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Zootopia: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Zootopia (2016) movie poster Zootopia

Theatrical Release: March 4, 2016 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore; Jared Bush (co-director) / Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston (screenplay & story); Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Jennifer Lee (story)

Voice Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nicholas P. Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Assistant Mayor Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Benjamin Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Tommy Chong (Yax), J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton), Shakira (Gazelle), Raymond Persi (Flash), Della Saba (Young Judy Hopps), Maurice LaMarche (Mr. Big), John DiMaggio (Jerry Jumbeaux Jr.), Katie Lowes (Badger Doctor), Gita Reddy (Nangi), Jesse Corti (Mr. Manchas), Tommy "Tiny" Lister (Finnick), Josh Dallas (Frantic Pig), Leah Latham (Fru Fru), Kristen Bell (Priscilla)

Buy Zootopia from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

It is tempting to invoke the word "renaissance" when describing the current state of Disney Animation. The studio enters Zootopia, its 55th animated classic officially,
on a streak of three consecutive critically acclaimed blockbusters, the past two of which have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Arguably their weakest work of the past several years was Frozen, which also happens to be one of the most watched and beloved films of the century.

After a period of uncertainty and creative disappointment left Disney Animation trying to reestablish its identity and model itself after the suddenly more popular competition, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter came in to head a second animation division. The results have been encouraging, with Disney both embracing its tradition of fairy tale musicals and also succeeding with creative original storytelling on less conventional films like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. It is quite possible that today's children will grow up judging all other animation by the love they felt for these movies, much like '90s kids continue to hold up the products of the studio's last renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King) as the medium's finest masterpieces.

Based on its so-so teaser trailer, Zootopia seemed to pose a slight obstacle to Disney extending their winning streak. After all, this is an animated film about talking animals, the most common kind of animated film there is. Even in establishing the universe as a human-free zone where animals are fully anthropomorphic did little to distinguish or inspire. Fortunately, Zootopia joins a newer tradition of misleading Disney trailers. This is not the generic, broadly appealing, pun-laden comedy advertised, but a creative original tale that is driven by strong characters and surprisingly heavy on social commentary.

In "Zootopia", sly fox Nick Wilde and rookie rabbit cop Judy Hopps team up to solve a mystery.

The protagonist of the film is not the Jason Bateman-voiced fox the teaser pitched, but Judy Hopps, a bunny who dreams of becoming the first rabbit officer of the Zootopia Police Department. First, an expository stage play explains that predator and prey relations have evolved, with animals becoming domesticated and finding harmony among them. Still, Zootopia is not without prejudice and crime. Judy (voiced by "Once Upon a Time" star Ginnifer Goodwin) is not as large or nimble as her fellow recruits, but she proves herself on the unforgiving obstacle course and becomes an officer. Unfortunately, her trailblazing only gets her assigned to meter maid work. No matter how much enthusiasm Judy brings to the task, parking tickets make for soul-crushing work, even while easing her parents' fears.

Anxious to work on something of greater significance, Judy does get her buffalo boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to reluctantly allow her to try and solve one of fourteen missing animal cases.
Judy has just 48 hours to find Emmett Otterton (an obvious nod to Jim Henson's 1970s TV special) or else she's fired. She has virtually nothing to go on, but for Nick Wilde (Bateman), a sly hustler of a fox who crossed paths with her the day before. Nick, whose rackets include turning elephant ice cream into overpriced "pawpsicles", is condescending towards Judy, but when she calls into question his lifetime of not paying income tax, he reluctantly tags along on the investigation.

Zootopia unfolds as a mystery procedural, as Judy and Nick traverse the varied terrains of Zootopia to crash the place of a mouse gangster modeled after Don Corleone, drop in at a DMV hilariously run by sloths (whose slow speech and movements give the film by far its biggest laughs), and uncover corruption and conspiracy.

On her first day with the Zootopia Police Department, Judy Hopps is saddled with meter maid duties.

This is not your run-of-the-mill talking animals picture, so throw out any comparisons you may be tempted to make to films like DreamWorks' Madagascar, Blue Sky's Ice Age, and Disney's own dud Chicken Little. Zootopia is an extremely clever film that plays like something aimed at adults but without any clearly objectionable content. Imagine a coherent Inherent Vice in which the role of Doc Sportello is shared by a spunky rabbit and a sketchy fox. It's much better than that sounds, I promise.

The product of seven credited writers, Zootopia does not hide its relevant commentary much. The prejudices Judy faces as a rabbit can easily be read as any preconceived notions society holds towards any marginalized group. Nick has his own demons, his kind being forever eyed suspiciously for their predatorial past. The police force is a boys' club and Judy struggles to be taken seriously, as does the sheepish assistant mayor,
who is literally a sheep. You've got to wonder if this topic resonated especially for the two females among the seven scribes. The lesson conveyed by the film, in contrast to the play-it-safe wisdom of Judy's parents, is to keep trying, and that is more or less the refrain of the film's one big musical number, a film-closing anthem performed by a pop star gazelle voiced by Shakira that will test the memories of Golden Globe voters months from now.

Yes, Zootopia will age, its references to head-swap apps and the newfound obsolescence of CDs destined to make it easily identifiable as a 20teens movie. But as someone who appreciates the late-'80s sensibilities of Oliver & Company, I see nothing wrong with a studio forgoing timelessness once in a while. Certainly, the movie does more than enough right to ease any minor concerns you might have. Like paying delightful, unmistakable homage to The Godfather and "Breaking Bad." The film's closest kin in the world of CG talking animal 'toons may be the inventive western Rango, whose throwback noir vibes it slightly echoes.

An extremely slow-moving and slow-talking DMV employee sloth named Flash gives "Zootopia" its biggest laughs.

I feared that that this would be more appreciated by adults than kids, the way that Rango and The Emperor's New Groove were. But based on the way they've been marketing their films, it seems like Disney just wants to get people in the theater and is confident they'll leave happy with what they got, even if it wasn't what they expected. (Don't believe me? Go back and watch those misleading Frozen and Tangled trailers!) That confidence is well-placed in Zootopia, a consistently entertaining and intelligent caper that is different enough from everything else the major animation studios have been offering. It's also better than what the others have been offering, including four of the last five Pixar films.

Critics were not the only ones singing Zootopia's praises. The movie continued Disney Animation's commercial success with staggering grosses of $338 million (and counting) domestic and a little over $1 billion worldwide. Those numbers are fairly unheard of for original movies not based on anything. Only Frozen's success stands out more in that class among modern blockbusters. Though I wasn't crazy about what Bob Iger's branding plan would do to creativity, the strategy has paid off immensely for Disney, with three $300 M+ domestic/~billion worldwide hits released in the past three months and Finding Dory almost certain to follow suit when it's released next week. All that, just weeks after Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered all kinds of records. The lucrative business model is sure to attract imitation from the rest of Hollywood, which probably isn't good for cinema as a storytelling medium. But Disney has admirably managed to succeed on quality output, and that part shouldn't be lost on the competition.

Assuming Finding Dory is good, we seem to be headed to another internal Best Animated Feature Oscar clash between Disney and Pixar, like the one in 2012 when Brave edged out Wreck-it Ralph. Since then, Disney has won the award twice and Pixar once, but the two studios have not had nominees competing against one another. At this point, the two seem to have a pretty firm grip on the category that other animation studios are sure to want to loosen.

Just three months after starting its fantastic run in theaters, Zootopia hit home video this week in a lightweight DVD, a Blu-ray 3D combo pack, and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD set reviewed here.

Zootopia: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French; BD-only: Spanish
Most Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD ($39.99 SRP), standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As a computer animated film, Zootopia unsurprisingly reaches Blu-ray with all the perfection of a direct digital transfer. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp, vibrant and full of detail. It is complemented by a potent, tasteful, and vital 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. Disney Animation has gotten the hang of CG well enough for you to expect a dynamic audio-visual experience and the film does not let down in that regard at all. Adhering to a model established by Pixar, selecting one of the foreign dubs will treat you to onscreen text being translated to match the language.

This elephant is one of various animals the filmmakers observe in Africa and Animal Kingdom, as seen in "Research: A True-Life Adventure." "The Origin Story of an Animal Tale" shows and tells us the film's origins involving Nick as the protagonist and shock collars as a plot device.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Zootopia does not get an audio commentary, but it gets plenty of high quality video extras on Blu-ray, all of it naturally in HD.

First up, "Research: A True-Life Adventure" (9:58) tags along with the filmmakers as they visit Disney's Animal Kingdom and then Africa to look at animals.
They share how their observations shaped character portrayals and design. The perks of the trade!

"The Origin Story of an Animal Tale" (9:15) gives us the evolution of Zootopia, from various ideas pitched that were boiled down to an "animals in clothes" movie to the plan to have a plot involving shock collars received in adulthood and Nick be the protagonist. There are lots of early storyboards and designs which illustrate just how dramatically the film was retooled to such shockingly agreeable results. Historically, Disney has kept this kind of material under wraps, so the candor perhaps stems from the lack of swapped personnel and bruised egos.

Three groups of animators gather to discuss their work in "Zootopia: The Roundtables." A characteristically colorfully dressed John Lasseter checks in on Michael Giacchino in "Scoretopia."

"Zootopia: The Roundtables" offers three discussions between groups of filmmakers (18:23) that are introduced on camera by Ginnifer Goodwin. "Characters" goes into their design, "Environments" talks about the scale of the world (complete with footage of a hamster in a model city), and "Animation" addresses the movement (with our only glimpses of Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin recording lines). These nitty gritty talks somewhat make up for the lack of a commentary.

"Scoretopia" (4:59) looks at Michael Giacchino's compositions and their recording of orchestra. John Lasseter is on hand to approve of and explain the music's world music flavor.

Shakira appears in human form in the music video for her theme song "Try Everything." "Z.P.D. Forensic Files" points out elephants dressed like Elsa and Anna from "Frozen", one of many fun Easter eggs within "Zootopia."

"Z.P.D. Forensic Files" (3:23) will be the favorite extra of many viewers. It is a nifty guide to Easter eggs hidden in the film, pointing out references to recent and upcoming WDAS movies (Big Hero 6, Frozen, Moana) as well as a number of hidden Mickeys and one hidden Oswald.

Next up comes the music video for Shakira's catchy theme "Try Everything" (3:21), which provides a mix of the artist singing in a studio and footage of her animated alter ego Gazelle performing in the film's finale.

"Deleted Characters" (3:16) lets directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore show and tell us about six animals conceived for the film but cut, some of whom made it into the film in a different form.

Among the deleted scenes is a bear father attending his son's taming ceremony, concepts abandoned early in the development of "Zootopia." Zootopia's main menu shows us the titular city's train station.

The extras conclude with an epic deleted scenes section comprised of seven sequences. With each introduced by Howard and Moore, the section runs 28 minutes and 3 seconds. The cut bits are in a later stage of completion than the medium typically allows, though at least some of them seem to have been worked on just for this Blu-ray. The scenes include an alternate opening, alternate versions of Hopps' homesick scene and the ice cream store visit,
Nick trying to get a business loan and finding repeated rejection, and a taming party scene dating back to the early shock collar version of the film.

The FastPlay-equipped DVD gets just two of those bonus features: "Scoretopia" and the Shakira music video.

Zootopia's side-snapped blue keepcase holds your digital copy and another insert promoting the Disney Movie Club alongside the plain blue and white discs. On top, a slipcover reproduces the artwork, with extensive embossing outlining every character.

The discs open with a Disney Movies Anywhere promo and a Finding Dory trailer. The Sneak Peeks listing runs ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Store, and "Girl Meets World", before repeating the Dory trailer.

The main menu rides into the Zootopia train station, where characters walk by and trains come and let passengers off.

Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde share a ride and their feelings as they together investigate the disappearance of animals in Disney's "Zootopia."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best movie of 2016 that I've seen so far, Zootopia extends Disney Animation's hot streak and in a way you can't help but be happy about. This smart and funny mystery completely subverts expectations and just entertains from start to finish.

The high quality feature presentation and substantial bonus material make this set (or the 3D alternative for households fond of that format) one of 2016's few must-own releases.

Buy Zootopia from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Disney Animation: Big Hero 6 Frozen Wreck-It Ralph Winnie the Pooh Tangled The Princess and the Frog
New to Disc: Anomalisa The Good Dinosaur Hail, Caesar! The Spoils Before Dying
Disney Animation: Bolt Meet the Robinsons Chicken Little The Emperor's New Groove Oliver & Company
Foxes: Fantastic Mr. Fox The Fox and the Hound Life with Mikey | Rabbits: Who Framed Roger Rabbit Watership Down
Animated Animals: Rango The Wild Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Alpha & Omega Horton Hears a Who!
Ginnifer Goodwin: Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season Ramona and Beezus Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast

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Reviewed June 11, 2016.



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