Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush.
Featuring the voices talents of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Don Lake and Tommy Chong.
Disney Animation does it again with a story that treads familiar thematic ground but serves up a fresh, inventive plot that keeps viewers young and old engaged. This Blu-ray + DVD set also includes a satisfying set of bonus materials.
When Disney bought Pixar several years ago, I was among the fans who feared that the House of Mouse might squash Pixar’s innovative approach and turn the animation leader into a studio tasked with churning out endless sequels and rehashes. And then a funny thing happened: While Pixar is still capable of producing unique new stories like Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, the studio has started to rely more heavily on sequels, and Disney Animation under John Lasseter’s stewardship has become a fountain of fresh, interesting ideas such as Frozen and Big Hero 6, as well as this year’s hit, Zootopia.
I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about Zootopia when I headed to the theater to see it with my son earlier this year. I’ve been suffering a bit from “cutesy computer-generated animation” fatigue (along with “over-the-top CGI in live-action movies” fatigue), but the filmmakers still managed to hook me with an engaging plot and characters who have a heart. While the story may tread familiar thematic ground, it’s wrapped in a plot full of twists and turns, along with a few nods to The Godfather, Breaking Bad, and other cultural references that parents will appreciate. It’s nice to see modern animated movies take a nod from those old Bugs Bunny cartoons that appealed to kids and parents.
The story focuses on Judy Hopps, a rabbit who dreams of a career in law enforcement. Despite her parents’ attempts to dissuade her and a bully who tries to crush her aspirations during childhood, Judy enrolls in the Zootopia Police Department’s academy and graduates at the top of her class. However, Police Chief Bogo sees no use for her other than putting her on meter maid duty while other officers tackle a flood of cases involving missing predators.
Still undeterred, Judy strives to become the ZPD’s best meter maid, and in the course of her duties she encounters a wily fox named Nick Wilde, falling for one of his cons in the process. Her childhood bully was a fox, which deepens the hurt when she realizes she was the victim of Nick’s scam, but his connection to one of the missing animal cases forces her to use her wits against him. She turns the tables on Nick and forces him to help her with a case of a missing otter, which Bogo has given her 48 hours to solve with few resources.
Nick and Judy crack the case, only to discover that it runs deeper than they realized, and the story’s third act involves the two of them bringing the investigation to its conclusion, with lessons learned about trust and friendship by the end. Along the way, they travel through many of Zootopia’s various environments, giving the filmmakers a chance to pile on the gags. Sometimes Judy is up against elephants, rhinos, and other animals that could crush her without noticing she’s there, and other times she’s the one stomping around, such as when she squeezes into a rodent zone to catch a thief and finds herself like Godzilla among the buildings.
Oftentimes the little things make a movie great, and those moments are where Zootopia shines, as the filmmakers figure out inventive ways to explore the environment and show off all the little details they’ve created. As one of the bonus features on this Blu-ray demonstrates, they’ve also thrown in plenty of Disney-related Easter eggs for fans who enjoy such things. Pay attention for references to Big Hero 6, Frozen, and other films while watching Zootopia. And if you’re the type who wants to find Easter eggs on your own, don’t worry: the Z.P.D. Forensic Files featurette doesn’t reveal all of them.
The rest of the bonus features on this Blu-ray disc cover the gamut of making-of materials. While they’re the typical cursory featurettes often found on major studio releases these days, Zootopia‘s extras offer some intriguing information about the film’s evolution. The movie was originally supposed to center around Nick, who, like all other predators, has to wear a collar that will shock him if he becomes agitated. The collars help prey animals feel safe when around predators, but they become a symbol of oppression in a city where prey outnumbers predators by a wide margin.
However, as Byron Howard and Rich Moore, the film’s co-directors, explain in The Origin of an Animal Tale featurette and in their introductions to some of the deleted scenes, the earlier version of the story was too dark and heavy. While it offered some poignant, emotional moments, such as the taming party scene found in the deleted scenes section, Moore and Howard note that the work-in-progress screenings of the film revealed that it was hard for viewers to root for such a depressing place. Switching the protagonist to Judy, who wants to make Zootopia a better place but who also harbors her own prejudices, created a better story that still had emotional depth.
The rest of the bonus features include an overview of the research involved in making the animals look and move in realistic ways, a series of roundtable discussions about the characters, environments, and animation techniques, a look at the movie’s score, a Shakira music video (she plays a singer who is famous in Zootopia), a review of the deleted characters, and a series of deleted scenes from both versions of the story.
You’ll also find a DVD with a copy of the movie and a code for a digital download.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★