If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you saw Zootopia in theaters. If you didn’t, you absolutely should see it as soon as possible. Rather than reviewing this critically-acclaimed film (because I’ve already answered the operative question of whether I think it’s worth seeing), I’ll instead focus on whether the Blu-ray is worth owning, and how Zootopia stacks up to other recent Disney releases.
For those who have buried their heads in the sand, Zootopia is Disney’s latest animated fable, with a strong moral lesson that should really resonate today. The film also creates a meticulously detailed anthropomorphic utopia, a place that you can lose yourself in (on repeat viewings, I’d recommend fixating on the background action for some fun Easter eggs and details you’re likely to miss otherwise). As a theme park fan, I see the city of Zootopia as a place rife for exploration. The world-building here would translate well both to theme parks and future films.
I know “franchise” is treated like a four letter word among many fans, but the city of Zootopia strikes me as a place around which Disney could build a “cinematic universe.” It’s really that thoughtfully developed. Had this come out in 2007, I would have proclaimed this as Disney’s best animated film in a decade. However, since (and including) Bolt, the Walt Disney Animation Studios has been on fire. Rather than proclaiming it WDAS’s best during that timeframe (it might be–although The Princess and the Frog gives it a good run), I’ll call it the most poignant.
This is the type of film I’d love to see more from Disney. Zootopia demonstrates that modern-day fables are possible without polarizing audiences or pushing an underlying agenda. Of course, there is the challenge of toeing the line between underdeveloped lessons and “getting preachy” (take notes, Aaron Sorkin), but Zootopia does so deftly. The values–whether implicit or explicit–animated films convey to kids is something I find myself contemplating a lot, and I think Zootopia is an exemplar of a positive message in animated films.
When it comes to the issues of prejudice that Zootopia confronts, it helps that things are not reduced to simplistic terms or presented in a cut and dry fashion. The characters are conflicted, even the protagonists. Moreover, there’s light use of satire and parody to convey some of the messages through humor. It’s not a simple story with a hero representing the virtue of inclusion while a villain represents prejudice. The film, as with life, is more complicated than that. I think that this helps keep things light and make viewers less inclined to feel that they’re being beaten over the head with a message. It also helps that the plot is incredibly compelling, encompasses a few seldom-used genres in animation, and features some clever pop culture references (and just an abundance of cleverness, in general).
Okay, with that said, what about the Blu-ray? Is it worth buying? If you have kids and they’re obsessed with the movie, I think that question sort of answers itself. If you’re on the fence, here are some of my thoughts…
The video quality is flawless. You can see the wind rustle individual strands of fur and background details throughout the ecosystems of Zootopia are crisp. This is the type of Blu-ray you buy to show off one of those new-fangled HDTVs–and this film deserves to be viewed on as large of a screen as you have.
Audio, on the other hand, is serviceable but nothing that’ll blow anyone away. Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix engages all of the channels at various points, but it’s not a non-stop auditory assault–nor should it be. That’s not really what this film was made to be. There is one notable exception to this, and that’s the train ride Judy takes into Zootopia while listening to Gazelle on her earbuds. This is a real treat, the the visual detail plus way the audio encompasses the viewer makes this a scene you might see on repeat in stores trying to sell home entertainment setups.
If you’re a Disney fan, the Blu-ray is worth renting (at the very least) for the extras. In recent years, Disney and Pixar haven’t been afraid of making dramatic adjustments to films during the course of their production, going as far as replacing a director midway through production on more than one occasion. As the extras demonstrate, a pretty significant shift was made during the course of Zootopia when Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde were ‘swapped’ as primary and secondary main characters about a year before the film’s release. The extras shed a little light on the why of this, and the extras–particularly the deleted scenes–demonstrate what could have been.
For me, this is fascinating stuff. It doesn’t rise to the level of the great leaked documentary titled The Sweatboxdetailing how Kingdom of the Sun became The Emperor’s New Groove, but it gives you a taste of how and why the film changed tonally prior to release. These scenes and commentary from the directors left me wanting more, but I doubt the full story (including any behind the scenes strife) will ever be released by Disney.
All told, there’s a little over an hour worth of extras, and none are filler. As is the case with the excellent Art of Zootopia book, these extras provide a greater appreciation of the efforts of the animators, and the details that you can spot on repeat viewings.
The deleted scenes and characters are the most fascinating ones extras, followed by “The Origin of an Animated Tale.” I only wish there were a longer documentary on the production process…a wish I have about virtually all Blu-ray releases.
Overall, like every Walt Disney Animation Studios film released since 2008, I think the Zootopia Blu-rayis well worth owning, and a good job has been done on the video and audio transfer, with a decent amount of extras provided that lend a greater appreciation of the film. Both the film and the Blu-ray leaving me wanting more of Zootopia, and I really hope audiences are able to return to the city. If there’s one Disney film in recent memory that’s actually deserving of a sequel or spin-off, I think it’s Zootopia.