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Nerdlocker Movie Review: Zootopia

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Humans! Do not underestimate Zootopia, the newest animated feature from Disney. It’s the real deal; fun, beautifully animated, and surprisingly complex, with messages and themes that are both timely and timeless. To be honest, I didn’t think much going in (it looked a bit too Madagascar), but I left the theater with a big ass smile on my face, buzzing from the power of movies.

This is a great film to take the family to. The crowd was packed with children (they outnumbered the adults) and while I was initially nervous about distractions, Zootopia reminded me how enjoyable it can be to watch the right movie in a theater full of kids. The crowd was into it (laughs throughout) and their reactions were hilarious, especially during the scene with the jumpy-scary moment. There were a few screams, but no cries, and lots of smiles on the way out.

Zootopia excels on several fronts, including concept and story. The setup is clever; mammals are civilized and they live and work amongst each other in a world similar to the real world, but with animals in place of humans. The story follows Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a small, purple-eyed bunny from the ‘burbs, who dreams of becoming the first rabbit police officer. Despite her parents’ pleas for her to take up carrot farming like her 275 siblings (“It’s okay to have dreams, just don’t believe in them too much,” her father says), Judy works hard, accomplishes her goal, and joins the ZPD. Despite her high test scores and positive attitude, she’s greeted unenthusiastically by fellow officers and her boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Judy is assigned parking ticket duty and though she performs admirably, Chief Bogo refuses to let her work on anything substantial (even with several missing animal cases on the books). She takes matters into her own paws and has a chance to prove herself, but in order to do so she’ll have to be clever and garner the assistance of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly, street-savvy hustler and ‘predator.’

That’s just the tip of the horn. Zootopia has a lot going on and it has plenty to say. The animals-behaving-like-humans conceit is quite brilliant and allows the filmmakers to provide a heavy dose of subtext and social commentary without being preachy. It touches on stereotypes, prejudices, political corruption, the media, and a populace ruled by fear, among other things. It accurately mimics the real world, fleas and all, and is deeper than expected. As Chief Bogo says, “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing little songs and your dreams come true.”

The movie is fast-paced, it has the tone of a buddy cop movie with mismatched partners, and the nuanced characters are more than just ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’ There’s an abundance of funny moments like the sloth DMV scene from the trailer, and the movie is filled with crowd-pleasing references to other properties like The Godfather and Breaking Bad. The mammal metropolis is full of colorful locales with a ton of visual potential that is realized in scenes like Judy’s initial train ride into the city and the chase scene through ‘Little Rodenta.’ The 3D is unnecessary, but not off-putting.

The score is fantastic. Michael Giacchino composed the music for several Pixar classics, including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and Inside Out, and in his first project with Walt Disney Animation Studios, he once again makes movie magic, utilizing an 80-piece orchestra to great effect. My only gripe with Zootopia is the song, “Try Anything.” In an obvious attempt to recapture the “Let It Go” magic from Frozen, Disney enlisted Shakira to make a simplified, uplifting song that plays during the movie and over the end credits. Harmless really, but it feels commonplace (and a tad manipulative) in a movie that is anything but.

Anxious to see it again, my wife and I hit up the late show last night, this time in 2D. We were the only ones in the theater, and once again, it was a blast. Packed house or not, the movie kicks ass. Theaters won’t be empty for long though, Zootopia is now playing everywhere and word of mouth will carry.

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls

Trailer:

Stills:

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ZOOTOPIA – JUDY HOPPS, an optimistic bunny who’s new to Zootopia’s police department. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

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