“Zootopia” Continues The Evolution of Disney's Return To Greatness

By Scott Kurland

Film: Zootopia
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, and Don Lake
Rated PG
Directors: Rich Moore and Byron Howard. Co-Director: Jared Bush

  The Disney Animation Studio, like any other business, has had its share of hard times. In the early to mid 80's, Disney was tanking with films like “The Black Cauldron”, “The Great Mouse Detective,” and “The Brave Little Toaster.” Basically, any Disney animated film that was not considered a princess movie was doomed. Luckily, in the late 80s and early 90s Disney began its long awaited recovery with “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty & The Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “The Lion King”. Hard times hit again in the early 2000s with “Dinosaurs’ and “Home on The Range”. Now, the studio is back on its feet due to the overwhelming success from films like “Wreck-It-Ralph” and “Tangled”. This brings us to this week’s film “Zootopia,” directed by Rich Moore and Byron Howard who also directed... you guessed it: “Tangled” and “Wreck-It-Ralph”. Let’s see if “Zootopia” lives up to the hype shall we?

“Zootopia” stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the voice of Judy Hopps. Hopps is a sassy rabbit who dreams of becoming Zootopia’s first bunny police officer. Hopps graduates top of her class and does in fact achieve her dream. But upon arriving in Zootopia, things quickly take a turn. Instead of tracking down criminals, her day consists mainly of dealing with parking violations as Zootopia's "meter-maid". Hopps’ commanding officer, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn’t think Hopps has what it takes to be an officer, so he offers her a challenge: solve a missing person’s case (in 48 hours) or resign from the police force. Aided by a clever con-artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy Hopps will solve this case, or go down trying.

Let me start off by saying that this is an impressive film, especially for an animated film aimed at children. This is not a kids film in the slightest. “Zootopia” might possibly be one of the best "buddy- cop" films I’ve seen since Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”from 2005.  The film even shares a  premise that is similar to the 1982 classic “48 Hours;" a film about hard-nose cop who teams up with a criminal to uncover a dastardly plot. "Zootopia" features similar, albeit furrier, characters. That’s why this film works so well. It doesn’t try to be a genre film when it’s a kids movie. It’s a genre film that, coincidentally, is a kids movie. 

It’s amazing what directors Rich Moore and Byron Howard manage to get away with in this film. If this was a live action flick, this would be PG-13 bordering on R because there's a scene where Hopps and Wilde go to a nudist colony/day spa to follow up on a lead. However, because this is an animated film about animals, no one truly minds as animals are meant to be nude. This film also works well under the direction of Howard and Moore, especially Moore. Rich Moore not only directed “Wreck-It-Ralph”, but he worked on what became the golden years of “The Simpsons”. A lot of the jokes that work in the film have that same “Simpsons” wit to them. Meanwhile, Howard brings the same sentimental nature to “Zootopia” that he brought to “Tangled”. This is a very funny film, but it has a lot of heart at the core of the story.

Disney keeps getting great voice actors to be in their films, and somehow they always know what voices will work. “Zootopia”  has great supporting actors like the wonderful Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as Judy’s parents. We also get Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons with their booming authoritative voices. Still, the two shining performances are Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy and Jason Bateman as Nick. 

It’s very surprising when two actors have great chemistry. It’s even more shocking when they’re animated characters. Goodwin and Bateman’s voices work so well, and it makes me wonder if they were in the recording studio together because their dialog just flows so naturally.  Any animated film that is able to accomplish such a feat always impresses me. I’ve been a fan of Goodwin’s for a long time, ever since she was on the tv show “Ed” as Diane Snyder. Don't even get me started on "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" She's was hysterical in that film. What I love about Goodwin is she always brings the same energy and thoughtfulness to every role she plays. I think that’s why Judy comes to life on the big screen.

 Jason Bateman is another actor like Goodwin. He always brings some form of energy to his roles. Even if half of those roles are the laid-back smart-ass. What makes Bateman so good in everything he does is the fact that he has one of those voices that stands out in a crowd. You hear i,t and you just know whose voice it is. With a sly fox like Nick Wilde, you need a Bateman-esque voice to really endear you to this character. I think Bateman really brings something different to the table with his line readings as Nick. When you learn about Nick’s past, it becomes kind of upsetting and your heart truly goes out to him. The fact that such detail and character development was added to this film is another factor of why Disney is back with a vengeance.

“Zootopia” is a nice return to the great lost genre of 80’s buddy-cop movies. The morals they add to the story were nice little touches, especially coming from Moore and Howard. “Zootopia” is filled with great writing, wonderful animation, and a cast like you wouldn’t believe. If you have children see this film. If you don’t have kids see this film. And most importantly, if you love “Lethal Weapon” or “Beverly Hills Cop,” SEE THIS FILM! This is a great big throwback film that everyone will love; the old and the young alike.

scott kurlandComment