J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Zootopia review: More cute, less funny.

I don’t watch movie trailers. Among my friends, I’m kind of notorious for that. I hate how they always, always, ALWAYS give up parts of a movie that would be more enjoyable to learn during the actual experience. In fact, the only time I do watch trailers is during TV commercials (which is pretty rare these days, since all I have is an over the air antenna… no cable, no satellite, no DVR), or when I’m actually in a theater preparing to watch another movie.

It was the latter scenario when I caught this trailer:

My wife and I were immediately sold on watching the movie. It was perfect. It was funny, it was cute, and showcased the overall feeling of the movie, since it was obviously just a piece sliced out of the final film. I remember telling her “That’s the perfect trailer!”

So, yes. We braved the legions of kiddos to go watch a Disney movie last weekend. I have no shame. I love Disney movies. I’ve seriously considered doing a “Worst to best” list of all animated Disney films. But that is a gigantic task.

What I liked:

The actual story. Here’s a poorly kept secret: most animated Disney movies don’t actually need a good plot to be enjoyable. All they need are fun characters, some memorable songs (See: Frozen), a princess of some sort (usually, anyway), and a happy ending. But this movie actually had a pretty good plot. All of the beats in the story worked for me, and it was a pretty fun little detective story with the classic “cop and shady con man team up” dynamic. Although it was pretty elementary to see the little twist in the climax, it was still enjoyable to see it coming. It was remarkably sophisticated for a kids movie.

No songs. At all. I don’t hate songs. Just ask my wife, who’s had to endure me singing “I’ll make a man out of you” on many a road trip. But does EVERY animated kids movie need songs? I don’t think so. Having songs in this one, in particular, would’ve ruined the flow of the story. I liked how the police chief lampshaded this fact by saying “Real life doesn’t get solved with happy songs and dance numbers”.

And just because it’s a great song:

The world building. One of my favorite things about this movie is how Disney’s animators made a setting where they could justifiably use any animal they felt like using. The different districts being split in the Jungle district, the Tundra District, the Desert District, etc was really interesting, and gave the world some depth. It definitely gave the writers a nice sandbox to play in when storyboarding, I’m sure. It also did a good job explaining how animals of all shapes and sizes could co-exist in the same city. Rodents get their own district, along with elephants, etc. I’m not exactly sure why there were exactly zero reptiles or birds in the movie, though. That was kind of weird.

Speaking of which, what do the predators eat if they don’t actually eat prey? I saw the little bit at the end, but I mean… really?

 

What I didn’t like:

The veiled messages. It felt to me like this movie wanted to say something about a bunch of social topics. I’ve seen people interpret this movie’s message as being about feminism. The exchange with Judy where she tells someone “only bunnies can call other bunnies cute” would seem to lean it in that direction. There’s another bit of dialogue early in the movie where Nick the fox tells her she’s just “a dumb little bunny” that can’t do the jobs that bigger, more powerful animals can do. That is a kind of heavy handed jab at misogyny.

I’ve seen other people say that it’s about racism, which also makes sense given the prejudice against different animals theme that makes up a good chunk of the plot. It seems like a movie well suited to make either of those points.

I think the problem is that this movie just flat out couldn’t decide on the point it wanted to make, and just scattered thoughts to the wind, and hoped something would stick. It didn’t make the movie less enjoyable, but it gave me the feel of “You know what I think about this….? Never mind,” more often than it should’ve.

It just wasn’t as funny as I expected. The trailer kind of backfired on me here. I thought the movie had to have plenty of moments as funny as the trailer with the sloths. And it simply didn’t. There were some fun references to classic movies here and there, but nothing that was so clever that I thought it was laugh out loud funny. I’m not saying the movie didn’t have its moments (I loved the redneck fox, and the wolves compulsively howling), but it simply wasn’t a laugh riot like most people thought going in. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, of course. It’s simply not quite what I expected.

 

The verdict:

Zootopia is definitely a fun movie to go watch, and a worthy entry into the Disney canon. I can’t say, though, that it’s anywhere close to being one of my favorites. It just didn’t hit on all cylinders for me. Maybe it’s because of the confused message. Maybe it was because it wasn’t funny enough. Regardless, it’s squarely in the “Great, but nothing amazing” category.

****.

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2016 by in Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , .

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