When I went to see Zootopia, I had a very specific set of expectations. I was expecting a fun, family-friendly romp through anthropomorphic animal-land with simple, slapstick humour, easy jokes and a fun, heartwarming didactic ending. I would have been perfectly satisfied with this sort of movie, as that is all that I wanted out of the film. What I didn’t expect was for Zootopia to be as smart, thoughtful and intriguing as it was. I left the theatre thoroughly impressed.
While all of the essential “fun family film” elements were there, and it is, without a doubt, a fun film, what sets Zootopia apart from the many other similar family films is its particular brand of witty, complex humour.
The film’s humour is often defined by its subtlety. Attentive and thoughtful viewers are rewarded with many subtle jokes that are not immediately noticeable and take a few moments to “sink in.” One of the factors that will likely bring viewers back for future screenings is the potential that some jokes may have been missed or overlooked, and viewers are likely to notice a new joke or two every screening that they did not catch before.
Besides its sense of humour, Zootopia is also smart in terms of its social commentary. What initially seems like a conventional “underdog versus uncaring world” story quickly takes an interesting turn as power dynamics shift in interesting ways and issues of prejudice and bias are explored in an unconventional manner. While some plot twists are predictable, overall the plot is able to be more creative than cliché, and it takes some very effective turns.
There are many moments in the film where the writing has the opportunity to take a very easy and safe direction, and it would have still been a solid film if it had taken these opportunities. However, what makes Zootopia unique is that it often chooses to say “no” to these easy ways out, and instead goes for something more complex and, ultimately, more interesting. It is this ability to play with the safe, but often choose the different, that makes Zootopia more than your average “anthropomorphic animal family film.”
Outside the realm of writing, the animation was also beautifully done, and the film was visually creative and appealing. Performances were fantastic; the chemistry between Ginnifer Goodwin’s Officer Judy Hopps and Jason Bateman’s Nick Wilde was fantastic, as the two convincingly explore the dynamic of “unlikely allies turned into buddy cops” in a seemingly effortless way. The friendship between these two characters is one of the most effective parts of the film, and the performances by the two voice actors is essential to making the friendship as convincing and interesting as it is.
Overall, I would recommend Zootopia not only to anyone who typically enjoys animated family flicks, but also to anyone who enjoys witty, thoughtful humour and can appreciate a film that rewards them for mindful, attentive viewership.
- Steven Greenwood