BY ROGER THOMAS
Earlier this year, I praised the first animated film released in 2016: “Kung Fu Panda 3.” I wrote then about the beautiful animation, clever humor and appealing characters.
The second animated release of 2016 has many of the same qualities. First and foremost, “Zootopia” is a colorful world that unites the city life of the animals with some of their natural environments. The characters and their clothing also add to the tapestry of brilliant shades.
As with “Panda” the screenplay for “Zootopia” offers many humorous moments that work well. The familiar scene with the sloths is one of the best bits, but there are others almost as delightful. There is also a very clever parody of “The Godfather” which will mean nothing to the children in the audience, but for fans of that great film, it is quite amusing. Even without the knowledge of the classic, the scene still works well to advance the plot of the crime mystery that drives the film.
Then there are the characters. I would love to know the exact count of the animated animals created for this film. Especially in the bustling city scenes, this is a crowded motion picture. There are main characters that drive the story such as Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, Bellwether, Mayor Lionheart and Chief Bogo. Then there are many more minor characters like Flash the Sloth, and a swarm of animated extras that create this amazing environment.
Another strength of the film is the abundance of actors who give voice to the many species on screen. Ginnifer Goodwin, of television’s “Once Upon a Time” speaks for Judy Hopps. Film and television star Jason Bateman offers the dialogue for Nick Wilde. Recent SAG award winner Idris Elba, Oscar winners J. K Simmons and Octavia Spencer and actress Bonnie Hunt voice other characters.
With all of this, beautiful animation, quick humor, fun characters and celebrity voices, the film would not succeed without a compelling script. “Zootopia” is a mystery. The film moves in several directions, sometimes exposing the plot and at other times offering a twist.
Sometimes the answers to the mystery are easier to solve than at other times. One pivotal revelation seemed obvious very early, yet it did not distract too much on the whole. Ultimately, the plot works as a story. It engages the viewers enough that one wants to know what will happen.
Beyond the mystery plot, the film also has a moral. It is not heavy-handed, at least not for this reviewer, but the film does offer a message about stereotyping and prejudice. Again, the film is not overtly aggressive in selling this moral. In fact, the key audience, children between 4-10, will probably never grasp the concepts the filmmakers are offering.
Years from now, when those children see the film again, possibly with their own children, they will realize that there is a special message amidst the colors, actions, humor and all the other elements that define “Zootopia.”
Thus far, 2016 has given us two animated features which are quite charming and deserve to be seen by many audiences of all ages. I am not sure that either of these will be the best animated feature of 2016. I am holding out for “Finding Dory,” the sequel to Pixar’s masterpiece, “Finding Nemo.”
But until “Nemo” opens later this year, there are at least two animated films that have many strong elements.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.