Monday, March 7, 2016
I've been giving Disney a lot of flack lately. I went into greater detail in another post, but the long story shot is I felt like they were starting to play it a bit to safe when it came to their most profitable IP's. I would like to humbly put an asterisk next to my animation portion of that post as of today. Zootopia is a breath of fresh air, and an exciting new direction for Disney animation that I never thought I would see so soon.
Zootopia is directed by Disney Animation veterans Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph). Judy Hopps (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a head strong Rabbit who goes against the grain and decides to become a police officer in the fabled city of Zootopia. Her first assignment is a mysterious disappearance case, and she reluctantly recruits the help of fox Nick Wilde (played by Jason Bateman) in order to uncover a case that's bigger than she could have ever imagined. I mean right off the bat this is a detective thriller, pseudo noir-type story. The directors even described it as L.A. Confidential meets animals. My bread and butter. It didn't do anything crazy or different with that idea but its something I very much appreciate, and had me sucked in immediately. Let me get my flaws out of the way first. The third act liar revealed/partner break up scene was kind of out of no where. It made sense that Nick felt the way he did due to his flashback earlier, but it kind of seemed a little rushed and spontaneous. Judy didn't seem to say anything that would invoke the kind of reaction Nick ultimately had. Plus everyone hates those moments, even if they are an "essential" aspect of children's story telling, I wish they just took the high road and did away with it. And the twist at the end I saw coming a quarter mile away. Not necessarily a bad twist, but I always like being surprised in films. "Nick it's a kids movie stopppp." No, I won't ignore flaws simply because it's made for children, people are grailing this movie amongst adult films so it should receive the same treatment. But I mean that's about it with all of the issues I had. Now here's what I loved.
I would say the best part about this movie is the world it established. Normally movies like this create a unique world, but don't capitalize on it at all, and focus solely on the story. Here I felt like we got a perfect dose of what this city is like. It wasn't in your face explaining every aspect about it, and it wasn't glared over in favor of the story. Instead the city is incorporated into the story and the action, and we see for ourselves what this world has to offer. There are so many hidden details that warrant a second viewing on its own. The production designer for the city (a German as I understand it) went all out on creativity setting up this world. The city is sectioned off into various biome type districts that make sense when put together. The desert area is walled off from the tundra separated by a giant air conditioning fan. The melted water run off from the tundra area flows in a stream into a heated area where it is syphoned into the rain forrest district, and so on. It's things like that that, despite normally going unnoticed, really deepens the world and leaves a very fulfilling and satisfying feeling in the viewer. And that's not even factoring in the accommodations made in the city depending on species. A little town for rats, giant ice cream for elephants, doors depending on size, it goes on! It's so fun looking at each little aspect that separates the species from each other. Speaking of that, let's talk about the design of the animals in this film, another aspect I feel will go under appreciated. The character design was done by Cory Loftis who did an outstanding job with everyone in the film. There are 64 different mammal species in the film, and tons of variations within each species. Despite being anthropomorphic, the animals were designed to scale (1 giraffe is 95 mice tall), which is a laboring task in the field of animation. Loftis had to not only make these animals human-like, but he had to do that whilst preserving the mannerisms of each animal. And he pulls it off as every character is completely unique from one another, a trait that is extremely rare in any film. The best part is finding the easter eggs in this world from billboards, to animal/human puns (pay attention to Judy's Ipod playlist), and interactions of animals in the background. The attention to detail in this film blew me away.
The writing in this film is terrific, especially considering what this movie had going against it. The film took about five years to make, with around 12 different rewrites, the first five of which were drastically different than the final product. Nick was intended to be the main character, but the directors found that through his eyes, we would see the world presented more cynically as opposed to Judy's brimming optimism. I'm normally one who hates forced messages in films, especially one's that can be considered taboo (alienating viewers at the expense of your message is very risky), but I loved what this movie had to say about social prejudice in society. It was so clever using species and predator vs. prey/minority vs. majority parallelism to sort of hint at the racial tensions we experience today. It's done so with out calling anyone out, pointing any fingers, or having one of those "character looking directly at the camera" moments that could have bogged down this films vibe in one fell swoop. The directors said they didn't intend for this story to be an allegory for today, but I still think this is the perfect movie to introduce to children about the world of prejudice. I also very much appreciated the other message it had which was essentially to not give up on your dreams despite all that's going against you. That message wasn't forced and presented in a very believable and encouraging fashion. The dialogue and humor is some of disney's finest too. Actors would record their lines in the same rooms as one another, a rare and less time and cost efficient decision that other animated films don't normally do. It pays off as the chemistry between each character is palpable in every scene. Disney knows what they're doing
It's very early to say this, as it takes about a month for the premature initial feelings of a film to die down for me, but as of right now I would say this is Disney's best animated movie since the Emperor's New Groove (or Lilo and Stitch depending on your preference, both great films). No unnecessary musical moments, no forced love interests, this movie did not deviate from its goals in the slightest. I read last week that Big Hero 6 was getting it's own television series, and I would very much hope for the same outcome for this film. It deserve to have it's world explored further, even at the risk of becoming oversaturated. For now, Disney has me feeling pretty good about their creative flexibility, and I'm looking forward to their next animated feature later this year Moana. 9/10