she has had ever since she was a little rabbit. She is assigned by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (JK Simmons) to the ZPD 1st Precinct. Unfortunately, she is assigned by Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to parking duty, while most of the other force is looking for a bunch missing animals from all around Zootopia. One day, Judy unknowingly helps a fox, Nicholas Wilde (Jason Bateman), and his "son" con a bunch of people and make some cash in a seedy way. The next day, in a way to redeem herself, she takes part in a police chase of Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk) through the rodent part of Zootopia, eventually catching him. She is chastised by Bogo, due to all the damage that was done. Before she is fired, she agrees to help one of the missing animals' wife, look for her husband. Bogo gives Judy 48 hours to find the missing otter and she quickly figures out that one of the last people to see Mr. Otterton was in fact, Nick. Judy returns the favor by hustling Nick and the unlikely duo of a fox and a rabbit begin an investigation into what is happening to all of these animals.
I'm half surprised there wasn't some sort of scene in black and white at some point in this film to give at least a little bit of a nod to the crime noir genre. This film is bursting with top notch animation from start to finish that has really been Disney Animation's m.o. for the past couple of films. Not just focusing on character design and story, which were both good in this film, but the overall look and feel of a huge bustling city. Take Zootopia from this film or think about San Fansokyo from "Big Hero 6." Zootopia is divided into a ton of different areas for all different types of animals and we didn't even see them all in the film. What we did see looked fantastic. Downtown city life, rural farm land, a cold and snowy tundra, a glimpse of a desert, a lush rain forest and even a huge imposing waterfall complete with haunting fog.
There's a bunch of different backdrops in the film and they all look good and work well within the confines of the story we're being told. The animation, design of the characters and everything going on around them was great as well. Buildings, cars, streets and the like all have a unique charm or feel to them in a given scene. There's humor in Judy meter maid cart, there a twinge of horror when Nick and Judy are in the icy cold limo and there bustling action in the subway car scene. This is amplified by the fact these animals look good. The fur, horns, hooves, tails, etc on a given animal look great, and even though most are wearing some form of clothing, you don't lose the sense they are animals underneath all of it. Judy and Nick stand out the most as you see them for most of the duration. They're never an eye sore, as most everything you see in this film looks polished. The voice acting is top notch as well and Goodwin and Bateman provide great depth to this bunny and fox combo. The additional voices such as Simmons, Elba, Tudyk, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong and Octavia Spencer add depth to the supporting cast that has a lot of good moments throughout the film. Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake are awesome as Judy's parents too.
The story itself is pretty engaging as well. Beyond the main plot, there's a lot of things Disney likes to sneak in for parents to notice or lessons that we all can learn from. Starting with the plot and throwing things in, the mystery aspect, with the double twist was done pretty well. Though it felt a little rushed moving towards the final act, the pay off and ending scenes were really good. The humor, songs and colorful animation will keep the kids happy, while the adults have a pretty fun mystery to try and unravel. There are chase scenes, running gags, nods to horror, Breaking Bad and The Godfather, all while keeping the colorful theme of entertaining everyone from start to finish.
The biggest thing I wasn't expecting was the parallel to real life we got from Judy. This will probably be the most spoilery part of my review, so if you don't want that, skip to my last paragraph. Judy is a flawed character with lofty goals and ideals as well. She finally reaches these goals at a point in the film, but then shows a side of her that I wasn't expecting. We'd seen her good nature and loyalty throughout the whole film and suddenly she is discriminating against the "predators" she'd been saying the whole time were only part of history. Throughout the film, she thinks that "Zootopia" is free of all the animalistic impulses of their ancestors and insists she does not think the animals that used to hunt her kind, would do so now. I don't think this makes Judy a bad character, it makes her like us in a lot of ways. Racism, or in "Zootopia" 'preadtorism,' is something we don't shine a light on in ourselves. We see it, we know it happens, but we never think we're the ones doing it, until we actually do it. I don't want to get preachy in this review, but we think of ourselves as past it. That "racism is just in the past," or, "someone else is doing it, not me, "when there is clearly a ton of it still going on today. In the film it brought Judy to her lowest point, the point where she had to make a change and make amends. Now, us as humans can do the same thing. Realize there is still racism, or predatorism, out there and don't turn a blind eye to it and call someone out if they're doing it. It's a simple lesson for kids to begin to grasp watching this, while giving us adults something substantial to chew on.
"Zootopia" is a wonderfully animated film with a great score, a fun, colorful world and characters that will make you laugh as well as think. The film is just a shade under two hours, but it never feels too long or too draggy, so you can hunker down and prepare to get engrossed. The finale might be rushed a little bit as well, but nothing is glaringly wrong about this film. It has got to be the earliest of front runners for the 2017 Oscars, and rightfully so. The message, the voice acting, especially by Goodwin and Bateman, and the overall look and feel of "Zootopia" is one that anyone can get into. This is an animated film that kids and adults will equally enjoy. I can say that I already cannot wait to give this one a second viewing. "Zootopia" is one you shouldn't pass up.