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Zootopia (3D Blu-ray Review)

9 Jun, 2016 By: John Latchem

Box office $337.41 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements, rude humor and action
Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J. K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira.

Anthropomorphized animals are practically a Disney tradition. And we’re not just talking animals that talk but are basically still acting as animals. As one of the filmmakers in the Zootopia bonus materials puts it, the specific subset here is animals wearing clothes (think the 1973 Robin Hood, or “Talespin”), and the genesis for Zootopia was to do one of those with 3D CG animation.

The story is based upon the idea of a reality in which mammals developed intelligence and the ability to walk but still more or less resembled the animals they’re supposed to be, labeled with names that are mostly puns about their species. The story turns on the notion that predators and prey are living together in peace, but the prey species, which comprise 90% of the society, are always on the lookout for if the predators revert to their carnivorous ways. That forms the crux of a pretty heady Disney message about prejudice and self-determination.

Zootopia itself is a giant city separated into various ecosystems based on the natural habitats of their residents (a winter section for cold-weather creatures, a rainforest section, a desert, etc.). The city is also designed to accommodate animals both big and small at the same time, setting the stage for a fun sequence in a rodent village where it seems everything is in miniature compared with the other characters.

Our heroine is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from farming country who dreams of being a big-city cop in Zootopia, where the motto is, “anyone can be anything.” While investigating a series of kidnappings, she encounters the hustler Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who is trusted by no one because he’s, well, a fox.

The movie is full of such animal stereotyping, which plays into its dominant anti-prejudice theme but also squeezes out some good laughs — none better than the sloths working at the DMV.

With her superiors at the police department skeptical of a bunny’s ability to be a cop, she recruits Nick to help her track the missing animals, hoping to prove that any animal can be more than what nature programmed them to be.

Zootopia is so intricately constructed that at times it feels like it was genetically engineered for maximum appeal to its audience, and the ensuing merchandise sales such an effort would entail. But it’s also so cute and richly detailed that it’s easy to get swept up in this furry world. The animation is bright and lively and really shows how far the CGI craft has come. The 3D isn’t overwhelming but nicely accentuates the production design of the city.

Kids will obviously love all the animal characters, but there are plenty of nuggets for adults, too, such as a Godfather parody involving shrews. And who would have thought a Disney animated movie would ever find a way to make a “Breaking Bad” reference that didn’t seem out of place? Well, they manage one here. For more hidden references, check out the three-and-a-half-minute “ZPD Forensic Files” featurette on the Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray also includes a bunch of behind-the-scenes featurettes that convey a fascinating tale of how the film’s story evolved. In the nine-minute “The Origin of an Animal Tale,” we learn the original idea involved predators wearing shock collars to keep them from turning on the prey animals, and the primary focus was on Nick and his efforts to find himself in a world in which predator animals were essentially slaves to their past. That made the film feel too dark and cynical, so it was reworked to focus on Judy and a more upbeat message of tolerance.

Some storyboards from this alternate, early version of the film are included among the 28 minutes of deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray, with optional intros from directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore. There’s also a featurette about unused characters that runs about three minutes.

The 10-minute “Research: A True Life Adventure” chronicles how the filmmakers studied real animals at both Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Florida and on safari in Africa, and how the efforts aided in designing and animating the characters. This process echoes efforts chronicled on the Up Blu-ray to study mountains in South America.

Those interested in the film’s music can check out Michael Giacchino creating the score in the five-minute “Scoretopia” featurette, as well as a “Try Anything” music video by Shakira, who voices a hip-shaking pop star named Gazelle in the movie.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes 18 minutes of roundtable discussions with the filmmakers offering more behind-the-scenes details as they interview each other.

Those lucky enough to get the Target-exclusive edition of the Blu-ray can check out two additional featurettes through Disney Movies Anywhere. First up is a seven-minute video about the voice talent and why they play the characters they do. But more interesting is the 11-minute “The Wild Times You Never Saw,” which offers more details on the earlier version of the film — and a subplot on which Nick builds an amusement park for predators where they can take off their collars to have fun. Don’t be surprised if this concept is eventually reworked into an eventual Zootopia 2.

About the Author: John Latchem

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