Tuesday, March 8, 2016


This past weekend, the El family ventured forth from the Fortress of Ineptitude to go see the new animated film from Disney, Zootopia.

If you’ve heard a lot of good things about Zootopia, I would say those good things are all true. Zootopia features well rounded characters engaged in comedy, action, adventure and drama at a high level one would expect from a Disney animated feature performing at the top of its game.  

Zootopia is the centerpiece of a world where animals have evolved past their baser prey and predator instincts while still possessed of their unique, inherent animal natures. The name “Zootopia” suggests the word “Utopia” but this society is far from perfect. It is a society that is still grappling with prejudices. Like, for example, a bunny cannot be a police officer. Bunnies are too small, too scared and too gosh darn cute to be anything like a police office. But Judy Hopps, our protagonist, is determined to prove everyone wrong.  

Judy overcomes serious obstacles at the policy academy to graduate at the top of her class, a prestigious accomplishment that gets Judy Hopps assigned to duty as…a meter maid. It’s in the course of these duties that Judy’s path crosses with Nick Wilde, a fox. Nick is dealing with prejudice against foxes his own way by leaning into the role society would have him play. So he has a number of cons going on which clears him about $200 a day. But as we get to know Nick better, we see that he has a whole lot of intelligence….and heart….and he could be so much more than a mere con man. 

But before we get to Nick’s good side, we’ve got a lot of wary animosity to get through between the two. A missing animals case has become a make or break proposition for Judy’s career so she’s not above a little blackmail to coerce Nick into helping her. (This was after Nick had conned Judy earlier in the movie so I guess it all evens out.)  The missing animals are located in a secret facility where it appears they are being held to keep what has happened to them a secret. And what has happened to them? It seems they have mysteriously reverted back to raging beasts. And all the affected animals are from the group the predator group.

And the theme of prejudice moves to the forefront. Suddenly Zootopia is being torn asunder by fear that members of the predator community (which accounts for 10% of Zootopia’s population) may go murderously berserk. And if it feels like this world of intelligent animals seems more than a bit familiar, think of the world we see on the news channels or outside your own window. Our country, indeed our whole world, is trapped in a maze of fear, hatred and distrust, fueled by our anger and prejudices. And it takes a bunny and a fox in an animated movie to show us how destructive that is.

And (spoiler!) Judy and Nick save the day with a mutual con of their own. It’s a really clever bit.

While the story and characters are engaging, I’ve really got to give a shout out to the world building that went into making Zootopia a reality. It’s a complex, intricately designed, lavishly realized world. As my daughter noted, a lot times “animals as people” animation just throws these animals together. Here, she noted, thought and consideration are given to the physical and environmental needs of the variety of animals that call Zootopia home. The filmmakers build a logic of how Zootopia works and follow that logic over the course of the film. This creates a pervasive sense of reality in this fantastic world of advanced animals. 

Voice work makes or breaks an animated feature and Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde both benefit from some fine work from Gennifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. Gennifer brings Judy to life with a perky optimism that never falls into treacly naivete; sometimes Judy gets suckered but the determination in her voice tells you, you’re not going to sucker her the same way again. And Jason imbues Nicky with the smooth delivery of a practiced con artist yet sense of (dare I say it) humanity. And I really have to say it was a great pleasure to see the name of Maurice LaMarche in the credits. Maurice has been one of my favorite cartoon voice artists, particularly in the heyday of the Spielberg/Warner Bros. TV series (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky & the Brain). Maurice has what I think is the perfect role in this movie as Mr. Big.

I enjoyed Zootopia a lot and I would  recommend it to others to go see it. It’s fun and it’s funny and it makes you think.  

I'll be back with another post tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You  

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