I think it has become abundantly clear that Pixar isn’t Disney’s only animated money maker. Recently Walt Disney Animated Studios has blown away the box office. It should be said that their films always make money, but their last three animated features have made just under $3 billion. Those films include 2013’s “Frozen”, 2014’s “Big Hero 6”, and now this year’s surprise mega-hit “Zootopia”.
“Zootopia” was predicted to perform well, but no one expected it to break numerous box office records. It shattered projections and has earned over $1 billion globally. Not only did people come out to see it, but most critics lauded it with some even calling it one of the best animated films ever made. That is hefty praise especially for a movie I could never fully embrace.
There are two sides to “Zootopia” that provoked two different reactions from me. Let’s start with the good. In part “Zootopia” is a fun, playful buddy cop film that also tells a touching story of a young bunny setting out to accomplish her dreams despite the numerous obstacles thrown her way. Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy Hopps, a young country rabbit who sets out to accomplish her dream of being a police officer in the metropolis of Zootopia. But everyone tells her she can’t do it, she’s too small, that no rabbit has ever made the police force.
Judy presses on against a barrage of opposition, graduates from police academy, and lands a job at a Zootopia precinct. But even there she faces a bigotry that lands her on traffic duty. Themes of sexism and prejudice resonate and are handled smartly and effectively. When the film keeps this lean focus it can be surprisingly and subtly thought-provoking.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t maintain its subtlety. In fact it obliterates it. It becomes so ridiculously heavy-handed in its indictments of intolerance, prejudices, and stereotyping. It doesn’t allow for you to think about and chew on their message. It spells everything out in the most obvious ways. At times it feels like they are presenting political talking points instead of a movie script.
And this isn’t an issue found in scattered instances. It’s a drum the writers and directors beat over and over again. They don’t just hit you over the head with their social message. They bludgeon you to death with it. And the problem isn’t that they have a message. It’s that their lack of subtlety and tact subvert the power of it. It resonates early in the film. Later it begins to feel like a big lecture emanating from almost every pore of the story.
Thankfully we do find moments where we can catch our breath. The central relationship between Judy and a con-artist red fox named Nick (slickly voiced by Jason Bateman) is a lot of fun. There are also some really funny moments. A hysterical bit from the extended trailer involving sloths and the DMV is still laugh-out-loud hilarious. Also seeing Idris Elba playing a cape buffalo police chief is inherently funny.
Clearly “Zootopia” has several things going for it. The humor often hits its mark. Judy and Nick have a sparkling relationship. The deeper themes are provocative and absorbing when wisely explored. Negatively the animation doesn’t blow you away and things can occasionally get a little silly. But those aren’t the biggest problems. The collection of seven writers and two directors get so caught up in their statement that it nearly smothers the message. We aren’t allowed to glean much for ourselves or come to our own conclusions. Instead it becomes a relentless social politics lecture with a handful of breaks in between.
Oh no! You didn’t like this one? 😦 I really didn’t know what to expect but it really won me over. Hmmm, I didn’t feel being bludgeoned to death by its message, it felt woven seamlessly into the plot and Judy’s journey. But hey, glad you think the Judy/Nick friendship was good. I also love Chief Bogo, not surprisingly voiced by Idris Elba 🙂
I know, I know. I am definitely in the minority. I almost didn’t even review it knowing people’s appreciation for it. But there are moments I really liked. Bateman’s voice work was an absolute hoot and like you said Elba is just great.
Hey I’m glad you still reviewed it Keith. We can’t agree on everything, that’s what makes movie blogging fun 🙂
Your exactly right. And it’s always interesting for me to read different takes especially from writers I really respect.
Of COURSE the film’s allegory had to be hard-hitting, or else the majority of audience members wouldn’t have ‘gotten it’. Unless you happen to be white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, and without any mental or physical disabilities, it should be pretty clear that prejudice is all around us. This is something that effects all of us, and so many of us carry around unnecessary hatred, often without even realizing it. Don’t hate the movie for saying loudly that we need to change, because the fact is, we do.
First, 2.5 stars isn’t “hating” the movie. I mentioned several things about the film that I liked including how it handles the message early on.
Second, I think skilled writers and directors can absolutely tell good stories without being so glaringly on the nose and preachy. As I mentioned, early in the film the exact same message was relayed in a way that was easy to get. Now obviously you aren’t bothered by its blaring heavy-handed way of handling its message later in the film. That’s perfectly fine. I just happen to prefer it be more intelligently shared in a way that challenges me and allows me think for myself.
And the “Christian” inclusion is certainly a peculiar one.
Yeah buddy I have to say I’m leaning more towards your view of this one as time goes on. I ended up reviewing it positively because I was scared of the backlash of giving it even a 50%, as you have. (A reservation I will have fewer of as i get better at this whole reviewing thing. 😉 ). There were a lot of things to admire about it, but my God this is about the least subtle animated “message” film I’ve seen in some time. The message it is shouting is a good one, mind you, but I’m 100% with you when it comes to feeling frustrated that we are never really given a chance to think for ourselves.
Thank you so much Tom. I’ve gotten a little heat on this review already. I’m genuinely fine with people loving this movie. But you are exactly right. This thing pounds you over the head with the message particularly in the second half. And I really think the story suffers for it. I respect movies that have something to say but I think kids can understand more than this movie gives them credit for. It is pretty relentless as the movie goes on.
I think it’s a fable which tend to have a strong moral teaching. I think there were other messages like not giving up and bullies. It’s my favorite film of year but I’m glad you appreciated some of it.
Indeed. The message of perseverance is well handled as is the bullying. Actually early on I was really onboard with the entire film. For me the second half is where it lost its grip. I definitely respect the people who love it though.
I really enjoyed Zootopia, but I do understand where you’re coming from. For me this is another Frozen, I loved it, but can’t fully understand the crazy hype around it. Inside Out on the other hand is a 10/10 hands down for me, but a lot of people didn’t like it 😦
To my shame I still haven’t seen all of Frozen. I was a little mixed on what I did see. For me Zootopia worked good early on. But I felt the further it went it its relentless messaging smothered out the story. Definitely in the minority though. 🙂
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Zooptopia, I haven’t seen it yet myself. I like some of the recent Disney animated movies such as Big Hero 6, some I don’t enjoy as much but are very popular and getting sequels.
I would say give it a look mainly because most people really do seem to like it. I definitely appreciate parts of it. I just wish is was better overall.
Your thought are indeed valid. I never thought the messages that were presented were too heavy handed, but I do understand why you thought so. I saw one video that explained how Zootopia was a retelling of how CIA brought hard drugs into poor nations of America to get minorities addicted to them. Example the one drug that brought predators back to their natural status.
Thanks for reading. I’m definitely in the minority on this one. For me there was a pretty big difference in how they handled their messaging in the first half than the second. I felt it was relentless to the point of smothering the story instead of working well within it. But like I said, I am definitely of the minority opinion. It’s a lonely island here… 😉
And I was actually thinking about watching this one – though typical of an animation, it will probably take me years to get to it. Great review!
Go ahead and give it a look. The vast majority of people really like it. For me it was so incredibly heavy-handed.
I truly enjoyed this film – there was only one moment where I felt they were ‘bludgeoning’ us with their message (with one line), otherwise, they handled it pretty well.