Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Zootopia is great and you should go see it

Zootopia is a great movie. It is fun, cute, touching, and clever, and it has some great messages as well. The animation, the voice acting, the writing, and the world design are all top-notch. Perhaps best of all, it is a hopeful, charming film, a welcome change from a lot of the unnecessarily grim stories we see so often.
(This review does not contain spoilers.)

I have a soft spot for animals, which may be why I enjoy stories where the people are animals. From watching Disney's Robin Hood and reading Redwall as a child, to enjoying Usagi Yojimbo and Blacksad as an adult, I find these stories clever and engaging. Using animals as the characters in a story allows creators to add a new layer to the story, and Zootopia is an excellent example of that.

The story explores two different kinds of prejudice through the lens of animals. Judy Hopps is a rabbit who wants to be a police officer. The other cops in Zootopia are all huge beasts, and nobody believes that a rabbit can make it on the force. Nobody except Judy, that is, and she sets out to prove that she can achieve her dream. Meanwhile, Nick Wilde is a cynical fox who knows that, when people see him, all they see is an untrustworthy predator. He figures that, if he is going to be stereotyped anyway, he may as well make his living as a con man and hustler. But perhaps deep down, he longs to be something more.

The creators of Zootopia put a lot of thought and research into their world. The music, movies, stores, and brands of Zootopia are all animal-themed, and puns abound. The creators also thought about how different animals would have different needs, and how a city where they all live together would work. For instance, there are different regions of the city for animals who come from different climates, and tiny animals have a separate neighborhood with houses and streets that fit them.

The voice actors do a fantastic job of making their characters sound full of life and personality, while also making their voices match the animals they portray. Jason Bateman is a smooth and charming fox, Idris Elba is an imposing water buffalo, J. K. Simmons (channeling his Cave Johnson role from Portal 2) is an authoritative lion, and Jenny Slate is possibly the most sheep-like sheep in the history of cartoon sheep. The standout from this excellent cast is Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy, who manages to capture the cuteness of rabbits while conveying Judy's determination and spirit.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Zootopia is the animation. It is phenomenal. The animators have clearly put a lot of thought into how to make the characters look and move like animals, as the following concept images by Cory Loftis show:

As a result, the characters of Zootopia don't just look like humans with animal heads and fuzzy bodies. Though they stand on two legs, their posture and movement shows that they are animals.

The only criticism I could come up with for Zootopia is that it follows the trend of computer-animated children's movies in making the eyes of the characters hyper-detailed. The eyes are so realistic that you can see the lines of color in the irises, which can be disconcerting on otherwise cartoony figures.

I have also heard the claim Zootopia's treatment of prejudice is too simplistic, but I disagree. I believe that it does a great job of highlighting the damage of prejudice while making sense to a young audience.

I was intrigued when I saw that Zootopia has a whopping 99% fresh rating on Rottentomatoes. I was not disappointed, and I highly recommend it!

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