Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 20th May 2016 on Letterboxd.
Zootopia is part of a very specific sub-genre of animation: those aimed at children with their playful colours and happy characters, with slapstick goofiness never far from the underlying adult message, ofttimes with some cheeky mature humour for good measure. Pixar have finely balanced this art in the last decade, whilst other studios have been strong challengers to that authority (Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon and Laika Studios’ ParaNorman), or nothing more than blatant consumerism (Illumination Studios’ Despicable Me and Minions).Zootopia doesn’t quite reach the heights of the aforementioned, nor does it scrape the barrel, but that’s part of its problem: it simply exists.
To start with the good: the film is seriously gorgeous. The nuances of the locations and the animals that inhabit them are so vibrant that there is a constant reward in shifting your focus from the foreground, watching a populated city flourish in its day-to-day goings on, while never feeling crowded or cramped. Additionally, the animation on the animals, from elephants to jerboas and everything in-between, Disney Animation Studios really did pull out all the stops to make their residents seem at times cutesy or dangerous, but always tangible.
The major flaw here is the inelegant way in which the allegory is delivered. Touching on the themes of racism, sexism, classism and corruption (amongst other things) by scenes-long expository speeches, the film fatally unravels when suggesting that the predators – not the prey – of Zootopia are the minority. It’s indisputable fact that predators are historically and biologically dangerous. This is how ecosystems thrive. By stating that the minorities are predators, the filmmakers seem to suggest that this real-world structure of bias is accepted. Obviously, comparing real life to an animated film isn’t something that should be done for most fantastical features aimed primarily at children, but the film practically begs these parallels by having the citizens live their lives with modern technology and various nods to ‘our’ world. This is just skirting the edges of the narrative muddling: a cursory searching of the themes online will give numerous hits from people who have said the same with much better delicacy and finesse than I have.
It’s a tremendously beautiful film in both foreground and background, let down by the messiness of its core text. And further still, let down by that appalling Shakira cameo/sing-song. It’s a recommendation for a good passing of time, with some great gags and some beautiful, inventive imagery, but hard to support it as much more.