Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Budget: $150 million
Box office: $1.024 billion
Plot: In a world populated by anthropomorphic mammals, rabbit Judy Hopps from rural Bunnyburrow fulfills her childhood dream of becoming a police officer in urban Zootopia. Despite being the academy valedictorian, Judy is delegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo, who doubts her potential because she is a rabbit.
On her first day, she is hustled by a con artist fox duo, Nick Wilde and Finnick. Judy abandons parking duty to arrest Duke Weaselton, a weasel who stole a bag of crocus bulbs known as Midnicampum holicithias. Bogo reprimands her, but an otter named Mrs. Otterton enters Bogo’s office pleading for someone to find her husband Emmitt, one of fourteen predators who are missing. When Judy volunteers and Assistant Mayor Dawn Bellwether praises the assignment, Bogo has no choice but to let Judy take the case. He gives her 48 hours to find Emmitt Otterton on the condition that if she fails, she resigns.
Judy blackmails Nick into assisting her by covertly recording his confession to tax evasion, having ascertained from the ‘last-sighting’ photo of Otterton that Nick was the last to see him. They track Otterton to a limousine owned by crime boss Mr. Big, who reveals Otterton went “savage”—reverted to a feral state—and attacked his chauffeur Manchas. At his home, Manchas mentions Otterton yelled about “night howlers” before the attack. Moments later, Manchas himself turns savage and chases the pair. Judy saves Nick by trapping Manchas and calls the ZPD for help, but when they arrive, Manchas has vanished. Bogo demands that Judy turn in her badge, but Nick reminds Bogo that Judy still has ten hours to solve the case.
At City Hall, Bellwether offers Judy and Nick access to the city’s traffic cameras. They discover Manchas was captured by wolves, who Judy surmises are the “night howlers”. They locate the missing predators—all gone savage—imprisoned at Cliffside Asylum, where Mayor Leodore Lionheart hides them from the public while trying to determine the cause of their behavior. Lionheart and the asylum staff are arrested for false imprisonment and Bellwether becomes the new mayor.
Judy, praised for solving the case, has become friends with Nick and asks him to join the ZPD as her partner. However, she upsets him at a press conference by suggesting a predatory biological cause for the recent savage behavior; her comments also incite hateful speech and discrimination against predators throughout Zootopia. Feeling guilty for the results of her words, Judy quits her job and returns to Bunnyburrow.
Back home, Judy learns that the night howlers are actually the crocus bulbs Weaselton stole, and they contain a neurotoxin that has severe psychotropic effects on mammals, causing them to go savage. After returning to Zootopia and reconciling with Nick, the pair confront Weaselton, who(with a little persuasion from Mr. Big) tells them the bulbs he stole were for a ram named Doug. They find Doug in a laboratory hidden in the city subway, developing a drug made from night howlers, which he has been shooting at predators with a dart gun.
Judy and Nick obtain the serum as evidence, but before they can reach the ZPD, Bellwether confronts them in the Natural History Museum and takes the evidence, revealing herself as the mastermind behind a prey-supremacist conspiracy to frame predators as dangerous and savage. Bellwether traps Judy and Nick in an exhibition after Nick refuses to abandon an injured Judy. She shoots a serum pellet at Nick to make him kill Judy and summons the ZPD for help, but Judy and Nick have replaced the serum pellets in Bellwether’s gun with blueberries. Enraged, Bellwether threatens to frame the pair for the attacks before discovering that Judy baited her into openly declaring her role in the attacks and recorded the confession with her recording device; Bellwether attempts to run, only to find herself surrounded by Chief Bogo and his men.
Lionheart publicly denies knowledge of Bellwether’s plot and states that his imprisonment of the savage predators was a “wrong thing for the right reason”. With the cause of the epidemic identified, the savage animals are cured and Judy rejoins the ZPD. Nick graduates from the Zootopia Police Academy as the city’s first fox police officer and becomes Judy’s partner.
Background: Byron Howard pitched several story ideas to John Lasseter. Howard wanted to do a film similar to Disney’s Robin Hood, which also featured animals in anthropomorphic roles. Howard to developed and pitched an international spy film centered on an arctic hare named “Jack Savage” who was somewhat like James Bond. The film evolved into a contemporary police procedural in which Nick was the lead role and Judy was essentially his sidekick. Then they reversed the roles to instead focus on Hopps as opposed to Wilde.
Research for the film took place in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as in Kenya and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where animators spent eight months studying various animals’ walk cycles as well as fur color. To develop a city that could actually be inhabited by talking mammals ranging in size from two inches to 27 feet and from drastically different climates, the filmmakers consulted Americans with Disabilities Act specialists and HVAC system designers.
Animation: The studio’s IT engineers developed the fur-controlling software “iGroom”, which gave character designers precise control over the brushing, shaping and shading of fur and made it possible to create a variety of eccentric character styles for each animal. The software was also able to control an unseen “imaginary” under-layer that gave fur a degree of plushness not seen before. The tree-and-plant generator Bonsai, first used in Frozen, was used to make numerous variations of trees with very detailed foliage.
Music and Songs: The film’s score is composed by Michael Giacchino. It marks his first feature-length project for Walt Disney Animation Studios, as he previously scored multiple Pixar films. In addition to her voice role of Gazelle, Shakira also contributed an original song to the film titled “Try Everything”, which was written by Sia and Stargate.
Ginnifer Goodwin as Officer Judy Hopps. She is known for playing Margene Heffman in Big Love, and Snow White/Mary Margaret Blanchard in Once Upon a Time. She has also appeared in various films including Mona Lisa Smile, Something Borrowed, Walk the Line, Killing Kennedy, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Ramona and Beezus. 1 Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde. He began as a child actor on Little House on the Prairie, Silver Spoons, and The Hogan Family. He is known for his role of Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. He has also appeared in the films Teen Wolf Too, The Break-Up, Juno, Hancock, Dodgeball, Up in the Air, Couples Retreat, Extract, The Switch, Horrible Bosses, The Gift, Office Christmas Party, Zootopia, and Game Night. He currently stars in the Netflix series Ozark.2
Idris Elba as Chief Bogo. He is best known for playing drug trafficker Stringer Bell on The Wire, DCI John Luther on Luther, and Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. He appeared in American Gangster, Prometheus, Pacific Rim, Beasts of No Nation, Molly’s Game, The Jungle Book, Finding Dory and Star Trek Beyond. He appeared as Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jenny Slate as Dawn Bellwether. She was best known for her role as Mona-Lisa Saperstein on Parks and Recreation. She was a cast member on Saturday Night Live and appeared in shows such as House of Lies, Married, Bob’s Burgers, Hello Ladies, Kroll Show, Bored to Death, and Girls, as well as movies like The Secret Life of Pets, and Despicable Me 3.
Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser. He has appeared on television programs including Hello Ladies, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Malcolm in the Middle, How I Met Your Mother, Las Vegas, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, House M.D., and Ghost Whisperer. He had a recurring role as Dylan Killington on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and played Roman Cohen on Mr. Sunshine. Bonnie Hunt returns as Bonnie Hopps.
Don Lake as Stu Hopps. He appeared in The Bonnie Hunt Show, and had roles in Police Academy, Hot Shots!, Dumb & Dumber To, Corner Gas: The Movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Super Mario Bros. He is also known as Dr. Carl Whitehorn on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He appeared in several Christopher Guest films, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and Almost Heroes. Tommy Chong as Yax. He’s half of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong and had a reoccurring role as Leo on That 70s Show
J. K. Simmons as Leodore Lionheart. He is perhaps best known for playing Dr. Emil Skoda on Law & Order, Vernon Schillinger on Oz and Assistant Police Chief Will Pope on The Closer. Film roles include J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and music instructor Terence Fletcher in Whiplash. 3 He is known for voicing Cave Johnson in the video game Portal 2, Tenzin in The Legend of Korra, Stanford Pines in Gravity Falls, and Kai in Kung Fu Panda 3. Octavia Spencer as Mrs. Otterton. She made her film debut in A Time to Kill. Her breakthrough came in 2011 in The Help. 4 She appeared in Fruitvale Station 5 Smashed, Snowpiercer, Get on Up, The Divergent Series, Gifted, Hidden Figures 6 and The Shape of Water. 7
Shakira as Gazelle. 8 She rose to prominence in Latin America with her major-label debut, Pies Descalzos and her follow up Dónde Están los Ladrones? Shakira entered the English-language market with her fifth album, Laundry Service. She has received numerous awards, including 3 Grammy Awards, 13 Latin Grammy Awards, 5 MTV Video Music Awards, 7 Billboard Music Awards, 39 Billboard Latin Music Awards and has been Golden Globe-nominated. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and sold an estimated 140 million records. Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr. as Finnick. A former professional wrestler, Lister is best known as Deebo from Friday, and Next Friday. He has appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise, Matlock, The Dark Knight, Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), The Fifth Element and Little Nicky.
Josh Dallas as an unnamed frantic domestic pig who is the owner of the “Flora and Fauna” flower shop. He is best known for his roles as Prince Charming/David Nolan in Once Upon a Time and Fandral in Thor. He currently stars as Ben Stone in Manifest. Peter Mansbridge as Peter Moosebridge. From 1988 to 2017, he was chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National, CBC Television’s flagship nightly newscast.
Kristen Bell cameos as Priscilla.
Where in the World is Alan Tudek? Duke Weaselton, a small-time weasel crook who is also known for selling bootleg DVDs. 9
Critical Reception: Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times considered the movie “funny, smart, [and] thought-provoking”.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Zootopia “may be the most subversive movie of” 2016, giving the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and praising its timely message about the harm of prejudice in the face of the prevailing xenophobic political rhetoric at the time of the film’s release, and the film’s humor.
Peter Debruge at Variety opined that Zootopia “plays directly to the studio’s strength”.
IGN reviewer Eric Goldman gave the film a 9.0 out of 10 ‘Amazing’ score, saying “Zootopia is a wonderful example of how Disney, at its best, can mix its past and present together in a very cool, compelling way. It takes the classic animation trope of animals walking, talking and acting like humans, but gives it a modern spin both in terms of its humor and animation style … and also in its themes, which are meaningful and fascinatingly topical.”
In The Daily Telegraph, Robbie Collin noted, “The lion doesn’t just lie down with the lamb, they run for City Hall on a joint ticket. It’s the diversity dream come true. Or is it?… Think Busytown by way of Chinatown. It’s almost certain to be the most existentially probing talking animal cartoon of the year… Like Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs., albeit considerably cuter, Judy and Nick make a hilariously strained but effective double act – not least thanks to Goodwin and Bateman’s tremendous vocal work, which trips along with the effortless swing and snap of great bebop.”
The racism allegory doesn’t try to be subtle, and I think that’s for the best, and what I like is how all characters have prejudice, even Judy our main character, and that all characters at one point or another suffer from it. The sloth bit was still funny on the rewatch, and the bootleg DVD bits worked, and I liked the Breaking Bad reference.
Legacy: The film was won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Movie Award and Annie Award for Best Animated Feature Film, as well as receiving a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film.
My take: The racism allegory doesn’t try to be subtle, and I think that’s for the best, and what I like is how all characters have prejudice, even Judy our main character, and that all characters at one point or another suffer from it. The sloth bit was still funny on the rewatch, and the bootleg DVD bits worked, and I liked the Breaking Bad reference.
Next Week: Finding Dory