Thursday, March 10, 2016
So even after seeing it, I have no idea how to feel about Zootopia...
When I first heard about Zootopia, I was instantly skeptical. It's not that I have anything against the concept itself, a city full of animals is open to a lot of unique ideas and interpretations. My biggest gripe though was when I found out that this was a Disney movie. When I think of Disney, the first thing that comes to mind generally isn't vast city landscapes in a modernized world. That's something I associate more with Dreamworks. Movies like Shark Tale, Megamind, Bee Movie, and even elements of Shrek are all incredibly modern, and for the most part, those movies tend to range on the bright side of average for me.
That isn't to say I have anything against Disney trying to set its movies in modern or even futuristic times, but in every instance I can think of, the results have always been underwhelming. Treasure Planet, Bolt, Meet the Robinsons, Oliver and Company, and Big Hero 6 aren't exactly Disney classics. Disney is at it's best when it's trying to tell classic and timeless stories, not appealing to the zeitgeist of the moment. That's why movies like Frozen and Lion King have endured for years; they're timeless stories with universal themes that anyone can relate to.
Zootopia has one half of the equation. It addresses some very mature and adult themes better than most adult oriented movies, but Zootopia never gave me that Disney vibe. It never felt once like I was watching a Disney movie. That being said, Zootopia is a great movie that I think animation fans should definitely see. So... it's complicated.
Judy Hopps is a bunny rabbit who has always dreamed of being a police officer. Being a cop has been the only thing she's thought about since she was young. However, every other animal she knows always puts her down because there has never been a rabbit police officer before. There have only been large predator animals as police officers. Through her own determination, she is able to join the force, but it isn't all that's cracked up to be. She's mistreated, belittled, and can't seem to do anything right. It gets so bad that her chief gives her an ultimatum; solve a case of missing animals, or turn in her badge. With the help from a unsupportive fox named Nick Wylde, she has 48 hours to solve the case that every other officer in Zootopia couldn't solve.
Right from the start, I couldn't get into Zootopia. The opening did a great job of explaining the basic premise of he world, but after that, the movie seemed to be very by the books. It didn't do anything that I felt like I haven't seen before and what I saw wasn't as fantastic as I thought it could have been. For such a great premise, the intro just didn't have anything to spark my interest in this world or the characters. Once you got adjusted to the basic premise, it was more of a waiting game to see when the movie would do something to blow me away.
And it didn't happen. At least, not in the narrative sense. I was instantly wowed the second we got into Zootopia because of how amazing the animation was. There's so much attention to detail in this world that it's insane. Every shot has dozens upon dozens of animals in it all walking around the city, and all of them are from a different species. It's just impressive to see rhinos, giraffes, gerbils, elephants, and pigs all walking around in their own unique way and wearing completely different outfits. I could just stare at wide shots of the city for two hours and I would have been immensely satisfied.
But we had to get back to the story. For over half of the movie, I just sat there just wondering when it was going to get interesting. The movie is an elongated mystery with some funny visual gags, but the mystery is actually very predictable. Once I was aware of the major players and pieces the movie left for us, it wasn't that hard to figure out who the supposed mastermind was. Key word here, "supposed" mastermind.
Once the mystery wrapped up and we discovered what was actually happening, that's when the movie got interesting to me. Everything was apparently wrapped up, and now it was just the characters interacting with each other and dealing with the fallout of the case. It was after the crux of the movie was finished that all of the interesting developments started to appear. Now the movie started to put a focus on tackling racism and prejudice in the city after what had happened. That's when the movie really came alive. I can't honestly remember seeing a movie that was this smart and mature when tackling the idea of racism.
Even then, the mystery wasn't over. The characters actually became characters and not just archetypes. They had genuine relations with each other instead of just throwing puns and snide remarks at each other and began to open up to one another. Hell, the characters even told each other about the prejudices they feel towards one another. That's what I wanted the movie to be like from the beginning! Not in the last half hour.
To be fair though, the last half hour is fantastic. The truth behind the mystery is actually pretty brilliant and the resolution makes sense. Each character has a complete arc and I just left feeling satisfied with what I've just watched. However, can I really love a movie when I can say I only adored the last half hour of it? To be fair, the animation is stunning and deserves praise, but great animation can only go so far for nearly two hours.
So where I'm at now is that Zootopia's message is fantastic and is a movie that adults and kids can still relate to. I recommend everyone seeing it just because of that. Outside of the message and the execution though, there's nothing about Zootopia that makes me go "this is fantastic". Admirable? Yes. Great? Probably not. It's a bit of a bummer that such a great message is buried in a movie that, if it was released by any other company, would be probably the best movie they've ever made. By Disney standards though, I can't help but feel disappointed.
I still highly recommend Zootopia for everyone, but I would totally understand if you didn't fall in love with it as much as everyone else. It certainly takes a while to get going, but once it's finally all set and ready to roll, it's stellar. It just takes longer than I would allow for it to fire on all cylinders.
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