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March 5, 2016

Zootopia

by Franz Patrick


Zootopia (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It is depressing that too many animated films rely on vibrant colors and sugary cuteness to reel in and entertain children. But “Zootopia,” directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, with Jared Bush as co-director, subverts this pessimistic approach to genuinely entertain and educate young eyes and minds. It reminds everybody that we should expect and deserve more from the genre. It is most unexpected that the material touches upon subjects such as police profiling, racism (speci-sm?), and workplace discrimination. It reflects what we see in our world today.

Being a carrot farmer is considered to be a noble profession by Judy’s parents (voiced by Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake), but their highly enthusiastic daughter (Ginnifer Goodwin), one of two hundred in their rabbit family, has always dreamed of becoming a cop in Zootopia, the nearest metropolitan teeming with excitement and diversity.

Although she is discouraged by just about everyone not to try to reach so highly that she sets herself for disappointment, Judy, with hard work and determination, eventually earns her badge, graduates as valedictorian from the academy, and gets assigned to work in the city she loves. Yet despite her excellent qualifications and gusto as well as the department’s need of more officers to investigate a case involving twelve missing mammals, her superior (Idris Elba) assigns her to parking duty.

The filmmakers are able to create and establish a universe that is filled with possibilities. About twenty minutes into the picture, notice the way it takes its time to introduce the city to its main character, as well as audiences, as pavonine colors, flavorful textures, and numerous faces and bodies invade the screen to the point where we want to pause at each shot and appreciate both the foreground and background. Such a trait is very important because it inspires the viewer to revisit this world and capture beautiful images and jokes one might have missed the first go-round.

Seemingly effortless synergy is felt among voice work, personality of character through movement, and script. Let us take the fox character, Nick Wilde, our heroine’s unlikely ally, as an example. Jason Bateman provides the voice and he approaches the job with such vitality, often touching upon two or three emotions in just about every scene. (With sarcasm as a template.) During silent moments, notice way the character moves. Although Nick is an animated animal at first glance, he is given very human traits such as the way he walks down the street, how he lets out a sigh of frustration or disappointment, the manner in which recognition or an idea makes its way into his eyes.

The script is soaked with sharp wit, great timing, and intelligence. The scene in the DMV where the workers are all sloths is not only a brilliant joke because of the punchline but through the way it unfolds. Credit must be given to the writers, Jared Bush and Phil Johnston who helmed the screenplay, for finding inspiration from the animal kingdom and creating funny bits around our expectations—and at times what we do not expect at all. Irony is one of the picture’s greatest weapons.

“Zootopia” is a marvelous animated film. It offers bright and amusing action, well-placed puns, some tense chase sequences, and an actual investigation with hilarious references to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Wonderful lessons about diversity and celebrating differences are not hackneyed. In fact, the approach is exactly right for the story and plot being told.

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