First off, let’s address the fact that some people are calling Zootopia the best animated Disney movie since The Lion King. These people are wrong. Zootopia is the best animated film put out by Disney since Pinnocchio. I realize that I’m out on a limb saying that, but it’s a limb I’m comfortable going out on. The Lion King, and for that matter, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, were all stories depicting already existing works, while Zootopia is its own fresh material that is just as well told as any of those 80’s and 90’s era classics and it also uses its medium to explore dense themes in a way too many Hollywood writers and directors are too cowardly to do in live action, and it does so in a very mature manner that still won’t go over most kid’s heads. In fact, it’s more likely to go over the heads of the adults.
I pride myself in writing spoiler free reviews, and I intend to keep this review plot spoiler free, as well, but there is no way I can talk about this film without spoiling what made this the best surprise for me in many years. So, if you haven’t seen the movie and intend to see it no matter what I say I recommend you stop reading right now. In fact, stop reading, put down your phone or computer, drive to the theater, and see Zootopia immediately.
It’s no secret that animated productions can often get away with saying things much more directly than their live action counterparts, for some reason I admit I don’t entirely understand. This is much of the secret to The Simpsons success, and pretty much the entirety of the success of South Park. Zootopia pulls off much the same trick, but not in a vulgar way like those television based works often do. It remains entirely kid friendly but manages to say things about our society that only the bravest or most crass will bring up in public. That topic specifically in the case of Zootopia is race. An animated film by Disney is the most direct, open, and cutting commentary on race that I’ve seen outside of a Spike Lee joint, and yes I remember films like Crash and American History X.
Ironically enough, I think the major messages about racial relations are aimed primarily at the adults taking their children to see the film, since most preteen children aren’t yet racist enough to need these lessons (though, it’s never too early to start teaching them). The reason to take the kids, is this is an honest to goodness really fun buddy cop story aimed at the younger set, but still complex and interesting enough to keep the adults enthralled, too. It’s no Usual Suspects in the complexity of its crime story, but that’s a good thing here, the writers manage to perfectly keep the story complex and original enough to make it engrossing for everyone, but still simple enough that it won’t go over the heads of even the youngest audience members.
The animation in the film is very well done, as well. I personally tend to prefer hand drawn to computer generated animation, but I do understand the move to computer artwork in Hollywood studios due to the amount of time hand drawn pieces take, and they truly do some stunning work here particularly with the feeling of motion which is present a lot in a plot about a rabbit cop chasing a lot of criminal suspects. It does tend to lose some quality in a few of the slower paced scenes as not a lot was being done with backgrounds much of the time, but that really is a minor gripe that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film in any way.
The kids get a hilarious and fast paced film with a lot of funny animals in it. The adults get all that, plus an surprisingly astute look at politics, religion, friendships, careers, and particularly racial relations and fear. Zootopia is truly the greatest pleasant surprise I’ve had in the theater in a really long time. Finding Dory, the bar has been raised really high. If you manage to match Zootopia‘s quality, this will be a year lovers of animation will remember for the rest of their lives.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10