Welcome to The Long and Short of it, a new format for the movie reviews of Luke Skytrekker, where I give the long version if you have the time and the short version if you don’t.
Here’s the Short Version:
Zootopia is set in a modern, civilized universe inhabited entirely by animals. To put it bluntly, it’s an absolutely fantastic movie, and if you haven’t seen it get off you butt and go see it. Trust me, you won’t regret it. With a very fresh, interesting, and engaging plotline, an excellent satirical message, and overall masterful execution, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. I literally walked away from the theatre inspired and thought-provoked, and I pretty much never do that with movies.
And now for The Long Version…
*Minor SPOILERS shall follow.*
This movie really is incredible, and I’m not saying that without reason. Pretty much everything in it is really well executed, from the mysteries and the plot twists to the jokes and the graphics. Personally, I believe it could very well end up becoming the next classic, though it’s always dangerous to say that sort of thing.
As I said, Zootopia is set in a modern, technology-using society, very similar to ours (in some way more subtle than you’d think), with one major difference. Instead of humans building civilization, animals did. To quote one of the trailers, “Humans never happened.” The world of Zootopia is inhabited by anthropomorphic (“evolved”) animals, all living (more or less) in harmony. The epitome of this harmony is Zootopia, an awe-inspiring city inhabited by mammals of literally every kind (excluding humans and maybe a few obscurer ones like platypuses). The motley of different animals featured, as well as their interactions (and prejudices), play greatly into this film.
Unlike nearly all fictionalized universes inhabited by humanized animals, Zootopia’s world is tailored to suit animals, not the other way around. Instead of essentially sticking animal heads on human beings, civilization is built for animals and by animals. For example, the city of Zootopia is actually split into several sections (Rainforest District, Tundrawtown, Sahara Square, etc.), each with a different climate to provide different animals with their own preferred temperatures. Trains have multiple sets of doors for different sized animals, and there’s even a scene that shows off a part of the city that’s completely mouse-sized. The way they execute all this is actually very interesting and impressive, providing a very unique backdrop for the whole thing and a very interesting platform for the message.
In an age where many movies basically just tell you to “believe in yourself” and leave it at that, or simply throw messages to the wall and fall back on special effects, Zootopia really sticks out. It’s actually got a very deep and thought-provoking message, more deep than you’d expect for a kids’ movie these days. I don’t think this message isn’t heavy-handed—I didn’t feel like the film crammed it down my throat—but at the same time, it’s not something you’re going to miss. Essentially, I think it’s very balanced. And, additionally, it’s a message our world would do well to listen to, one that you might say is quite appropriate for “the times” (on a side note, it’s odd how often we use that phrase negatively). The movie actually satires modern social and political problems very well, as well as making some nods to the Godfather and Breaking Bad to boot. At its heart, Zootopia’s message is one of equality, unity, and that sort of thing. But it doesn’t try to say we’re all perfect, or that we can all do everything just as well as everybody else. It’s about how nobody’s perfect and everyone has limitations, and how nobody’s outright bad or evil just because they belong to a certain group or race or gender. It really has some good things to say about classism, racism, sexism, and the other isms that plague this world of ours. Now, some people think it made some mistakes in its allegory, such as making the minority group predatory animals. At one point in the movie, the prey-type animals end up considering the predators as biologically predisposed to aggression and killing. Of course, this doesn’t go down well with the predators, who are really quite nice guys (being “evolved”, as the movie states). Basically, this results in the animal equivalent of racial strife. The problem is, many real humans have taken this wrong, since, in our world, predators are kinda inherently and biologically predisposed to killing. So they walk away from the movie thinking that it’s actually racist, that it’s trying to imply minority groups are dangerous or something ridiculous like that. If you read other reviews, you’ll find plenty of people on the internet who’re mad about this. You have to realize though, that, in the universe of Zootopia, predators aren’t biologically predisposed to aggression. After all, they’re “evolved”. That’s kind of the whole point of the anthropomorphic animal thing.
Anyway, Zootopia does have a really good message, and, frankly, it gives it without being “preachy”. Despite having a really good point, this movie doesn’t feel like a sermon. It’s got well-developed characters and a full-fleged (fairly twisty) plot line, and isn’t just some kind of shallow means for the writers to express their views.
I’m not going to give a full breakdown of the plot line and such, as you could easily find that on wikipedia or anywhere else, but I will say that the plot was legitimately well done. I generally can see through plotlines fairly easily, but this one was twisty and well-written enough that it actually surprised me several times. The writers did a fabulous job taking things that seem like very small and minor details (the sort of thing you just dismiss when you see them) and tying them into the plot later on. Everything seemed to fit together and flow really well. Additionally, the movie’s choice of pacing was quite interesting. Instead of just going for the standard “slow-build-up-with-increasing-amounts-of-action-coming-down-to-a-low-point-that-turns-around-and-makes-a-happy-ending”, Zootopia took a more unique and unusual approach. Things go up and down several times, with multiple lowpoints and more than one moment where you’re wondering if they’re gonna play the “european-ending-tragedy” card.
And, of course, Zootopia is also freaking hilarious. The jokes aren’t just witty one-liners or offhanded quips, either—there are many scenes and interchanges that are just legitimately funny. From DMVs run by sloths to apartment neighbours who literally come right out and say “We’re loud. Don’t expect us to apologize.”, this movie really plays the comedy card well. It may be a family film, but the humour’s good enough for adults as well as kids to appreciate, in my opinion. Admittedly, that statement sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true. This movie may have a deep message and all that, but it definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously (which may be why the message doesn’t feel harsh or clumsy in the first place).
And, on a side note, I’d like to briefly mention just how stunning Zootopia’s graphics are. Disney’s always been on the cutting-edge side of things when it comes to computer animation, and it definitely shows with this film. Everything is the movie just looks fantastic. I may be a tad more excited about this than I should be, but as an amateur renderer I can really appreciate the kind of work put into this sort of thing. It just looks so good.
Zootopia is also the only movie I’ve seen that integrates an original song into the plotline. The Lego Movie came close with “Everything is Awesome”, but frankly it doesn’t have much to do with the point of the movie (that, “everbody’s special”). Zootopia, on the other hand, with its very peppy and enjoyable “Try Everything”, actually features a song that relates to its plot and its message. The song talks about how, even if you are going to make mistakes, and if even you’re not perfect, you should try your best anyway. And the movie’s kind of about that. It’s about how nobody’s perfect, but nobody’s pure evil, either. And how, really, we should all try and get along.
And now for…
The Verdict: I think Zootopia is an absolutely great movie, well-deserving of its 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes (for those of you that don’t know, that high of a score is crazy unheard-of). I’m sure I haven’t done it justice in this article, so just go watch it. You aren’t going to regret it.