There seems to be a collective trend among professional critics who have reviewed this movie: the message justifies the means. The bulk of Zootopia‘s content may be standard, may be predictable, but the harshness of the themes presented and the underlying liberal mantra makes the movie something to be seen. It’s clever in its presentation and conservative enough not to make it overbearing. Not to mention, the visuals are bright, crisp, and colorful enough to entertain an audience of all ages. I can describe this type of mindset with one word: simple.
So a movie has a powerful message. So a movie has a message that strikes deep within the hearts of the issues with the mainstream media and their prejudices towards others. So a movie has heart and emphasizes tolerance and harmony. Does that really give it free reign to play out in such a predictable manner that it’s hard to distinguish it from any other Disney movie?
It’s disappointing to me that all of these critics are so keen on praising the movie for having a positive moral message rather than the movie’s technical abilities. Not all stories with a good message should constitute as “good,” and they don’t. Zootopia as a story is just as cliché and by-the-book as any other major Disney picture; almost to the same degree as Pixar films. It’s predictable and it becomes a drag to see a film take so few risks with its storytelling that it’s content with taking the same formula it’s used in most other movies, but with a different setting.
The story stars Judy Hopps, a rabbit who dreams of being a police officer in the land of Zootopia. Unfortunately for her, being a police officer is typically reserved for “predators,” rather than prey such as rabbits. It follows her journey as a child (quickly) and her major motivations as she grows into an adult capable of fending for herself and how she struggles with, ahem, prejudice with her “prey” persona among the police force. Soon enough, she’s (by matter of coincidence) assigned her first task, and enlists the help of a wily fox named Nick Wilde to help her.
My brief synopsis leaves much to behold, but please don’t let my attempt at avoiding as many spoilers as possible deter you from my bland outline. There’s a lot more complexity to the story and how characters come to meet than I let on. This is one of the strengths I feel the movie has, which is the cleverness in which they take with the “predator vs. prey” angle. For as divided as some people can take this prospect, I think the movie did a well enough job to manipulate this concept to steer itself in a direction that suited its cause. I think it was also used well enough for other aspects such as humor, dialogue, and character development. In a sense, the message really does a lot of good for the movie technically, even if on a subjective level I don’t think it should hold much merit.
Allow me to be a tad more descriptive with the story progression. This may be a little on the spoiler-ish side, so I may recommend you skip the next paragraph in case you want to see it for yourself.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: a story begins with a character’s past, showing the point of the movie and the motivation behind that or any other important character. It flashes forward and the character focused on in the past is now older and eager to explore and/or partake in their passion, only to discover that things aren’t all that they’re wrapped up to be. Along the way, they meet up with someone they don’t much care for, only to have that character, whether intentionally or not, become the sidekick to their grand adventure. The journey itself is one of info collecting and some action scenes filled with suspense and tension, and it “ends” with success, but at the cost of creating conflict with their sidekick, whom they grew to care for along the journey. At their lowest point, the main character goes through a period of self-reflection and self-loathing, only to have a sudden realization cause them to jump into action to finish up what they started with their journey. They make up with their former partner and the final scenes play out and the main antagonist is revealed and they defeat them and everything is hunky-dory.
That kinda sounds like… every modern Disney movie ever, doesn’t it?
It’s this type of storytelling that leads me to feel like this film won’t hold up in my memory. The characters and visuals will, sure, but the story itself will continue to be muddled along with the likes of Tangled, Frozen, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and many others. It’s very pedestrian, it’s very standard, it’s very forgettable. This type of story is so bland that I can’t stand to even consider this film great simply from the story alone. It’s unfortunate because these types of stories work, certainly, but they’ve become so overused and oversaturated that I can’t help but feel film writers, particularly for Disney, have become lazy in the way they tell stories. This in of itself is Zootopia‘s greatest flaw, but in essence, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
Other than its predictability, I also found a humongous plothole near the end of the movie when Judy has her realization. I won’t go into it for spoiler reasons, but I think it does a good job of showing how out of touch the story becomes by the end of the movie. The story, aside from its predictable structure, begins to fade into itself by the end of the movie. The resolution is incredibly far-fetched and it feels far too rushed to show anything other than “They won. The end.”
The rainbow-like assortment of characters is just that: bright and varied. Unfortunately, not a lot have a good assortment of growth to them, with the only exception being Nick Wilde. The characters play their role: the main character, the sidekick, the comic relief, the scapegoat, the reference, the pop-star tie-in, etc. Many characters are basically the same from beginning to end, except the “happy ending” that makes everyone giddy and skippy and whatever. I just realized that sentence sounds really weird. Nevertheless, characters serve the message and are what they are. There’s not much more to them than that.
The animation is nothing to go on about, seeing as the trailer already does it justice. If Zootopia has one great strength aside from its clever (albeit predictably reversing) wit, it’s the animation. Disney is predictably savvy in its work with art and animation. Everyone looks great. Every movement looks fluid and realistic. The world is breath-taking and the action scenes are well sculpted. It’s everyone’s favorite treat and more; an absolute spectacle of design and animation. I just kinda wish there were more animals to behold, as it was basically limited to mammals. Makes the world feel a little smaller, y’know?
It’s a good movie, absolutely. But it’s not great. It’s hampered down by its predictability and its safe progression of story and “development.” The characters are role-fillers and the actual story has some holes to fill. But the message is enough to hold people over (and it shows by its ratings) and does enough with it to make the characters likable and the writing clever and sweet, and surprisingly funny. The animation is fantastic, as per usual. It just needs a little polish, a little more variety with the way its story progresses and maybe cool it with the whole “Haha, you expected one thing but we showed you the opposite! We are so smart!” For kids, this movie is absolutely recommendable. For adults, it really depends on the mindset. Most will appreciate its sentiments, but for someone looking for good structure and support, the movie will leave without paying the bill.
Final Score: 6/10