Zootopia full movie review - A Magical Feat that isn't Just an Illusion..
The litmus test to confirm art and disconfirm empty-calorie entertainment is a comparison between the elements that can be found in both.
There's a moment, early in Zootopia, in which our heroine is making a pop-song-backed montage-trip to her destination; the kind of scene that would otherwise typify hollowheaded Furious-7/Rom-Com style movies--yet, how does Zootopia leave that sequence feeling closer to Potemkin than Pootie Tang? The montage cuts between establishing shots that are traveling closer to the center of Zootopia, but a crucial difference between this and the Cliché is, one visual element is shared by all subsequent shots; the Heroine's Vessel. The train defines the narrative purpose of each shot as taking the hero closer to their destination, instead of just showing how the second unit had virtual cameras running everywhere along the way to the city. The train will also turn out to be part of a Chekhov's armory for a resolution later in the movie.
The plot of the movie, once you untangle the Noirish vines it wraps itself in, is a plucky young bunny heroine becomes a cop and flies to the Big City with a buoying air of idealism under her wings; she's here to Change the World. Make it a better place than she thinks it is. It's worse. She'll meet a shifty fox who'll challenge and disillusion her as much she'll amuse and enamor him. They'll earn from each other a reciprocal respect and more, and together, they'll make an indomitable, unlikely duo. It's the plot of a thousand movies, The Silence of the Lambs is the best of the kilo, and Zootopia runs a few paces behind it.
The animation in the film is great enough to meet the greatest expectations, with an added layer most of the time missing; the characters are allowed to have nonverbal (and we guess off-screen) dramatic reactions to the proceedings, and every revisiting of the feature deepens them farther; they have an existence of their own, and aren't just saying their dialogue because wisecracks would be funny in a family movie. They own their platitudes. A rare feat. One aspect I loved even further is the Rainforest District, a rain-beaten Neo-noir Verde-vista which the characters unwisely visit and are met with a feline misadventure. It's a bold step for an animated/otherwise-Disney film to have a section in its World that isn't colored like fruit drops...and has fierce Carnivora that leap at us to equalize our interspecific excitements.
Most of the humor in the movie is generic; it's all the usual high-speed-chase falling-from-a-bridge humor that drew its last laughs in the 90s. By now it should be plagiarism. Yet, because it's character-centered here, and the movie lets us warm to its characters, it's like a friend telling you an old joke, you laugh not because it's funny again, but you're glad you're having the time together.
There is a substantial flaw however. The narrative bears an over-reliance on off-screen events and obscurant camera placement; the only way the screenplay knows how to resolve an urgency is pulling a resolvent carrot out of a hat; you didn't see us hide this! It wears itself into contrivance. There's also an overstatement of visual information using reiterative flashbacks. Kids should use their memories even at the movies.
One of the few scenes that have wrought the teaspoonful of half-negative reviews the film has gotten is the Sloth sequence at a DMV office. If the movie is against stereotyping, then oh, why are all the sloths with jobs and speaking roles in it lethargic, as if constrained by their biological limitations even in a family film? Those who complain about this scene didn't stay for the epilogue to see the setup subverted. It's what marks the difference between good satire and generic parody; satire sets up the tropes again within its own story's context to demolish them with focus, yet parody just gobbles up the setups made in other works and belches lazy punchlines. The sloth sequence was necessary to prove a counterpoint, instead of simply stating one.
"We may be evolved, but deep down, we're still Animales.." so observes a Mr. Big in the film. He's paraphrasing a compagno of his, from an earlier version of himself, who said about black folks, "They're Animals anyway. So let them lose their souls." Of course, his compagno, in spite of being a Sabre-toothed ligature-tooting predator, excluded himself from the Animales subcategory; he didn't even presume to be the gamekeeper. I know, I'm annoying you, comparing a 'kiddie movie' to a god-daddie movie, but one thing the confronto illustrates is even the dimmest film characters are evolving, at least on the top shelf of the art form.
In this era where movies are blighted by on-the-nose dialogue (even very good ones like Interstellar) and fortune-cookie messages, sometimes with very sour fortune cookies, we seldom open the valves of our hearts to them.
A lifetime's worth of product-line-assembled mediocrities has given us constrictive pericarditis.
Zootopia is like a pericardiectomy that peels away that hardened pericardium, and lets our hearts expand with joy again...if only for 108 minutes and 32 seconds. Until we walk out of the screening and are assaulted by the Batman v Superman posters outstaying their welcome on the cinema walls, that fill our ventricles with venom again; not a result of the counterfeit product they're marketing being powerful enough, or powerful at all, to make us feel anything by itself; all it does and can do is steer backwards (and blindly) from every paragraph in this review. No half-good movie would ever do that.
I love movies more than most things (anything?), but, I prefer to hate them; it's much more fun to frame-by-frame them, and deconstruct their technique than to futilely mine them for oft-nonexistent Deeper Meaning. Zootopia earns a high grade on both levels; it's the rare big movie you actually root for at the movies.