Zootopia – movie review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Zootopia, directed by Bryon Howard and Rich Moore; co-directed by Jared Bush; produced by Walt Disney Motion Pictures. 108 minutes. March 4, 2016.
Zootopia has already been anticipated, seen, and covered more thoroughly than any other anthropomorphic motion picture in furry fandom history.
We know that its theatrical release has stretched from February 10 in Belgium to April 23 in Japan. (Dogpatch Press has covered its furry fandom theater parties throughout the U.S. and in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, and Sweden.) We know that it was originally intended to be released as Zootopia worldwide, but due to various legal reasons it has become Zootropola in Croatia, Zootopie in France, Zoomania in Germany, Zootropolis in Denmark, Spain, and other countries, Zveropolis in Russia, and Zwierzogród in Poland.
It grossed $75,063,401 on its opening weekend in 3,827 theaters in the U.S. and $232,500,000 worldwide, breaking the records for the premiere of a Disney animated feature (Frozen with $67,400,000 in November 2013) and for any March animated feature (Illumination Entertainment’s The Lorax; $70,200,000 in March 2012). Its voice cast features Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde, and numerous others ranging from celebrity actors to professional voice actors, and including directors Howard, Moore, and Bush as minor characters. It debuted with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 92 reviews. Disney reportedly hired at least one marketing agency to promote Zootopia to the furry community.
In American furry fandom, Zootopia was released on March 4. By March 7, there were five in-depth reviews of it on Flayrah, some with up to 46 comments. They started out trying not to give away spoilers to those who had not seen it yet. By the 6th, they were discussing the movie as though it was a revered classic like The Maltese Falcon or Psycho, which movie fans still critique in detail despite the whole story being well-known to all. (Plus Wikipedia has a plot synopsis.) What more is there to say about Zootopia?
*** SPOILERS: ***
I compare it to those two mystery thrillers for a reason. The primary reason that furry fandom is interested in it is, of course, for its basic premise. Zootopia is set entirely in a world of anthropomorphic animals where humans never existed. Zootopia, its greatest city, has been designed by Disney’s production staff for all mammals, from the tallest giraffes to the tiniest shrews, to live in equality. But the movie is also a mystery thriller. Zootopia consists, like the real world, of 90% prey animals and only 10% predators. Despite this, they are all intelligent and live together in harmony.
Something is causing individual predators to revert to savage, unthinking ferality, bloodily attacking their neighbors. There is a Zootopia-wide panic, with all prey animals fearing that their predator neighbors may become affected and attack them. The feature’s co-protagonist, a “cute” (the word is emphasized) rabbit policewoman, and her fox partner (a prey animal and a predator) learn that the plague is due to a deliberately-administered chemical rather than to natural causes, in a plot to spread panic and seize political control of the city. Toward the climax, it looks like the fox partner may be given the drug by the villains, to have the rabbit heroine eaten by her best friend. (If you want a more detailed plot synopsis, see the Wikipedia article mentioned above.)
Zootopia is a must-see on several levels. Firstly, for its premise of a city/world of all intelligent animals (mammals) living together, designed for the tallest to the smallest together.
Secondly, for its nature as a mystery thriller. It’s a good one, developing smoothly. The movie looks at first as though it is just about a tiny rabbit policewoman succeeding among her larger co-policemen, all large animals like water buffalo and rhinoceroses. Then it becomes the rabbit’s & fox’s search for 16 missing animals, which becomes increasingly dark and ominous. That appears to be due to a plague that threatens the whole city, which turns out to be a deliberate criminal plot. It’s original, too, considering its context. How many mystery movies or novels have there been in which the detective is menaced by being eaten by his or her best friend?
Thirdly, for its themes of prejudice and stereotypes, and its almost anti-Disney message of no, you can’t always be whatever you want to be. The movie begins with the young rabbit, Judy Hopps, thrilled to be going from her rural home of Bunnyborough to the almost-legendary metropolis of Zootopia, where all animals live in brotherhood and the motto is, “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything”. She quickly learns that despite this, there is plenty of species stereotyping and prejudice. The police won’t take a bunny seriously as a policewoman; they want big animals. Judy is assigned to meter-maid duty. Nobody will trust foxes for anything; they’re “all” sneaky and conniving. Judy has already experienced rabbit stereotyping: “A bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’, but when other animals do it, it’s a little …”. Audiences can easily substitute “black” and a particular n-word here. Judy is determined to become Zootopia’s first serious police detective rather than a token pigeonholed as a stereotypical meter-maid; audiences can equally substitute a woman applying for “a man’s” job. Judy succeeds, but she has to become incredibly persistent and become a superachiever to achieve what other animals get automatically.
Fourthly, for its excellent graphic artistry. The rabbit and fox protagonists are often seen in closeups, with every hair of their fur distinct. One of the production crew said in The Art of Zootopia, “There are multiple animal species in Zootopia, and each species’ fur has its own specific color, lighting, shape and texture. The uniqueness of each animal was a great challenge to us. –Michelle Robinson, character look supervisor” (p. 148) This is one of those films intended to be seen by fans over and over, or to freeze-frame upon when the DVD is released, to search for all of the many details in the crowded backgrounds.
Fifthly, for its in-group references. The “Mr. Big” shrew crime boss is an obvious The Godfather reference. Two of the sheep distilling Night Howler flowers into the feral-making toxic drug are named Walt and Jesse; Walt & Jesse were two of the main good guys making crystal meth in the 2008-2013 Breaking Bad TV series. The missing otter is Emmett Otterton; anybody remember Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas from 1971 (book) and 1978 (TV special)? Gazelle’s studly tigers = Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger. (Or am I stretching here?)
Zootopia has flaws, but in the overall gestalt they are minor. Aside from the main characters who look distinct, all of the animals of a species look alike. The polar bears look alike. The lemmings look alike. (But they’re probably supposed to.) Bellweather’s hench-sheep look alike. The mystery may have too many clues, although some are too basic to mysteries, or are obvious only in retrospect.
Why is harmless Emmett Otterton shot with the toxic drug? Presumably as a florist he made the connection with the Night Howlers flowers. The black panther being turned feral just as he is about to reveal an important clue to Judy and Nick is a strong giveaway that the feral plague is criminal-controlled instead of natural. Well, the very fact of Zootopia’s plot is a tipoff that the mystery will turn out to be a crime that gets solved — the feature would lack drama if it was a natural plague. The discovery that the criminals distilling the Night Howler flowers into the toxic drug are sheep is a giveaway that the mysterious villain will turn out to be Assistant Mayor May Bellweather. And, frankly, the “Agatha Christie rule” of making the least likely suspect turn out to be the villain has gotten a little overused by Disney recently. Whodunit in Frozen? The Nicest Guy in the Movie who’s also the heroine’s fiancée. Whodunit in Big Hero 6? The Father-figure university professor who stands for honesty. So whodunit in Zootopia? The only less likely suspects would have been Flash, the DMV sloth, or Judy Hopps’ parents. (Wait; Gideon Grey, Judy Hopps’ red fox childhood bully, could have grown up, moved to Zootopia, and turned out to be the villain; after being absent from the 108-minute feature except for his childhood introduction at the beginning. No?)
Well, this review is probably unnecessary. Zootopia has been out for less than a week, and everyone in furry fandom who intends to see it seems to have seen it already by now. These are my thoughts on it, anyhow. I’ve just seen it today, and I’m already eager to see it again.