It’s finally here, one of Disney’s more ambiguous and title confusing movie in recent years, Zootopia is upon us! Or is it Zootropolis? Either way, it’s clear Disney is hoping to piggyback on the success of the likes of Frozen and Big Hero 6 with this anthramorphic adventure and become the dominant species in the as 2016’s Spring animated herd. It’s certainly something on the offset however I feel they could struggle with, in the UK at least. The movie has opened very close to the UK opening of Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda 3 – a very recongisable and loved franchise for the Mouse’s biggest competitor. Zootopia/Zooptroplis has also suffered from a very confusing and poor marketing campaign this side of the pond. Not only has the name change caused confusion for fans and average audiences alike when researching the movie online, there has been a significant any lack of coherent advertising for the movie. Virtually everything I’ve seen – save for the extended trailer – has focused more on the setting aspect of a city run by clothes wearing animals rather than exploring any of the characters and plot. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (spoiling an entire movie from the trailers is my biggest criticism from film marketing), it has lead to many people wondering what exactly IS this movie? Myself included. Having now watched Zootopia and gave it time to mill over in my head, I only now feel more frustrated by Disney’s poor marketing campaign for this really good adventure.
I should point out now that for the remainder of this review, I will be referring to the movie as Zootopia. I know officially (and apparently legally, due to an unfortunate copyright oversight) the film is known as Zootroplis in the UK, but I’ve become more accustomed to calling it by its US name due to being first exposed to that name and the bulk of marketing I’ve seen coming from US social media. Old habits die hard I guess. One thing I must credit Disney with however is the attention to detail they’ve put into handling this name change, it wasn’t just a quick poster change as I was expecting. All traces of ‘Zootopia’ from the UK version has been removed and replaced with its Zootropolis counterpart. This included not only sign changes but also re-recorded lines any time the city is mentioned by characters. I know Disney has never been one to shy away from making changes like this to suit a particularly audience, but it’s still very nice to see that they took it seriously and have really made an effort to keep consistency.
There’s no denying that Zootopia’s strongest asset is definitely its humour; this is one of the funniest movies Disney has made in years, maybe even decades. While Disney always been on point with comedy especially in their animation, this will have you laughing out loud several times in some perfectly timed, delivered and just genuinely funny jokes. Much like other alternate universe stories such as Wreck-It Ralph and Pixar’s Cars franchise, Zootopia relies heavily on its setting as a backdrop and supplier to most of its jokes. You’re going to see a lot of animal and real world puns, irony and pop culture references in here but thankfully they don’t become tiring and for the most part don’t feel forced. While I felt a couple of jokes did fall flat, there are definitely enough genuinely hilarious moments that can let you see past the duds and end up referencing the gold all the way home.
The second strongest thing Zootopia has going for it is without a doubt its characters, they’re fantastic. As someone who went in completely blind about the likes of Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, I was very presently surprised as to how much I loved them and enjoyed being in their company. Hopps is easily one of the great Disney protagonists we’ve seen from recent times and is already one of my favourite main characters with her well rounded arc, complete relatability and brilliant portrayal from Ginnifer Goodwin. The only thing better than having Judy Hopps on screen is having Judy Hopps on screen with Nick Wilde. Almost every time he enters the narrative he had me charmed with his humour, sly thinking and chemistry with Judy. Without giving anything away, from the moment you first meet this fox you’ll be wanting to see more of him. It’s very clear the writers and animatators took deep inspiration from Robin Hood when coming up with Wilde. At first this concerned me a bit, Robin Hood is a truly underrated classic with one of the funnest protagonists of its era, would such a similar character translate well while still being different enough to stand on his own two feet? Thankfully, I’m very happy to say they certainly done that with justice and Wilde is a lot more than just a modern day clone of Robin Hood. The supporting characters are also great here, if a little bit forgettable save for a few. My two favourites would definitely have to be Mayor Lionheart (who stole the show in every scene thanks to the fantastic J. K. Simmons) and Flash the sloth; but you’ll have to go see for yourself to find out why!
While Zootopia has already hit two home runs with its humour and characters, it is ultimately the actual plot which judders every so slightly. As can probably be guessed if you’ve gotten this far in my review, Zootopia is the story of bunny Judy Hopps, Zootopia Police Department’s latest recruit who must adapt to life in the city and crime investigation while running into the sly and cunning fox Nick Wilde. By no means am I saying the story is poor, for the most part I actually really enjoyed it. As previously mentioned, the chemistry between our two main characters is fantastic and helps you really root for them as the story progresses, the mystery and investigation that unravels is also interesting enough tot keep my invested and, perhaps the most important thing to take from it, the movie’s message is strong, inspiring and exactly what you’d expect from the tremendous talent at Disney. All that being said, I feel some there were touches of predictability and cliches in here; particularly the finale act. Being very weary of any kind of spoilers, Zootopia goes a direction that several WDA movies have taken recently and quite frankly, I’ve seen enough of it. Chances are when you see the film you’ll know what I’m talking about, and while is isn’t done terriblity here, it certainly isn’t the strongest example and I hope this isn’t start of a cliché story technique. Another recurring Disney aspect we see make a return Zootopia is that of a pop song tie in, only this time they’ve taken it way too far and shoe horned it in harder than an elephant into high heels. Sharika’s character Gazelle has virtually no impact onto the story whatsoever, appearing more times in the background, on ad boards or part of a running joke than as an actual character. Her one and only scene in the movie feels so forced and disconnected from the plot it really belongs more on the Blu-Ray deleted scenes than in the final cut. I get the feeling as part of Shakira’s contract to create and perform the tie-in song ‘Try Everything’ – which I’ll admit, is an alright, catchy song – there was a requirement for Gizelle to have a certain amount of screen time in the film, and thus the writers were forced to squeeze her in when really they didn’t want to. As a result, we get a completely unimportant character who definitely doesn’t deserve all the marketing and merchandise she’s received and will no doubt date the film, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve mentioned before that a major player in Zooptioa’s humour is pop culture references, there are a lot of them in here. While they certainly are funny and very easily picked up to today’s audience, there’s no denying these jokes will quickly lose their bite 10, 15 and 20 years into the future. This is a major concern I have for the movie. This could be a Disney animated film that, as time progresses, actually become less popular due to becoming out of touch and making reference to things future generations aren’t going to know about. Of course, I’m sure some of the humour and jokes will stay timeless due to their timeless source, there enough in here that some will stick, but many are going to get old fast. I would even argue one has already been dated at the time of release! Zootopia of course isn’t the only offender of treading too close to the waters of current popularity, and it certainly won’t be the last, but as this movie relies so heavily on its humour and “look how animals are reacting/using this thing we see in our everyday lives” type jokes, I worry this is the very slow birth of the latest what I call “Forgotten Disney”; a Disney picture that has fell from popularity and is barely mentioned by marketing or referenced by the company.
If you’re looking for a fun, hilarious adventure with loveable characters Zootopia is definitely one I highly recommend. While I feel it’s flaws simply cannot let it be compared to the recent titans of Disney Animation of Frozen, Tangled, Big Hero 6 and even Wreck-It Ralph, it’s definitely a solid film and one I do hope will get the figures and criticism it deserves and not what it’s UK marketing may shape. You’re definitely going to enjoy this movie a whole lot more if you approach it what it truly is, a laugh out loud, tongue in cheek buddy cop anthramorphic comedy which doesn’t take itself too seriously.