“We may be evolved, but deep down we are still animals.”
ZOOTOPIA is a film for the young and young at heart who need reassurance in themselves and their direction in the world. It’s a rapid-fire, imaginative oasis allowing the audience a safe, collective breath of air amidst a polarized, and often prejudicial, modern society. I enjoyed watching it, I fought the lump in my throat at the climax, and I had to make a controlled descent back to reality upon exiting the theater, something all films should strive to make an audience do after the credits. However, it danced dangerously close over a fine line separating quality and cliché.
Heartwarming is best to describe the characters, even the villainous ones, but I can’t give anything higher than a B- grade for casting. While Ginnifer Goodwin fits her purple-eyed bunny counterpart, Judy Hopps, quite well, Idris Elba’s steely eyed, gritty baritoned, wildebeest character, Chief Bogo, had me shrugging “At least he brings his name to the project.” Jason Bateman’s performance as a shifty, con-man fox with a locked-away heart of gold, had me wondering if he unconsciously regretted not asking for more money in the contract. In short, a great deal of comedy was built on Idris Elba playing Idris Elba, and Jason Bateman playing Jason Bateman–not much of a stretch for either of them and it left something to be desired comedically. This leads me to Hollywood’s problem with casting voice over actors for their fame-name instead of their performance abilities resulting in can be surmised as “hack”, but that is a post for another time.
To say ZOOTOPIA is thematic is an understatement; the spectrum of current hot topics covered ranges from minor stereotypes to flat-out racism, anti-progressive fundamentalism to species discrimination, manipulative school-yard bullies to political fear-mongering and corruption. I give Disney an A+ for the message. With so many examples of dehumanization and humanitarian atrophy surfacing during an American election year, Pixar decided to send a reminder to the up-and-coming minds of tomorrow that we can in fact have a bright, beautiful future if we treat others as we want to be treated (pardon the preach). Dreaming big off the phrase “Anyone can be anything,” Officer Hopps (Goodwin) learns the world can be as simple as a catchy slogan, but not before facing–and overcoming–adversity, deception, personal failure, and betrayal.
Lastly, I wasn’t entirely pleased with the Shakira cameo as pop-star singing sensation, Gazelle. Shakira leads the ZOOTOPIA soundtrack with “Try Everything," a fitting song bookending the film with a catchy musical scene, and it only makes sense for producers to double-down by casting Shakira into specific scenes to add some celebrity sprinkles on top. This decision is almost essential in order to appeal to every end of the young-audience spectrum, however, it reminded me of the god-awful SHARK TALE (2004), a film riding almost entirely on celebrity cameos, hollow directing, and eye-rolling performances. But the reminder quickly faded, thankfully. Disney dialed back the bells and whistles just enough to let the story take center stage without sacrificing their pied-piper factor. ZOOTOPIA is definitely worth seeing, especially with children. Preferably your own.