The Animated Utopia
Disney may have sunk low with Barnyard and their other ’00 offerings, but Zootopia brings a specific honesty to its anthropomorphic critters. In the depressing fall-off of traditional animation, Disney found themselves caught between targeted merchandising, anguished sequels, and tepid fairy tales. Their rut was significant, slowly rising through Frozen and the sharp Big Hero 6. They’ve re-engineered their hook and audiences can now dismiss the routines of talking animal movies.
Threading a be-who-you-want tale through its center, a litany of animal species work together in Zootopia. It’s a land predominantly without violence because its citizens put aside their differences. Carnivores live with herbivores, a proper utopia except for pre-assumed social status – rabbits farm carrots, foxes are hustlers, rhinos handle the cop beats. It’s Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who shatters gender barriers, the female rabbit who sets out on her own to become a beat cop despite the masculine-fueled profession.
Forward in its social commentary, Zootopia’s capability to teach is superlative. Hopps alone would be enough, but Zootopia’s fearless when approaching near-sighted conservative values. Wrangling contemporary and past civil rights issues, Zootopia is willing to skirt uncomfortable history. A fox is refused service at an elephant’s ice cream parlor while the ’50s era aesthetic keeps the sequence in real world context. The greater story puts politicians in control over acts of violence through social engineering, albeit at a kids level.
For a PG offering, Disney’s film finds surprisingly adult circumstances. Zootopia’s cleverness in execution pulls together under the guise of a police procedural, violence and drug investigations included. While a Godfather parody leans toward derivative, others, including Breaking Bad, soar with their ingenuity. Remarkably, Zootopia never feels pinned down by or speaking around its target audience. They’re directly engaged, giving kids rare credit to sort things out.
Between Inside Out and Zootopia, Disney and Pixar’s current animated slate seems focused on delivering awareness toward specific issues. The format choice brings a gentle push toward inciting broader social conversation. Decorated with comedy, the Inside Out/Zootopia pairing strengthens with a sharp watchability and ready-made marketing line. While both carry their Happy Meal tie-ins the same as say, Dreamworks, the visibility of Disney/Pixar’s concerns teeters between simple entertainment and preachy allegory without stumbling too far into either.
Zootopia was sold on a comedic sequence involving sloths at the DMV, mocking the lethargic slog of government paperwork. Nothing in the scene insinuated Zootopia’s broader consciousness, ensnaring unknowing viewers in sharp sociological criticism. A bit of a bait-and-switch, but one beaming with positivity and entertainment value.
Flushed with color, the vibrancy of Zootopia – both the movie and the fictional location – is stunning. Reaching into the warm end of the spectrum, the plethora of locations and animal types keeps feeding the movie variety. All of the aesthetics excel.
There are darker and brighter places to see, stretching the contrast in each direction. Black levels deepen inside of a shadowy jungle. Chilly landscapes pop with contrast. Inside Zooptopia, sunlight hits each frame, dousing the film with generous brightness.
Given the number of animals, fur remains a key component. Definition resolves individual hairs whether in close-up or at a distance. Textural detail at the source remains exquisite, enough to see denser fur on Nick Wilde’s face near his neck.
With a few “wow” moments to process, 3D doesn’t work hard to produce depth. While the format accentuates scale during a chase through a town of rodents, it adds little to the rest of the film. Fox noses poke out a bit and some swinging action inside of a jungle pans characters in front of the frame, but 3D is not a focus of the production. What’s left are ambient fall-in effects which are fine if nothing more.
Note the technical accomplishment of remaining stable during the darker scenes. The intro is set under moonlight and the jungle-like environment handles depth without image break-up. Unless viewed on a TV prone to cross-talk, Zootopia appears to have solved the problem, if at the expense of greater dimensionality.
Accentuating the size of being a tiny rabbit among elephants, each footstep of the latter carries a pleasing thump. While not exceptional, the weight is portrayed well and creates something for the low-end to process regularly. Other subwoofer-catching instances include a rumbling waterfall and late movie train crash, both sufficient if holding back like many animated features.
The full spread of the 7.1 mix can be noticed when in the city, nicely enveloping listeners with activity. Whipping winds and jungle ambiance likewise extend toward the rears. Action perks up the soundfield, at its peak nearer to the end. Sound cues do well to spread into the appropriate channels, even with lax support of the additional rears. Stereos receive stable work, allowing dialog to stretch from the center.
Bonuses run on the short side, and barely attach to any of the social issues presented. Co-directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore introduce (optionally) some deleted scenes and deleted characters in a unique bonus. Those seeking hidden references can peek at ZPD Forensic Files and Shakira fans can watch the video for her featured song.
Onto deeper stuff, there’s the 10-minute A True Life Adventure, detailing the research done to design the characters. Origin of an Animal Tale does make mention of the story’s messages, buried between discussion of inspirations and idea development. Characters, environments, and animation receive individual attention under the banner of Zoology. Combined, they near 20 minutes. A short look at the music shows there’s no limit to Disney’s -topia puns, titled Scoretopia.
Disney’s Zootopia lands between grand entertainment and sterling social commentary in a way few films are able to.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.