ZOOTOPIA (2016)

by williamldennis

While sometimes overly steeped in its theme of ‘stereotypes don’t always hold true,’ ZOOTOPIA is a fun watch.

It has enough visual flair with its expression of the animal kingdom that you don’t mind that the plot is essentially linear. A B-plot could have really heightened the stakes. There were a few moments where there didn’t seem to be a rush or urgency as we approached the climax. I would have liked a ‘damsel in distress’ style plot to hold us over here.

ZOOTOPIA doesn’t really suffer from its simplicity though. Couple the rich visual world with plenty of pop culture references – some more direct than others (I noticed Breaking Bad, Frozen, Godfather) as well as repackaged-for-animals ethnic comments (“cute” is our word, you can’t touch a sheep’s wool, etc) and you generally have enough working with the single plot line.

As seems to be the genre convention for these types of animated pictures, you need enough visual splendor and pacing to keep kids engaged and enough pop culture and adult references to keep parents chuckling to themselves. ZOOTOPIA does great with both, though the pop culture references were a bit heavy handed at times. There’s literally a Breaking Bad meth lab (except the meth is instead flowers) complete with lackeys named Walt and Jesse.

The movement throughout the different settings of utopia keeps things visually engaging while the well structured story keeps it all moving while preventing it from getting messy. You’re less concerned about why the plot is moving forward than you are drinking in the visual landscape.

The story structure doesn’t seem to do anything new, but it may not need to. We have some very familiar beats for buddy cop movies (partners are at odds, then friends, then have trust issues, then regain trust) and some familiar story telling devices (the protagonist’s unique upbringing provides the key to the case during ‘dark night of the soul’). Overall it’s well told, and any story keys are planted early enough in the telling that they don’t seem too ‘gotcha’ when they come back up (I’m thinking of the pen-recorder and the blueberries).

Also interesting to see the use of technology in these films, which are already so fantastical you’d think they could get away without it. But the addition of FaceTime and voice recording pens may just add to the humanity of the animals like their cars and clothes. Maybe we’re post-tech-being-tech and it’s just life.

Fun movie. I think a lot of the above is likely redundant. I’m tired. G’night.

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