This is the seventh addition in an ongoing series that will form a comprehensive review of the ‘official’ Walt Disney Animation Studio’s canon – from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through 2016’s Moana and beyond.
For reference, here is a complete list of the films in the Disney canon.
- Film: Zootopia
- Year: 2016
- Director(s): Byron Howard and Rich Moore
- Length: 108 Minutes
- Source Material: Original Story
- Official Budget: $150 Million
- Official Box Office: $1.024 Billion
Premiering on February 10, 2016, and with a wide release on March 4, 2016; Zootopia is the 55th film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Following a pattern with modern Disney productions, Zootopia is the 8th film since 2000 to be an formulated as a Disney original story (prior to 2000, only The Aristocats cannot claim source material or specific inspiration, excluding the package film era and Fantasia). Directed by long-time Disney employee Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (best known from The Simpsons); Zootopia was conceived originally as an ‘all animal’ adaptation of ‘The Three Musketeers’, akin to what 1973’s Robin Hood did with the Legends of Nottingham. As changes pushed the direction of the project, Zootopia became a buddy-cop police procedural set in the titular city; inhabited by animals of all shapes, sizes, and species.
Zootopia was massively successful at the box office; and with a gross of just over $1 Billion, it is the fifth highest grossing animated film of all time. Much of this success was based on overwhelming acclaim from the film critic community. This commercial and critical success was topped off with a win for Best Animated Feature at the 89th Academy Awards in February 2017.
Lead by screenwriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnson, along with their talents team of writers; Zootopia realizes the ultimate Disney film goal – a film that works in totality for both young viewers and their parents. Highly relevant and with sharp social commentary, Zootopia is a story about stereotypes that dominate conversation, misuse of political power, fear as a tool for forced cooperation, and ultimately breaking glass ceilings. While this may sound heavy for a children’s movie, expect all of the lighthearted fun that the best Disney films offer paired with smart, biting dialogue and unpredictable twists that will led to earnest lessons and conversation starters for young viewers. Zootopia is as smart and funny as anything Disney has ever offered.
Disney gets the voice acting right in ways that a lot of recent animated films have struck out. Well known actors voicing roles in children’s films has become the standard as professional voice actors are being squeezed out of the industry. Zootopia succeeds where most fail in that the big-time actors aren’t a distraction, but work within the framing of the film seamlessly. Viewers don’t want to constantly be thinking about the actor behind the voice, and they don’t get that distraction here.
Zootopia is led by Ginnifer Goodwin as Officer Judy Hopps, a (at time overly) optimistic rabbit who is the first of her species to be a member of the Zootopia Police Department. Paired with Judy is the street smart Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox living up to every bad stereotype his species endures. These characters are engaging, relatable, and easily sympathized with throughout the story arc. Voice work from Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, and Tommy Chong round out this all star cast.
Disney’s software engineering team developed custom software to allow for designing character models with details never before available. The results are jaw-dropping. The detail, colors, and physics present in every frame, and on every character and location in Zootopia is perfect. Disney found the perfect balance between realism and cartoonish design with Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, and the menagerie that makes up Zootopia. This isn’t the disappointing CGI rendering of years past (Chicken Little), but a studio at the top of its game; making their comrades at Pixar look humdrum in the process.
The only failing of Zootopia comes from the soundtrack. There isn’t much here worth mentioning – there is the original song ‘Try Everything’ by Shakira; mildly catchy but in an American Idol finale song way. Zootopia wasn’t marketed as a musical, and while it won’t get a free pass for that; it isn’t a deal breaker.
Top to bottom, Zootopia is one of the most impressive films of all time to come from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Story, character design, voice work, animation – everything is pitch perfect, and collectively makes Zootopia an instant Disney classic.