Friday, September 09, 2016

A Trip to the Zootopia

Walt Disney and Pixar seem to be linked -- and not just in the obvious way that the former is the parent company of the latter. While Pixar had slipped from its pinnacle of quality with Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University, Walt Disney stepped up with the excellent Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. And when Pixar came roaring back with Inside Out, it was apparently Walt Disney's turn to fade a bit with Zootopia.

Well, just a bit.

The "in a world" pitch of Zootopia has civilized animals living together in an advanced society, setting aside traditional "predator" and "prey" roles... mostly. When Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit police officer in Zootopia, she finds herself butting up against prejudice in the system. But she's just the cop to get to the bottom of a string of disappearances in the city, working with an unlikely partner: con artist fox Nick Wilde.

Zootopia is actually a fine movie, lacking only in comparison to those excellent Disney movies that came before it. It's funny, but not quite as funny. It's meaningful, but not quite as powerful. It boasts some great visuals, but not quite as impressive.

One area in which the movie definitely does measure up is in its great voice casting. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman make a solid "buddy cop opposites" pairing as Judy and Nick. Big names have a lot of fun with not-so-big parts, like J.K. Simmons as Zootopia's lion mayor and Idris Elba as its buffalo chief of police. Disney "mascot" Alan Tudyk is here, of course, as are some other well-established voice-over artists like Maurice LaMarche and John DiMaggio.

I also credit the movie for aiming high. Zootopia dares to take on some pretty heady material for a kids' film. In a barely coded, incredibly direct way, the movie presents issues of xenophobia that are very current in the public eye. Through the lens of this "predator vs. prey" analogy, the movie actually portrays institutional racism, trailblazing through the glass ceiling, and cultures clashing in a big city.

I'd say that overall, Zootopia merits a solid B+. A fine showing in lesser company, but lacking that extra special something that Walt Disney has had over the past few years.

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