ZOOTOPIA: THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
SOME PERSONAL BACKGROUND
I'm sure it has something to do with how I grew up: '80s cartoons. While, yes, I was a "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" die-hard, most of the cartoons I watched growing up were talking animals. I think you can include "The Smurfs" and "The Snorks" in that list, which would also include lesser lights like "Shirt Tales" and "The Get Along Gang," but it also included series like everything the glory days of the Disney Afternoon had to offer ("Gummi Bears," "Duck Tales," "Rescue Rangers," and "Tale Spin," in particular). Add in "Tiny Toon Adventures" and "Animaniacs" and you bring me to my apex of television animation glory days.
I loved the themed environments they all lived in. I liked how "Rescue Rangers" lived in a world of objects that were cast away by the humans (a la "The Littles"), or the mushroom houses the Smurfs lived in. I spent most of my time drawing more sci-fi environments (I blame Commander Mark), but that was the kind of stuff that captured my interest and imagination the most.
It looks like we've entered a phase of animated movies now when everyone is doing talking animals. Start at "Kung Fu Panda 3," move to "Angry Birds," another "Ice Age" movie, "The Secret Life of Pets," "Finding Dory," "Sing," and probably more. (Oh, yeah, "Ratchet and Clank." I think we chose to forget about that one before it was even released, though...)
This is, generally speaking, a good thing.
No, it's a great thing.
WE WERE TALKING ZOOTOPIA, WEREN'T WE?
LIGHTING AND FUR
There are major achievements in computer animation here, though. In particular, the fur techniques and the lighting are impressive. I can't break it down on a technical level. I'm sure the animators used the same engine Disney developed for "Big Hero 6" to do "Zootopia," because everything looks so impressive. There are scenes lit up by flashlights and by red emergency lights that are perfectly clear and dramatic. You can watch the light slowly fade out in the right ways, or bounce off walls to create secondary shadow effects.
THE ONE WEAK SPOT
I went into this movie basically blind. I think that helped me to enjoy it. I think you should do the same.
The trailer for the movie is genius. It spoils one scene that tells you nothing about the larger movie. It's funny; it lasts two minutes; it makes you want to see the movie.
It tells you next to nothing about the story or even the characters in it.
It would have been very easy to cut a trailer for this movie that spoils most of the third act. It would have been dramatic and hit on all the themes that parallel real world issues. I'm glad they didn't do that.
Yes, there are real life issues that this story covers, as the best of science fiction so often does. It's been written about at length in other places and I will point you to Google if you want to know about them in advance. I think it's a better movie to walk into blind, though.
I do want to point out one particular high point from early in the movie, though:
THE BLU-RAY EXTRAS
I'm reviewing the movie now because the Blu-ray release is today. The disc looks awesome in my home theater set-up, so I'm pleased.
I also downloaded the digital edition of the movie, which looks just as good on my retina display iMac screen.
I'd point out there's no obvious signs of a fast or cheap conversion to digital form, but it's 2016 now. The movie studios have worked out those problems. They're not as obvious and painful as they used to be nearly 10 years ago when I was reviewing DVDs more regularly.
The bonus features are the standard kinds of things you'd expect on a Disney or Pixar release. There's the footage of the lead animators hopping on a plane and heading off to an exotic locale to do some location sketching and get some ideas. The directors introduce the deleted scenes, nicely explaining how they fit in.
There's a few minutes spent with the orchestra as they record the soundtrack. This one was interesting, just because the movie does have a unique sound. It mixes in that full orchestra sound with a lot of other sounds. As I watched the movie, I wasn't sure whether it was a world music sound, or just a few different kinds of instruments used to make uncommon sounds. Turns out, it's a bit of both. It's a great job.
Most interestingly, there's some time devoted to how much the movie changed in the writing process. They don't spell it out exactly, but it sounds like the major plot change in the development process happened pretty late. They had to scramble to rewrite and reframe the whole thing, and it definitely worked in their favor. The movie they originally had come up with could very well work, but wouldn't have been the crowd pleaser "Zootopia" turned out to be.
From the animation standpoint, three "roundtable" sequences give short takes on what it was like to design the characters, animate the characters, and create the environments. Potentially, these had the most interest to me. Unfortunately, they're so tightly edited and painfully directed that they lack spontaneity and realism. You can feel the guiding hand of someone behind the camera telling one person or another to ask the next general open-ended question they had on the list to get through.
I'll be picking up the "Art of Zootopia" book shortly to get more of the behind the scenes material. And as well choreographed as those books can often be, I bet it'll still have more information than these shorts, which are introduced by the voice of Judy Hopps, Ginnifer Godwin. She doesn't stumble at all as she reads her bits off the teleprompter.
The Blu-ray (and DVD) is out today as this column comes out, June 7. There's also a 3D Blu-ray available, which I'm not reviewing here because I don't have the TV to handle it. Disney has been reticent about releasing their features in 3D on Blu-ray in the past (see the uproar over "Frozen" and "Maleficent"), so I'm happy to see this.
And, of course, it's available digitally through iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay and a couple other services.
I'm not going to qualify this, I'm just going to come out and say it: This movie is worth owning. It's that good.