At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Zootopia “2016”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Zootopia “2016”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Animated Buddy Cop Action Comedy/Voices of: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J. K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Maurice LaMarche, Phil Johnston, John DiMaggio, Katie Lowes, Gita Reddy, Jesse Corti, Tom Lister Jr., Josh Dallas, Leah Latham, Rich Moore, Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Mark Rhino Smith, Josie Trinidad, John Lavelle, Kristen Bell/Runtime: 108 minutes

I know I’ve said this before to you dear reader, but as cynical and sarcastic of an individual as I may be there are certain types of movies that I will always have a soft spot for. The reason I say this is because one of those types, right next to the dumb slasher weirdly enough, happens to be the animated filmography of one Walt Disney Studios. Sure Frozen (both of them) are ones I could have gone the rest of my life without, and yes there are more than a few as of late that haven’t been nearly as good as what the iconic House of Mouse is known for releasing. Even so darn it all if, by and large, their filmography isn’t chock full of truly phenomenal work. I mean, as hard as it may be to believe dear reader, I didn’t just grow up on movies that perhaps looking back a kid shouldn’t have been allowed to see at….the respective age I was when I saw them (you didn’t honestly think I was going to tell you that now did you?). Rather, I also grew up on such slices of cinema as The Brave Little Toaster, Ichabod/Mr. Toad, the 1951 Alice in Wonderland, 1937’s Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, The Three Caballeros (which I actually revisited last week and I just gotta say that it is most assuredly still worth it especially with how wonderfully surreal things get near the end), the original Fantasia from 1940 and its sequel Fantasia 2000, and of course the vastly underrated (yet still dark as heck) The Black Cauldron and Great Mouse Detective from 1985 and 1986 respectively to name but a few. Yet despite my very apparent love for a lot of Disney’s earlier filmography, it should still be said that there are some recent entries that also managed to earn my adoration and immense delight. Incidentally dear reader it just so happens that one of the entries which makes up that distinct latter category also happens to be the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today in the shape and form of 2016’s Zootopia. A film that, when I first saw the teaser trailer for, I honestly might not have known fully what to expect, but I did know for certain that I was curious enough about it that I would be there opening night to watch it and which I actually did wind up doing. A choice that, in the 8 years since this slice of cinema initially came to theaters, I am immensely happy that I made. I say this because if you haven’t guessed it yet dear reader, I really do dig the heck out of this movie. To be sure, it is by no means a perfect cinematic affair, but even so there is no denying that with the aid of top-tier work both behind and in front of the camera by an incredibly well-chosen cast of talent Zootopia is an absolutely enjoyable time that I have no doubt you and any little animals in your life (or kids as they are also called) will go wild for time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Taking place in a world where animals not only act like the people who either never existed or were wiped out by some disaster, but also have (seemingly) put aside their differences and live in somewhat peaceful harmony, Zootopia gets its wild tale underway by introducing us to our heroine in the form of a rabbit named Judy Hopps. A rabbit who (corny last name aside) is one who has a rather distinct ambition that she would like to achieve in her life. That being to become a member of that distinct community known as law enforcement and to serve the fine denizens of the nearby metropolis known as (get this) Zootopia. Astonishingly, we see that despite bigotry and prejudice (to say nothing of even her parents having their doubts about her ability to do so) we see that Judy is able to achieve this dream of hers and become the first rabbit officer in the history of the LAPD ehhh Zootopia PD. Upon leaving her home of Bunnyburrow, getting her own apartment in the bustling city, and checking in for her first day on the job however, we see that Officer Hopps is quickly and swiftly delegated to parking duty by the more than slightly grumpy (if not biased in his own right) head of Zootopia PD’s 1st Precinct named Chief Bogo. Undeterred however, we see that Hopps decides to make the most of her assigned duty even if she finds herself unfortunately falling prey to a smarmy con artist fox named Nick Wilde and his sidekick Finnick. Yet just as it looks like she’s going to spend the majority of her time being hustled and/or writing parking tickets till her paws cramp, we see that Judy is given a break when a citizen comes into the precinct begging Bogo to assign someone to investigate the disappearance of her husband who happens to be one of 14 predatory animals who has recently vanished under mysterious circumstances. As a result we see that, due to a combination of Judy’s tenacity and Zootopia’s Assistant Mayor’s polite yet firm prodding, Bogo assigns our rabbit heroine to hop to it and solve the case with one little caveat. That being that she only has 48 hours to solve the case otherwise she is to resign from the force post haste. Thus, with the reluctant aid of Nick who was the last animal to see the victim before his disappearance, we see that Judy begins her investigation only to quickly discover that there might be more to this than initially meets the eye. As such, and with the clock quickly ticking, can our mismatched dynamic duo put their best paws forward and get to the bottom of this mystery or is this one case that might be a bit too wild to handle? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off, it is worth noting that the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema is nothing short of impeccable. This starts, to no surprise, with the work done by the animators especially when it comes to the titular locale. Indeed as showcased for us in the movie, Zootopia could best be described as either the Big Apple if animals had built it instead of people or like a land that you could expect to find at Walt Disney World right down to its climate-oriented districts and the frantic and chaotic metropolis at the center. Even so though, there is no denying that the animators never once decided to skimp out whilst drawing this film for us. I say that because through and through every single nook and cranny of this film is a visual buffet for the eyes with particular regard to Zootopia’s downtown with a scene involving Judy’s pursuit of a suspect taking a turn for the….small shall we say being a highlight. Props should also go to the animators for doing a great job of, as our dynamic duo engage in their investigation, of transitioning to a color palette that would feel more at home in a film noir than a kids’ film complete with the illumination of the streetlamps lighting up the darkened and shadow-heavy corners of the city in such a way that it makes the city seem a bit bleaker and with a hint of peril that it is otherwise lacking during the day. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema is one that I have no doubt will leave you and your kids repeatedly pausing the film so you can not only catch every single detail present, but also to just take it all in as well. It also doesn’t hurt that this film is, when it needs to be, genuinely funny. I say that because there are more than a few moments in this film that are sure to have you rolling with laughter especially a scene that takes place at the DMV which shows up in some of the trailers and which simply gets funnier and funnier. Indeed if there is anything wrong with this slice of cinema from a behind the camera perspective it’s the fact that the twists to the core mystery really aren’t all that surprising. Not only that, but by and large they aren’t even as riveting as how this film is trying to touch on, I kid you not, urban unease and the relationship between people of distinct backgrounds. Of course, it is definitely a bit eyebrow raising, especially after certain events, to try pull this off. Yet, even though this is clearly done so that kids and adults in equal measure can comprehend, the issue I have dear reader is that this doesn’t work as well as it ought to despite its most assuredly more than noble intentions in doing so. I mean make no mistake dear reader: this is a slice of cinema that could just simply have tried to sell movie goers on some characters that when the plush toys for them came out kids would pester their parents for them until they went deaf from the constant begging and pleading. Instead though, this is a family film that actually is trying to convey something important to its audience and the fact that it is even trying is something that should definitely be applauded even if it doesn’t stick the landing as well as it should. Suffice it to say that when you also incorporate a wonderful soundtrack including an ending song that I promise you won’t get out of your head anytime soon it’s clear that the work done behind the camera here is, by and large, genuine Disney magic.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt this slice of cinema in the least that the work done by the vocal cast of players in front of the camera is truly top-tier in every sense of the word. This starts with Ginnifer Goodwin who is perfectly cast as Judy Hopps. Indeed Goodwin does a wonderful job at bringing not only a degree of spunk and optimism that yes does borderline on eye-rolling naivety at times to the part, but by the same token she also contributes a degree of determination and a subtly snarky sense of humor that makes this character one to root for as well. Suffice it to say that it is a wonderful performance and one that I hope we get to hear more of sooner rather than later (especially with that in-development Zootopia 2 I’ve been hearing about). Just as brilliant as the work done by Goodwin though is the work done by Bateman who is just as perfectly cast in the role of Nick Wilde. Yes Bateman is doing his distinct sarcastic and witty schtick that has made him such a comedic delight in such gems as Horrible Bosses and Arrested Development to terrific effect here, but we also see that the film does a wonderful job of making this character more three dimensional than that. As a result, yes Bateman is funny, but he also does a great job at giving us layers to this character that, as the film goes on, really help us as movie goers get to see who Nick is and what caused him to become the slightly shady individual that he is when we, along with Hopps, first meet him. Backing up the fantastic work done by Goodwin and Bateman however is nothing less than a jaw-droppingly loaded cast of support talent. This starts with Idris Elba who is an absolutely brilliant choice for Chief Bogo. Indeed Elba does a terrific job at really bringing to this guy not only an enjoyable Harrison Ford-level of grumpiness to say nothing of a just plain gruff demeanor that now that I am thinking about it is really making me wonder why Ford didn’t play this particular role, but also a real tough as nails exterior that as the movie goes on and you start to find out certain things about this character just makes him an absolute delight whenever he shows up in this and which culminates with a scene at the very end that I can promise you will leave you smiling from ear to ear. We also get a terrific turn here from Jenny Slate in the role of Zootopia’s assistant mayor Dawn Bellwether. Indeed there’s not a whole lot I can really say about this character perhaps or perhaps not due to spoilers, but what I can without question is that it was a brilliant move by the crew of this slice of cinema to cast Slate in this particular role.  Suffice it to say that when you also include wonderful efforts from such talents as Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Maurice LaMarche (Brain from Pinky and the Brain!), Raymond S. Persi, Bonnie Hunt, J.K. Simmons who is perfectly cast as Mayor Lionheart, Tommy Chong, and even Shakira in a role that seems to fit her to a t and then some among others it’s clear that whilst this film might have some miniscule issues here and there the work done by this immensely gifted cast of players is most assuredly by no means one of them.

All in all and at the end of the day is Zootopia a perfect slice of animated cinema to say nothing of cinema in general? Sadly as much as I wanted that to be, that is not the case here though by no means is it for lack of effort. With that in mind though, does that make this the worst animated slice of cinema I have seen since…..*starts thinking of an entry that won’t tick any particular fanbases off*…..2003’s Brother Bear? Thankfully I can say that is definitely not the case though in all fairness that film did have the vocal talents of Joaquin Phoenix plus Rick Moranis and a fairly decent soundtrack from Phil Collins. All sarcastic observations aside however dear reader, I think it can easily be said that Zootopia is an absolute blast from beginning to end to say nothing of one of Disney’s more recent (within the last couple of decades) animated efforts that I love with a passion. To be sure, the thematic concepts that this slice of cinema is choosing to operate with really aren’t that novel by any stretch of the imagination, but they are weaved into such an incredible film that is operating with both a vibrant, lively, and incredibly detailed world to say nothing of a wonderful cast of characters brought to life by an impeccably chosen cast of players that don’t be surprised if you find yourself consistently smiling with joy and glee while also wearing out the pause button on your DVD/Blu-Ray remote so you can check out every single nook and cranny of the world this film immerses us as movie goers into. Suffice it to say then that if you are on the lookout for a genuinely funny, touching, and with a fair bit of action as well as such thought-provoking concepts as letting individuals be who they are, individuality, and existing with one another in relative harmony being thrown into the mix to boot then definitely give this slice of cinema a shot. Indeed it might not be the most wild entertainment property this side of Zoo Tycoon, but even so there is no denying that Zootopia is a top-tier and genuinely delightful entry from a studio that has given us its fair share and then some of animated gems that have time and time again left audiences blown away by the magic within them for years and years to come. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Zootopia a solid 4 out of 5.


1 Comment

  1. Ann

    Dear writer, I decided to follow your lead. I couldn’t help but enjoy the slice of cinema you served up for consumption. But, then again, I have always enjoyed the cinematic wonder of the kingdom of mouse. The themes presented were very relevant, they reminded me of paralleled events of the past year. The main character and her sleuthing pal seemed familiar in some fashion. Anyway, thank you for the suggestion, I enjoyed it!

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