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DisneyFeature FilmIdeas/Commentary

‘Zootopia’ Acting Analysis: An Anthropomorphic And Metaphoric Muddle

Critically analyzing a Disney animated movie is like analyzing the American flag: you must handle it carefully and remember to salute after you are finished.

Their movies are not designed for close critical scrutiny, and the studio’s legions of fans can be easily offended. To many, Disney is as iconic as apple pie or Sunday church. So what if the pie is a little lumpy, or the sermon is banal? It really does not matter because, well, because it is a Disney movie.

Disney’s Oscar frontrunner, Zootopia, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, grossed over $1 billion globally. In the following analysis, I do not take corporate achievement into consideration, and I ask you, my reader, not to either. My standard is that animation is an art form.

The entire cast of characters in Zootopia is comprised of anthropomorphized animals, a device that generally works well in animated films, particularly for the Walt Disney Company. The challenge here, however, is that the creators of this movie want to instruct us about the perils of racism in contemporary society, so the animal characters are metaphoric in addition to being anthropomorphized – and these two devices make awkward bedmates. To work anthropomorphically, they must act like humans; to work metaphorically, the animals must be depicted as they really are in nature.

The Big Idea in the story is that predatory characters have been able to rise above their natural predatory behavior in order to live in peaceful harmony with their natural prey. Anthropomorphically, this works well; metaphorically, it is a heavy lift because humans have the will to adapt this way, but lower animal species do not. In order to fully appreciate what the creative team is attempting to do, the audience must perform aesthetic triple-axels when it comes to the willing suspension of disbelief. (I wrote on this topic six years ago here.)

"Zootopia."

For starters, let’s look at the most popular sequence in Zootopia, the one mentioned most often by reviewers. The scene features sloth characters in the Department of Motor Vehicles, moving at 33 1⁄3 rpm in a 78 rpm world. It works like gangbusters because the metaphor holds up. Sloths are the world’s slowest moving animals and, as we all know too well, human DMV employees seem also to be the slowest moving animals on earth.

Acting-wise, Judy Hopps, the hero rabbit of the story, is trying to run a license plate number, and she is in a hurry. Her objective is to learn who owns the car, and her action is to ask the DMV clerk to check it for her. She has conflict with her situation because the clerk is a sloth.

As acting teacher Constantine Stanislavsky pointed out, every character has a “rhythm,” and Judy’s rhythm is quick because she is a rabbit. That works metaphorically. The sloths have the rhythm of a grandfather clock by contrast, which also works metaphorically.

The fox Nick Wilde has his own objective: to get Judy to give him the carrot-recorder tape recording of his admission of income tax evasion. To achieve his objective, he is purposely guiding Judy into frustrating and embarrassing situations, hoping she will give up her pursuit.

Nick has two kinds of conflict: (1) conflict with another character – Judy – and also (2) conflict with the situation because Judy is so resilient. This works well metaphorically because foxes are famously cunning animals. Unfortunately for Nick, however, no matter how hard he tries to frustrate and discourage her, Judy still prevails with her bunny rabbit optimism. The DMV clerk, meanwhile, does not have any conflict at all, except that the customers are always asking him to work faster. He is running the license plate at his natural sloth speed.

The sequence works so well because it reflects an episodic truth of our human daily life: If you must do business with the DMV, plan on taking a number and being there for a long time.

"Zootopia."

Now, let’s look at a sequence that fails both metaphorically and in performance. As the film opens, Judy—still a young bunny—is performing in a school play for an audience of adoring parents. We learn through her performance that she aspires to be a police officer when she grows up. So far, so good.

Her parents, Bonnie and Stu Hopps, want to discourage that aspiration because rabbits have never been police officers and because being a police officer is a potentially dangerous profession. And so, after the school play ends, Bonnie and Stu give parental advice to their daughter while the three of them stroll through the fairgrounds of the Carrot Days Festival.

The performance problem is that the dialogue does not fit the characters’ attitude. Here is a transcript of the dialogue. Read it over, and I will walk you through the acting challenge it presents.

STU: Judy, did you ever wonder how your mom and me got to be so darned happy?

JUDY: Yep!

STU: Well, we gave up on our dreams, and we settled. Right, Bonnie?

BONNIE: Oh, yes. Stu. We settled …

STU: That’s the beauty of complacency. If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail.

JUDY: I like trying, actually.

BONNIE: What your father means, hon, is that it is going to be difficult – impossible, even — for you to become a police officer.

STU: Right. There’s never been a bunny cop…

BONNIE: No…

STU: Bunnies don’t do this…

BONNIE: Never…

STU: Never…

JUDY: Oh. Then I guess I’ll have to be the first one! Because I am going to make the world a better place!

Acting is behaving believably in pretend circumstances, for a theatrical purpose. When Shakespeare, in Hamlet (act 3, scene 2) advised that the actor should “hold the mirror up to nature,” that is what he was talking about.

The audience members should recognize the behavior of the on-stage characters as credible. It doesn’t have to be logical, but it should be credible in terms of the pretend circumstances of the play itself. At the most basic level, the actor’s job is to justify a character’s actions and words, as presented in the script. The actor does not have the option of re-writing the script.

In Hollywood’s animated feature films – and I presume this is the case with Zootopia – the animator must physically justify on screen a character’s scripted actions and pre-recorded dialogue. The animator is locked into the interpretation of a sequence by whatever was produced during dialogue recording.

The challenge in this particular sequence is that Stu’s scripted lines are banal, and his delivery of them is not credible. He is explicitly advocating that his daughter give up her dreams and live a life of complacency. Does this strike you as responsible and intelligent parenting, even for an anthropomorphized rabbit?

If this was a live-action sequence, what do you think Robert Downey, Jr. would do with the dialogue? The intention of the lines is clear. Stu is counseling his daughter against aspiring to excitement and good deeds in life. Robert Downey – or any other actor worth his salt – would think that surely Stu can’t mean that literally!

If Mr. Downey was delivering the lines, he would likely attempt a tongue-in-cheek interpretation, telegraphing to Judy and Bonnie that he is exaggerating a point humorously in order to illustrate a larger and more urgent life-lesson about being safe, happy and prosperous. But that is not the way the sequence was interpreted in the recording session for Zootopia.

In the final track, Stu sounds utterly sincere and humorless, adopting the kind of attitude he might choose if instructing Judy to be sure and stop for red lights or to brush her teeth before bed.

In other words, the directors opted for a bland, generic, upbeat line reading. Why? You will have to ask them, but I am guessing that bland, generic and upbeat is simply the default tone in a typical Disney movie featuring anthropomorphic animals.

It is a perplexing interpretation because, in all other respects, Stu seems to be an intelligent and normal man/rabbit. But the line reading is what it is. If the animator detected the falsity of the reading, she would be unable to do anything about it because she must animate what she is given. Simply put, the sequence utterly defies artistic excellence, and it is no fault of the animator’s. It makes one wonder where the story supervisor was during all of this. The scene could have been fixed at the writing stage; and if it managed to reach the recording studio, it really should have been fixed there. Acting-wise, the sequence needs more conflict-obstacle.

"Zootopia."

Let’s fast-forward to the sequence in which Police Chief Bogo asks Judy to hand over her badge, to resign from the Zootopia Police Department. (56:21 – 57:39 on the DVD, if you want to look it up.) I like this sequence a lot because there is complex acting in it, extremely well done. Also, anthropomorphizing and metaphor are working in sync. The fox is sly; the rabbit is sensitive, and the water buffalo is dominant.

The sequence is rich with unspoken subtext and, after all, acting has very little to do with words. Bogo’s objective is to force Judy off the police force, and his action in pursuit of that objective is to ask her to hand over her badge. Until this moment, Judy’s primary objective has been to crack the missing-mammals case, but the rule of acting is that you pursue an objective until you either achieve it – or another objective takes its place.

When Bogo asks for her badge, Judy’s objective changes to keeping her job. This sequence is satisfying in another aspect because it is a negotiation. All theatrically valid scenes contain negotiations, but the stakes are not always as high as they are here. Literally, Judy’s career is on the negotiating table.

She is on the verge of admitting defeat when Nick is triggered into a transformational moment. Until now, his primary objective has been to un-tangle himself from Judy altogether, so he can return to his life of petty crime. However, during the time he has been with her while searching for Emmitt Otterton, Nick’s values have evolved.

When he realizes that Judy is on the verge of resigning from the police force, Nick’s objective abruptly changes: Save her job! He cleverly achieves that objective. He has conflict with the situation. Each of the three characters has a transition in this scene, and all of the changes are colored by status transactions. Bogo has high status because of his rank. But Nick boldly holds the stage equally with Bogo, just in time to save Judy’s job. This is an excellent scene, well written and powerfully performed. The metaphor holds.

As entertaining and satisfying as Zootopia may be on a scene-by-scene basis, the movie ultimately fails because it insists on having it both ways simultaneously – anthropomorphic and metaphoric.

In order to sell the message that humans can – and arguably should – choose peaceful cohabitation over animal savagery, the cast of anthropomorphized animals must necessarily abandon their animal nature, thereby destroying the metaphor. The best thing to be said about the movie is at least Disney tried to do something creatively relevant to the challenges we are facing in today’s real world. And for that … I salute the flag.

  • Lucky Jim

    “The challenge in this particular sequence is that Stu’s scripted lines
    are banal, and his delivery of them is not credible. He is explicitly
    advocating that his daughter give up her dreams and live a life of
    complacency. Does this strike you as responsible and intelligent
    parenting, even for an anthropomorphized rabbit?”

    Uh… I believe that is the joke. It is quite literally an inversion of the kind of thing we hear frequently in family movies.

    The line also got a huge laugh when I saw it in theaters so I think people understood the intention!

    • Josh Evans

      Same experience. That line got a lot of laughs in the theatre I was in. However, I’ve only seen the movie once. I’ll have to watch it again with these ideas in mind.

    • Moolallingtons

      Exactly! I have to respectfully disagree with the analysis in the article.

    • I certainly understood it that way too. This was still very early in the film anyway and the notion of a parent wanting to put their kids in their place through dialogue like that seemed pretty normal than to be blunt or direct about it.

    • natef

      Yeah, Stu is not ever characterized in the film as someone particularly wise or enlightened, at least until the third act. Judy’s parents are well meaning but the movie clearly doesn’t intend to support the values they’re trying to instill. You could perhaps argue that the ironic tone of the exchange was overdone, but it was amusing and it worked to help quickly establish the initial challenges Judy faced in achieving her goal.

    • mechasus

      “Uh… I believe that is the joke. It is quite literally an inversion of the kind of thing we hear frequently in family movies.”

      I find the idea of that ironic considering the rest of the movie plays it straight.

      • catsshadow71

        I imagine it would get old pretty fast, so they only used it once. Brevity is the sole of wit, after all. The Addams Family works because their dark is our light, and it’s obnoxiously funny…but hearing the same idea used in different situations over and over starts to get repetitive and predictable.

  • Too Many Cooks

    I loved your articles on Frozen, Inside Out, Big Hero 6, and Anomalisa, and I was going to ask if you’d thought about doing these more than once a year, but I just had the bright idea to actually check your website. Does “Craft Notes for Animators: A Perspective on a 21st Century Career” have more of these kinds of essays?

    (I don’t know if Hooks actually reads the comments here, so anyone familiar with his work can respond to this. It’s just easier for me to write as though I’m directly addressing him.)

    • Margaret Orr

      You should check out his newsletter! Every month Hooks sends out a great e-mail which features an in-depth analysis of a current animation (sometimes commercials, sometimes films, sometimes games). You can subscribe here:
      http://www.edhooks.com/subscribe.html

  • Your transcript between Judy & her parents is wrong. When Stu asks “you ever wonder how your Mom & me got to be so happy?”, Judy’s response is “Nope!”, not “Yep!”
    Thats important because it establishes right away that her opinion is pre-set before Stu’s exchange and she won’t be heeding his advice, which is good cause its terrible advice to begin with.

  • Chicken McPhee

    This article says more about the person who wrote it than the topic they were trying to ‘debunk’.
    In my opinion some of the complacency, while presented as a joke carries through the message. Striving for the best but understanding that there are really no bad choices – even Stu ended up fairly happy, by his standards, so much so that he’d want the same for daughter.
    But great clickbait.

  • Elsi Pote

    Thank you Mr Hooks, your analysis and hindsight are second to none.

    And after comparing your pre-emptive introduction with the comments from Disney fans, I realized how well you know the game and how it’s played.

    That alone is a level of mastery just a little few achieve, just because they are not afraid to compromise and displease the masses in the process.

    Really looking forward to your next article Mr. Hooks.

    God bless.

    • E4439qv5

      …Did we read the same article?

      I could swear I didn’t see any particularly profound insight into the claimed disjunctions in the film’s symbolism, just a few functional observations into who has what roles in the various metaphorical and anthropomorphic conflicts.
      Beyond ideologically disagreeing with the intentionally blunted Stu, there wasn’t a single point of contention, certainly nothing to suggest that the whole of the film was “muddled.”

      It’s a bit disappointing, frankly. There is a case to be made for this movie biting off more than it could chew in how it mixes male/female gender dynamics with predator/prey animals. We see both male and female prey animals in positions of power, but the predators we see are almost exclusively male, and occupy the most prestigious positions, barring a few mute background characters, police officers/cadets, and one protester cheetah who insists “[she’s] from the savannah“. It’s a simple enough parallel to draw with the whole “going savage” idea, right? And since they’re nearly all male and in power, we can assume they’re actually a representation of the patriarchy— a concept that the more conspiratorial among us feminists believe actively works to keep what they see as the “weaker sex” out of equal employment and earnings opportunities. In this light, the scheme at the end takes on a different meaning. Judy, given the role of the public face of the new, more inclusionary (species-wise, anyway) world order, can’t maintain her position at the top while Nick’s feelings are still hurt. And how’d she “betray” him again? Answer: for editorializing a bit on national television, following a logic trail of bread crumbs specifically left to upend the city’s order and limit the effects of the patri predators that have historically been in power. Apparently you can only work to change an unfair system from inside the system— any attempts to rework it in subversive ways to bring about lasting change without first coming to consensus makes you a monster… and if you’re an accessory to the crime, it’s up to you to reset to the more natural order ’cause hey— you got taken in.

      Activism. Old people never understand it. Past generations tried to put the breaks on what they saw as dangerous, and I’m sure my peers and I will do the same once we’ve had decades of experience to sober us up, too. But does it speak to the true heart of what we’re facing now?

      Mmmm… no. Fight me. XD

  • Devil Dog

    Just my opinions, but I think the fact that the animals are anthropomorphic, bipedal creatures with opposable thumbs negates the article’s premise on the metaphorical aspect between predator and prey. The thing that differentiates humans from the lower animals is higher intelligence and key physical features such as hands (opposable thumbs), which the characters in this story do have. Humans, also, have this “predator/prey” condition on each other. People like to believe we’re more civil in modern times, when in reality, we’ve come up with more creative and tricky ways to do wrong to others. “We may be evolved, but deep down, we’re still animals.” -Mr. Big

    As far as Stu is concerned, I believe that was the joke. You look at comedy, they’ll take something real and take it out of context or exaggerate for effect. The formula wasnt any different in this scene. One of the few scenes that got the greatest amounts of laughs. I, also, appreciate the depiction, because it shows the truth behind the “sugar coating” of what parents say. Whether you believe it or not, this is what some parents genuinely believe and beat around the bush, because they know that it is generally unacceptable by society to put down your kids like that. They don’t want to see their kids fail, nor do they want their kids aiming for what may seem like impossible goal, maybe due to personal life experience, family history and background, etc etc.

    This movie is just inspiring for many reasons while touching upon hard subjects.

    • chiliconkyle

      I generally agree with you but something weird stuck with me after I saw
      the movie in theaters that couldn’t put my thumb on it at first. After
      watching it a second time at home with my family it hit me. The
      problem with Zootopia (at least for me) is that in it’s metaphor the
      African-American analogue are actual predators. And to live in harmony, these predators have evolved
      beyond the instincts rooted in their biology to kill which implies their biology is
      wrong. Does this mean black people have savage
      instincts in their blood but have evolved beyond their negative
      biological instincts to live with the fuzzy, wuzzy, white people? And
      fuzzy, wuzzy politicians can tap into these instincts to elicit
      predatory behavior to instigate fear among all the fuzzy wuzzys to gain
      power therefore becoming the predator?

      It just feels kinda off though I do truly enjoy the movie.

      Ed’s scene analysis may not be
      the best example but I agree with his
      analysis of the overall conflict between anthropomorphic and
      metaphorical themes (though I did not use such big words to describe my
      observations to my wife last week.) Ed Hooks has a solid track record
      but he could be wrong and I will give the film another try with his and
      your cases in mind.

      • Axolotl

        I liked the movie but this bothered me too…(Sort of like in DISTRICT 9, where ooey gooey hive-minded bug people were a metaphor for ethnic minorities…)
        It also seemed a little creepy that the predators had to give up their essential qualities to fit into society.
        It may be that you run into these problems whenever there are talking animals. (Like are we supposed to think the antelopes in LION KING say ‘Oh no, please don’t eat me, I am in pain’ to the lions?)
        As for the scene in question, it was funny but it’s hard to imagine straightlaced working-class parents articulating their feelings in such an obvious way.

      • God Monkey Abu

        Well, to clarify one aspect, no one group in the real world is represented by either the predator or prey. It’s essentially just using these two groups to talk about how the issues of bias and prejudice can harm society. Predators are not seen as a marginalized segment of the population until after the villain’s narrative is put into place that they’re going savage. Prior to that, the discrimination seen is all on the basis of individual species.

  • Being a parent and dealing with other parents at school functions, you’d be surprised how many parents actually believe in and teach their kids what Stu tries to instill in Judy. Most of us who are progressive don’t want to believe that there are parents with the sincere mentality of “be sensible and safe, don’t risk and fail” which is why my daughter thought that scene to be funny because I tell her the opposite.

  • Galen

    How is this an animation “acting” analysis? It’s essentially a critique of the concept and structure and writing and voice acting in the movie, factors no animator has control over.

  • E4439qv5

    Why is it that it’s Stu’s advice that has to be wrong? Past generations would’ve had no quarrel with choosing to hold a steady job instead of being a trailblazer. I even see it as a (dare I say it?) responsible way to live. You find work that you don’t hate where there’s a market for it, and doing it well gives you security, from which you can continue to pursue your dreams, if you want.
    “Settling” shouldn’t be a dirty word, not even among artists.

    • mechasus

      That’s true, and something I find to be a very American thing. Zootopia, like so many successful American family stories, is the quintessential story of the “American dream” ideal; work hard and you can achieve your dreams.

      It’s hard to find a lot of recent Western animated films that fall outside of this category but I do think some of the Pixar movies count; in the Toy Story franchise for example, most of what the characters do is fighting to survive against their own emotions and the outside world. The scene from the original when Buzz comes down from his delusion and accepts his reality is very fitting for this discussion. It’s a nice change from the “follow your dreams” formula that everyone else does.

      • catsshadow71

        I appreciate that the creators of Zootopia didn’t make it too much of a “follow your dreams” story–other than Nick, we don’t see any other smaller mammals make it onto the police force. Sure, hard work can help achieve your dreams but that doesn’t always happen as there ARE limits…..

    • catsshadow71

      True–the whole concept of “childhood” is a relatively new idea only created in the last 100 to 150 years.

  • Doug Wilson

    I’m by no means a Disney fan boy but I did think this film was a step up in terms of delivering an important message in an entertaining way. To say it’s about racism simplifies it far too much and suggests that you don’t understand the metaphor anyway? The wider theme is of prejudice. The film uses the viewers built in expectations for the stereotypical habit/personality of animals very effectively and challenges you to think how you view people thru a pre-conceived notion in real life. The DMV scene is hilarious but the payoff is the joke at the end of the film where the sloth is driving a sports car round the city at blistering speeds – again defying expectation and making you question your initial judgement that all sloths are slow. Judy’s parents show that prejudice can even come from well meaning family. And the scene where Nick decides to help Judy is meaningful because he see’s the chief making a value judgement of Judy as a cop based entirely on predjudice. Nick’s seen that she’s actually good at her job – and he has experienced the same prejudice which hardened him to the outside world. So he feels a connection with Judy and opens up to her. Only to be slapped in the face with her own un-warranted expectation that he is a savage. I can’t say wether the anthropomorphic/metaphor worked together but I know the film left me thinking a lot, and that’s usually a good sign (and not something that happens often with Disney films)

  • GS

    Ed looks at things from a level of detail that only other filmmakers can appreciate. The average filmgoer can, at best, feel such deficiencies, but not be able to articulate what they are. I think, though, that he’s a little too eager to attack films that are both popular and awarded by saying categorical binary statements like “the film fails”. It’s an attempt to crucify sacred cows as I’m sure he knows it kicks up controversy which will get him noticed. The film may fail at being a platonic ideal, as all things do, and there is much for filmmakers to learn in picking nits, but I get a sense that no film held up to his level of scrutiny would be deemed an artistic success, even Miyazaki’s.

    • Marc Hendry

      if only he’d ever made a film or animated anything. I know it might not be cool for me to criticise this article’s author, since I make “analysis” videos myself, but I really find his articles to be critical in a really scattered way. I thought this article missed the opportunity to really dig into specific poses, expressions, how they used animal characteristics to describe human personalities… that sort of thing which really does add up to a performance.
      The character designs (also great) are a big part of that too, of course, because certain body shapes encourage certain poses.

  • ea

    None of its flaws matter because Zootopia or Moana will get the Oscar (unless Russia has a say in this).

  • Inkan1969

    I agree about that first scene with the bunny parents. The lines are heavy handed and one-dimensional, and I could never imagine parents really talking that way to their own kid. But I don’t think that scene is emblematic of the rest of the movie.

    • Ronnie

      The whole point is these are things that parents DO tell children- they just never tell them point blank. Talk to any kid who wanted to be an animator or pursue the arts growing up but ended up in a ‘more practical’ career.

  • rodso64

    Mr. Hooks: There is a concept in the science of social discourse known as “poisoning the well”. It involves preceding an argument in a debate with statements to the effect that those who hold opposing views are in some manner (due to their personality, experience, or whatever) unfit to be arguing on the topic. Too dumb, too compromised, etc etc. Hence your beginning this article with your o-so-loving analysis of Disney fans largely renders your entire argument as suspect as your credentials.

    Corporate, schmorporate. Disney, schmisney. Zootopia is one of the most finely crafted MOVIES of 2016. A plethora of critics from many walks of life agreed on that basic point. It is quite possibly one of the most finely crafted movies of recent memory. I see absolutely no conflict between its brain and its heart, its social commentary and its furry content — and I know my furry content.

    Yes, Disney is a Big Evil Corporation. But lo and behold, now and then out of that morass, they actually manage to create a piece of quality entertainment. Indie snobs take note.

    • Inkan1969

      I need to look back on his posts on Disney films such as for “Big Hero 6” to see if people on this website’s boards harassed him and treated him unreasonably for his comments. I hope he didn’t write this first paragraph but this was not the case.

      • Dusty Ayres

        I don’t think that anybody did; in fact, most of the commentary agreed with him about Big Hero 6 (and even I’ve come to agree with him.)

  • crossie

    Admittedly, I think the point of all the praise for tackling racial issues isn’t that the characters are perfect metaphors for the real world (because metaphors are muddled and messy), but because Disney finally had an obvious political stance in one of their movies, period. Furthermore, it was a political stance that had risk; I mean, it’s not like the company’s last major release wasn’t actually boycotted for having the nerve to cast a woman in the lead and a minority in the male supporting lead role. That movie was Star Wars, so they didn’t have much to worry about. Zootopia, on the other hand, was an original movie released in the off-season; I mean, it had the Disney brand going for it, but it wasn’t like those are rare, and they totally could flop.

    I mean, the closest thing the Disney animated canon had to a reliable political position before is pro-monarchy … a position it retreated right back to in their next movie, actually. If it was messy and muddled, it’s because they’re not exactly in practice, here. They have to start somewhere.

    For what it’s worth, there’s a scene in ‘Zootopia’ where a cop reaches for a holstered weapon when confronted with a minority character who is just standing there, which is not something you expect to see in a mainstream animated film. I mean, metaphors kind of go out the window at that point.

  • crossie

    I think the article is also missing Nick’s motivation in the sloth scene, which is a scene it liked!

    He’s not trying to get the pen back here; he’s passively aggressively torturing Judy for humiliating him in front of Finnick and just generally annoying him. That’s the real conflict here; he can’t actively annoy Judy. She’s a police officer who already has a reason to arrest him. This is literally a master class of passive aggression; he throws her “don’t stereotype people” thing back in her face at the beginning of the scene when she complains they’re all sloths, but his joke is could also probably be construed as both sexist and “speciest”, which he knows would annoy her.

    I mean, he literally comes out and says it next scene; he wants to see her fail, 100%. Then, value changes and all that, article goes over this.

    I don’t think the metaphor/anthro thing is contradictory, though; I mean, to become anthropomorphic is to become more human, i.e. less animal. If the metaphor requires them to abandon their animal natures, it literally requires them to become more anthropomorphic.

  • Shadenfreude

    1. Animators make very, very few decisions that impact how the film plays. How could they, when there are roughly 300 of them on a picture, and in all likelihood they’ve never met, much less spoken to, the director? If they had the level of input you suggest, every animated film would be a confusing mess. It’s important that you at least try to understand that, considering the site you work for.
    2. The tone, performance, heck even line delivery is decided in story, long -long- before an animator or indeed a Robert Downey jr gets to give their take. Then the director decides which take best serves his/her vision. Not Downey jr, and certainly not the animator.
    3. The scene referencing complacency that you point to was probably conceived and understood by the story crew to be similar to the types of reaction we faced when we made the decision to be artists. Is it a succesful equivalency? Probably not entirely, but it works just fine.
    4. Conflating children’s entertainment with Shakespeare? I think you just revealed that you have an opinion in search of an argument.

  • igger6

    I don’t agree with everything in this analysis, but I do agree that the film is not the rip-roaring artistic success everyone is crowning it. In fact, the cavalcade of praise and outsized box-office it’s garnering is, I think, a testament not to its bravery but to its cleverness in finding a culturally ascendant theme and riding it for all it’s worth. Brave films are criticized by the elite and punished financially by the masses; ZOOTOPIA has been almost universally rewarded by both. You won’t find a straightforwardly preachier film than this one in Disney’s entire canon, but because it’s preaching a culturally canonized message, everyone praises it for subtlety it doesn’t actually possess.

    Take Judy’s father, for example. Hooks is correct that her father’s advice is unrealistically rendered, but he’s not missing the joke; it’s just that the filmmakers picked the wrong place for one. Presenting a satirically exaggerated version of the viewpoint you’re earnestly trying to combat is lazy, not artful. If the film really wanted to have a serious conversation about dreams vs. stability, it would posit a character who does justice to those views and place them in conversation with someone who embodies the opposing views (as both the TOY STORY sequels do so well, and even BIG HERO 6 does with the desire for revenge, but as, say, MOANA fails to do with the safety-vs.-wayfaring debate).

    To top it off, though, ZOOTOPIA is hypocritical even on its own terms. I saw it with a relative from southern Indiana, and the credits were still rolling when she pointed out that, for a film so bent on vilifying stereotypes, it had no problem earnestly deploying one when it came to the Bigoted Redneck Bully in Judy’s hometown, complete with a Bigoted Southern Drawl straight out of central casting.

  • The Old Wolf

    The movie fails? FAILS? This entire assessment is like a wine snob declaring “voluptuous mouthfeel with whispers of Iranian saffron” whereas you and I would, after finishing off the bottle, declare “Damn! That was damn *fine* wine!” For me, this film worked on all possible levels. The Old Wolf has spoken.