The latest animated feature from Disney, ZOOTOPIA is releasing to theaters this weekend. Will it, as Disney hopes, create a new set of obsessive fans and become a modern classic, or will it sink into the obscurity destined for Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR?
There’s much in the current news about a decided lack of acceptance and diversity in both Hollywood and the world of politics. Just in time, Disney offers up both social examination and some lighthearted comedy, wrapped up in a cartoon cop buddy movie, and it might be the most fun and sass you’ll find anywhere onscreen in 2016. Bold words, given it’s only March. ZOOTOPIA, about the first ever bunny police officer in a mammal metropolis proving herself by solving her first case with the help of a con artist fox when given only 48 hours to do so, deals with limited thinking, stereotypes, and bias, all from the perspective of the changing and fragile relationships between predator and prey.
ZOOTOPIA, at the core, is a buddy movie. For example, visual development artist Nick Orsi said he found his inspiration in the 1982 action flick 48 HOURS.
The lead actors are utilized much like those in JUNGLE BOOK, which was the first movie to incorporate the personalities of the actors in the creation of the characters. Though Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, who play lead characters Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, came prepared with a variety of voices, the directors wanted them to use their own, and lean into aspects of their own personalities for their portrayals.
Additional voices include Idris Elba, who hadn’t done much animation and actors known for their vocal performances in animation like J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, and Maurice LaMarche.
Bateman will be forever remembered for his turn as ZOOTOPIA’S sly, endearing fox. The way he breathes life into the cynical, world-weary, yet laid back Nick makes the character a lovable scoundrel, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else voicing him. (VID) Goodwin makes Judy’s mix of optimism and determination believable, and allows for a strong female lead who is far more likely to do the rescuing than be rescued.
With ZOOTOPIA, Disney has reminded itself that everything begins and ends with story, and that building a rich world with great characters is what keeps the audience invested and entertained. Even the secondary and incidental characters are memorable, and many of them will gain lasting fans. In particular, I enjoyed the rodent crime boss sporting Martin Scorsese eyebrows who channels Marlon Brando, the donut-loving cheetah, the sloth DMV worker, the hippy-trippy yak, and the tiger backup dancers with sparkle-laden fur in gold short shorts, but each viewer gets dozens of characters from which to choose their favorites.
Populating the film with such diverse personalities and creativity of design feeds an animation lover’s soul. In terms of that, ZOOTOPIA is like the upbeat, mammalian THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It’s not goth enough for that kind of cult following, but it’s certainly one Disney feature that will grow its fandom and stand the test of time.
In ZOOTOPIA, there’s so much to see, and so many little touches, that those who fall in love with it upon first viewing, and there will be many, will likely come back over and over while it’s in theaters, adding to the buzz and box office bottom line. Entirely fun, Right now, in this moment in history, the message that “In ZOOTOPIA, anyone can be anything” is inspiration everyone can get behind, and should.