Zootopia isn’t the first Walt Disney Animation Studios feature with animals that talk. I know, you’re all really shocked by this, but it’s an important truth to understand this film’s significance. Since Pinocchio‘s Jimminy Cricket first introduced himself to the audience, Disney’s features have used the general gimmick of cute animals in human clothing with bipedal mannerism to varying effect. Sometimes you get a Robin Hood, other times you get Home On the Range. However, Zootopia is the first film in that canon in a while to use that idea for incredibly relevant and tactful social commentary. Despite being about fuzzy animals, Disney doesn’t hold back from making this fantastical titular city into a hot bed for profiling and identity that’s more direct than similar themes of Frozen or Wreck It Ralph. Yet, there isn’t a huge 1:1 direct comparison with its political allegories like an Animal Farm. Those who are persecuted don’t directly correlate to any specific race or ethnicity as much as a general metaphor for persecution that fits the potentially unyielding yet solid allegory for prejudice far better than it honestly should have.
Yet the use of this social commentary isn’t just to make a point as much as it is to build the titular world of Zootopia. Along with giving us a true sense of how these varying animals interact on a social level, the look of the city has a surprisingly practical look to it that believably sells the general co-existence of all those creatures with transportation, food service and varying sections. This all speaks to the phenomenal animation team over at Walt Disney Animation Studios, who give every environment such vibrant detail and paces out these chase sequences with an expert sense of scale and style. The scenes in the rainforest environment in particular are striking, showing off just how far water effects in particular have come in the history of CG animation. They even manage to keep the evolved behavior of all the animals consistent, showing signs of their older animal behaviors or instincts, but still showing a progression that helps sell the film’s ultimate message of biology being far less crucial to the integrity of someone’s character.
Speaking of which, all of the characters here are incredibly endearing. The contrasting earnestness of Judy Hopps’ (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) dedicated optimism and Nick Wilde’s (voiced by Jason Bateman) quick witted cynicism, which speaks to the expressiveness of both the actors’ surprising vocal range and the animation’s style. The charm of classic Disney animal characters can be seen in the populous of Zootopia, but with a more texturized and detailed look that gives even more believability to this world. Of course, there’s a huge array of other animals along the way brought to life wonderfully by the eclectic cast of voices that includes Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Octaviai Spencer and even Shakira.
Directors Rich Moore and Byron Howard manage to juggle this immense cast without really short changing any of this cast. They’re utilized to fit this noir-esque detective story and that message, constantly subverting stale cliches of such a story. Many of those aren’t necessarily groundbreaking changing spins of the familiar, but they feel true to the characters and situations on display. None of the subversion shown is merely for innovation, but instead to serve the story. That’s something that shows that Zootopia is a rather significant and bold turn for the modern version of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which feels like it’s pulling another renaissance with this decade that hasn’t been seen for roughly two decades.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Slow Turning Sloths