The Review: Part II
Every time a new animated movie comes out, my first question is “Will this story suck?” And that is an important question, since animation studios are often under pressure from producers to dumb down the narrative, to make absolutely sure the smallest kiddies (a.k.a., the target audience) will get it. When the makers cave in, it may end up being good for those “smallest kiddies”, but bad for everyone older than 7. That is a huge problem for grown-up animation fans, since no matter how good the visuals are, a stupid story will always make the watching experience painful, and leave you wishing you could travel to a parallel universe where the writing was better. I was disappointed by cartoons many times before, so I know what that feels like. Not here though. To my surprise, Disney released something actually smart, very very well-written. Zootopia is a smart movie, and is very much worth your time.
For anyone not convinced, I shall elaborate.
Disclaimer: In the reviewer's opinion, the French poster better represents the tone of the movie. Also, I only watched the movie once, but with the greatest attention. With that said, let's begin ...
This is the second review of Zootopia on Flayrah; the first can be found here, and we invite all of our regular contributors (and maybe a few first timers) to share their answers to those questions during the following month!
The premise, which you may have already read elsewhere, is that animals have evolved enough to walk upright, and talk proper English (or whatever language you will watch it in). Predator and prey are no longer enemies, and are trying to live together in peace and harmony. A young rabbit from a farm named Judy Hopps (get the pun?) has dreamed of being a police officer since childhood, and ends up passing the police academy, becoming the first of her kind to do so. She travels to the titular multi-species megalopolis of Zootopia, where she could live out her dream of protecting the innocent, and making the world a better place.
There she continuously runs into problems, since the life of a police officer is already hard, and doubly so if you are a bunny. Narrowly avoiding getting fired for an unauthorized heroic act, she gets assigned her first real case, to find a missing mammal, but is only given 48 hours to do so (or get fired permanently). Through plot reasons she teams up with a very-unwilling-to-cooperate fox con artist named Nick Wilde (less of a pun here) to solve the mysterious case as the clock is ticking. Said case of course turns out to be bigger and more serious than expected, leading to many interesting scenes, lots of intrigue and action, genuinely funny comedy, and we all learn something in the end.
Oh, and no birds or lizards. Some cuts had to be made to make the plot work better.
A few things stood out the most for me in the writing. The first one was the small details and the hints. Every good mystery story needs to have those, and Zootopia had plenty. But, you would not know which details are important on your first viewing, and that is very nice. Of course, if you have seen 10,000 movies, and read 50,000 books (looking at you, Fred Patten), you may see certain things coming sooner, but an average viewer will not be able to guess most of the twists until they happen. Zootopia is a smart story, carefully crafted to not insult the viewer’s intelligence. My intelligence was not insulted at all, and I have reasons to believe yours won’t be either.
The second thing would be the lack of the Typical Disney Protagonist Syndrome™. Normally, in movies released by this company, the main character wins chiefly because he/she is good, and the villain loses because said villain is an idiot. Not in this movie. Here, people (animals) get things done by virtue of hard work, using their brains, and not giving up (which is how real life works by the way). And the antagonists (would it really be a spoiler to acknowledge there are any?) are an actual threat, and have planned everything.
And of course, to address the elephant in the room (HAHAHA), Judy being a female matters ZILCH. She is never handed anything, she earns everything she gets, finds herself in danger often, gets hurt and never complains. She is a strong female character, and not the other way around.
An important thing to bring up is that, despite how amazing the story is (according to me), the writing was a longer process than usual. Two people are credited for screenplay, and a whopping eight for the story itself. That is due to the fact the movie started out as something different, and then changed shape during production, as more and more people were brought in to re-write what was there. But, having eight writers certainly did not spoil the stew in this particular case. In fact, here it seems the more, the merrier. A rare case, but it happens.
Oh, and it had three directors. Again, nothing bad came from it.
The Animation and the Look
This should be common knowledge, but Disney is a corporation with enough billions to pay for the best animation in the industry if they want to, and here they did. It’s great. Judging by the timing, I would guess the good old technique of using hand drawn extremes as base for CG was used here.
Just like the animation, the colors, the lighting, the textures, and the effects are all top notch. However, I will make a small complaint and say the team went a little too safe with the designs of the characters. Most of the animals look a bit too generic, with the typical “standard cute harmless marketable look”. Was it to, again, make the movie extra marketable? Or was it (a personal theory of mine) to make the merchandise easier to manufacture? Nevertheless, one positive thing is that the animators spent extra effort to make the faces extra expressive, as expressive as those “cute and simple” designs would allow. Sometimes I even forgot I had a problem with the designs at all, since the animation of the faces and bodies was so good.
The Voice Acting
I will make this extra short. Every actor fits the role and the look of every animal. Everyone does a great job, and nobody screws up. 10/10, won’t complain.
This is a case of a fitting soundtrack that is not particularly invasive. It does its job, and I applaud the composer. Nothing to really add here. There is one song in the movie, and you probably already know what it is. It is used sparingly, twice to be precise. It is a bit on the simpler side, and a little cliche. But, just like everything else in Zootopia, the simplicity of the song also makes sense in context of the story. All in all, nice music, used nicely. NICE.
With the high quality and surprising maturity of the story, the great direction of the animation and voice acting, this movie is not a dumb kids’ movie. The Pebble and the Penguin it is not, Pan’s Labyrinth it is yes. Zootopia is a rich and mature story that adults not allergic to animation will not have a problem appreciating.
And an obligatory ... thing to add at the end ... this is not just a “furry movie”; this is a great movie for everyone.