I’m not among the many vocal admirers for Zootopia. The amusing character design and relationships are a delight, and of course it has a fiercely progressive (and unpreachy) message for children that is hard not to root for. While the film’s upsides are front and center, they still don’t mask the film’s flatness and unpropulsive energy, and even the social commentary becomes a little muddled by the end. On first glance the animation looks unrefined, but there’s an expressive attention to lighting and tone that probably does more to push the emotions than the screenplay itself.
But Zootopia‘s core is so warmhearted and well-thought out that focusing on its faults feels a bit mean-spirited, and downplays how accomplished it is visually.
The film’s visual world is packed with wit. Character details and world creation generate steady laughs throughout the film as it details how animals big and small can live harmoniously. Even simple gags like the movement of the sloths produces laughs and furthers the world building. Whether it’s public transit or boroughs within boroughs, the film is not lacking for details in the corners of frames to delight on repeat viewings. Like the most diverse of communities, it’s the microcultures that give Zootopia its intrigue and uniqueness.
A sense of scale not only creates many of the film’s gags, but it also helps establish the differences between species that play directly into Zootopia‘s commentary on contemporary racial divides. Power struggles are foretold with simple framing, explaining the culture of domination and subjugation in a visual language that children can easily comprehend. The “predators” to be feared are never more terrifying than one species visually expressing their desire to overpower over another.
So… Best Shot?
Even the cute and cuddly Bellwether can intentionally exert her dominance over others in Zootopia. The film’s lesson of appearances vitally works in both ways, teaching that sometimes the ones it appear are the most trustworthy (in this case, adorable and funny) can also have the untrustworthy intentions. Here Bellwether is controlling the narrative from her stoic perch, with the pit below a vision of the more primitive way she views the world.
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