When it comes to modern animated films, particularly those released by the monolithic Walt Disney Animation Studios, it's difficult to place trust in either reviews or box office success. So often the success for these movies seems pre-ordained. It's woven into our culture. Millions of children drag their parents to the cinema to see big-screen cartoons for an hour and a half of relative escapism. Lamenting or applauding this likely has no bearing on it continuing. The persistence of children is inescapable. Similarly, critics tend to be suckers for anything resembling sophistication or intelligence inside what often seem like feature-length toy commercials. Disney typically obliges by sprinkling a few laughs aimed at adults and pulling at the heartstrings to the nth degree.
Occasionally, however, everyone more or less gets it right and an animated movie is actually quite good or, even better, interesting. Such is the case with this year's Zootopia. Not only does it deftly explore sociopolitical issues in ways that we've rarely, if ever, seen from a Disney feature, but it also sneaks in a clever and engaging mystery alongside the usual comedic hijinks. Indeed, there's a lot to enjoy here, even for those who proudly admit to being cynical when it comes to these sorts of pictures.
There's little promise in the opening sequence, in which the Hopps family of carrot farming rabbits watch daughter Judy perform in a school play. The idea immediately is that she'll defy expectations related to gender and upbringing to become the first rabbit police officer in the metropolitan Zootopia. At this point, and as Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) faces adversity upon being assigned meter maid duties out of the police academy, the movie seems to be going down a traditional, well-worn path. The addition of Nick Wilde (voiced to perfection by Jason Bateman), a sly, ever-scamming fox, is the first hint of something notable beyond the humor. (Many of the gags are best left to discover on one's own but it's worth acknowledging how cleverly the movie makes use of sloths and wolves.)
Nick as a character is easy to respect and great fun. He acts consistently and is the perfect antidote to the more prototypical heroine of Judy. The film's second act, during which they join up to unravel a mystery, is close to perfection. It achieves the magical goal of making the audience focus on a key plot element while effortlessly developing the characters along the way. That Zootopia manages to include one of the better examples of criminal investigation we're likely to see in American cinema this year says quite a bit both about this film and its potential counterparts. Ultimately, though, that's the part here that balances the unexpected foray into class inequality and prevents it from ever being overbearing.
The realization of Judy's latent views on the issue of predator versus prey, and that entire idea as a stand-in for greater, human problems of race and class, resonates to an unexpected degree. It does, possibly, because we very rarely see this particular topic explored with any kind of delicacy or sophistication in mainstream cinema. It's not that Zootopia presents a deeply educated and nuanced rumination on the topic. Not at all. The victory here is that it introduces these ideas, and that it does so in a vehicle for impressionable children. Many of us need something so seemingly non-controversial to begin the conversation. It would be extraordinary for Zootopia to become a jumping-off point - or even an agent of change - for questioning perceived wisdom on our own biases and how we approach others who are unlike us in external ways.
Zootopia, or Zootropolis as it was called in Europe, arrived on Blu-ray a few weeks earlier stateside than in the UK. It's the region-free U.S. edition - containing Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD code - that's being reviewed here.
The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio and looks fantastic in high definition. It's crisp, bursting with colors and detail. Essentially, this is the high standard that we've grown to expect from computer animated films on disc, and there's nothing here to disappoint.
Audio is an English 7.1 DTS-HDMA track that, among other things, blesses and curses us with the Shakira song "Try Everything" on multiple occasions. Dialogue, sounds, and other musical pieces emerge strongly and cleanly. There's also an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track as well as Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.
Special features are fairly abundant. Here's the rundown:
"Research: A True-Life Adventure" (9:58) - we see and hear about the creative crew's research trip to Africa prior to working on the film
"The Origin of an Animal Tale" (9:15) - earlier versions of the story are revealed, including the presence of a plot strand involving shock collars for the predators
"Zoology: The Roundtables" (18:23) - introduced by Ginnifer Goodwin, this consists of three separate pieces - Characters, Environment, Animation - in which a collection of the creative team sit down and talk about the topic at hand
"Scoretopia" (4:59) - attention is turned to the film's score by composer Michael Giacchino
"Z.P.D. Forensic Files" (3:23) - some of the Easter Eggs in the movie that show cameos and references to other Disney characters are highlighted
"Try Everything" Music Video (3:21) - Shakira's song from the film
Deleted Characters (3:16) - a few excised characters are detailed by the film's directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Deleted Scenes (28:03) - a collection of seven scenes that didn't make the final cut, with introductions from the directors; some are fully animated while others are just storyboarded
Sneak Peeks - includes a trailer for Finding Dory