We’re only two days away from Moana hitting theaters. And after reviewing 54 Disney Animated Movies, we’ve reached Zootopia, which came out a mere 8 months ago. The movie is directed by Byron Howard (Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It-Ralph) and co-directed by Jared Bush, who also wrote the screenplay with Phil Johnston. They are all members of Disney’s “Story Trust,” a group of creative people that work together to bring us much joy and entertainment. And Zootopia is proof that the animation studio has a special group of people in its hands, as it’s a big success for them. Let’s dig in to see why!
Originally conceived as an international spy movie in the vein of James Bond, the story slowly evolved into more of a noir film/police procedural with con-artist Nick Wilde at its center. But after struggling for some time, the filmmakers decided in 2014 that the optimistic Judy Hopps should be the protagonist, changing the focus of the story and causing so many changes that Bush had to be called in to co-direct just to handle all the work needed to get the movie back on track.
Luckily for us, they all nailed it. The final movie is a perfect blend of humor, adventure, drama, mystery and theme. Zootopia is a perfect example of how to show a new world and its intricacies while never losing track of character. It also benefits from smart writing and a plethora of great supporting players that surround the main pair.
We’ve got Chief Boggo, my favorite of Idris Elba’s three Disney voice acting performances in 2016, the Godafther inspired Mr. Big, and the hilarious sloths, just to name a few. What makes them shine is that each of these characters, no matter how small, gets a little moment to make them feel real to us, something many movies forget to do. We see Chief Boggo playing with the Gazelle app, for example, and those few seconds earn a laugh but also add a whole different dimension to the character. It’s details like this that make the difference between a decent movie and a great one.
Of course, no matter how many details you have, your movie is not going to work unless the central characters shine and both Officer Hopps and Nick are a joy to see together, in my opinion. We get who Judy is very quickly, seeing how she’s driven by passion and how nothing can stop her in the short prologue. Then it’s all nailed down by the montage of her police training. If the world tells Judy Hopps she can’t do something, then she does it anyway if she wants to.
Then we get introduced to the enormously fun Nick Wilde, all sarcasm and cool detachment. Their dynamic is the movie’s greatest strength and the constant evolving of their relationship is my favorite thing about the film. We see them as rivals, forced allies, potential partners, broken and alone, and finally working together as a perfect odd couple team. It’s very clear Byron Howard is amazing at handling these types of relationships when you look at Tangled, that also features a passionate optimistic heroine paired with a cool criminal that pretends to not care.
But unlike the also fantastic musical, Zootopia’s central relationship isn’t romantic. This continues the trend we’ve been seeing in Disney movies like Wreck-It Ralph or Frozen, where the most important relationship is a friendship. It looks like Moana will do the same with their title character and Maui. And while I have nothing against love stories (read about my unending love for the Tangled lantern scene here), it’s nice to see friendships get the focus and love they deserve too.
And although friendship is a big part of Zootopia, the main theme here is discrimination, stereotyping and inclusion. These are all handled extremely well and every time I’ve seen the movie with someone else I’ve ended up having interesting conversations afterwards. And a movie that inspires conversations about its themes is a movie worth celebrating. Especially when the theme is that you can be anything you want, regardless of species or gender.
Which leads me to “Try Everything,” the song featured in the movie and sung by Gazelle. I have heard the song four times in my life, each of the four times I’ve seen the movie. I’ve cried every single time. You see, Gazelle is voiced by Shakira who is Colombian, just as me. And anyone who knows me will testify to my deep love for Disney movies. My biggest dream is to one day write a Disney movie. But being an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker is hard. Especially when you’re not from the United States.
So hearing the voice of a fellow Colombian in such a fantastic Disney movie has an effect on me that I can’t describe. She might be a global superstar, but she was born in the same country as me. And every time Gazelle sings and speaks, I can’t help but being overcome by emotion and excitement and hope. Because if one Colombian managed to get themselves in a Disney movie, then surely I can too. I just have to keep trying. We all do. Because we can be anything we want.
So, did I love Zootopia? Yes. Yes I did. Would I like to hear your thoughts on it? Yes, I would.
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).