Random thoughts in lieu of a review of Zootopia.

Spoilers abound. You have been warned.

Zootopia scores points for not limiting their characters to a narrow selection of species familiar to every kid. Bonus points for including a fennec fox–those giant ears are insufferably cute.

I was a little disappointed that the noisy neighbors were only used twice. Granted, they were used well: one joke to introduce them and a second joke in the radio scene. But as a general rule, I subscribe to the Rule of Three. It aligns well with the classic narrative structure (introduction, crisis, resolution). By not bringing the neighbors back a third time, their narrative arc feels unfinished. Bringing them back one more time to comment on Judy’s departure from the city (“Where’s the bunny?” “How should I know? Why don’t you shut up about the bunny?” “You shut up!”) could have given them closure and smoothed what I thought was an unnecessarily abrupt transition back to the farm.

Speaking of the radio scene, I thought it was one of the best scenes. Completely predictable, but executed so well that I laughed anyway. A perfect selection of songs, and wonderfully expressive body language from Judy.

Missed opportunity department: When Officer Clawhouser was reassigned to Records, “…downstairs, next to the boiler,” am I the only person who expected a quick cutaway to a dance scene a la the Simpsons‘ “Gay Steel Mill” bit? Not that a gay stereotype scene would have been appropriate, but why not give us a few seconds of a group of carnivore officers bonding with music and dance? It would reinforce the developing “us versus them” mentality in the city and prefigure the eventual final scene.

Which reminds me: Is Gazelle really the only pop star in that world? Or is it just that she has some kind of exclusive licensing agreement with the city? The giant animated billboard welcoming people leaving the train would tend to support that hypothesis. But if so, it’s a somewhat disquieting reminder that Disney exercises very tight control over its parks, and it plays oddly against the film’s message of inclusiveness.

On a similar note, the division of the city into various clearly-delineated “districts” is equally problematic. On the one hand, Sahara Square, Tundratown, and the Rainforest District, obviously mirror Disney’s penchant for dividing their parks (Tomorrowland, Critter Country, Toontown, et al.), and they’re clearly portrayed as a desirable separation of species. On the other hand, the districts are fenced off, not only limiting contact between species, but suggesting gated communities and in some scenes even recalling the walled ghettos of Eastern Europe. Mixed messages, anyone?

Then there’s the anti-science message. Judy grew up around the night howler flowers–she knows them well enough to recognize their bulbs–yet she’s never once heard the common name? The message seems to be “If only the Hopps family wasn’t so gosh-darned scientific, Judy would have solved the case sooner.” OK, I’m exaggerating. But it certainly is a convenience for the script writer. Why is that the only plant the family refers to by its Latin name? How about sliding in a joke or two about them growing “Daucus carota subsp. Sativus” and “Vaccinium corymbosum*” to make it a consistent part of the family culture?

* Or, better yet, “Vaccinium virgatum”–the rabbit-eye blueberry.

Consistency is given a pass in several places, though. Much as I love Judy’s carrot voice recorder/pen, why is she even using it? We see her using her iPhone-equivalent to take pictures and video. Why doesn’t she use it for audio too? For that matter, a movie of Ms. Bellwether’s confession would play more strongly in court than a voice recording. (Side note: using a personal device to collect evidence is not a good tactic for a police officer. The phone will probably be confiscated to perpetuate the chain of evidence; more likely, the evidence won’t be able to be used at all, due to the improper nature of the collection. Yeah, a little much to expect for a kid’s movie, and the carrot serves an important function, but it still bugged me.)

OK, last complaint: By the end of the movie, Judy and Nick clearly have a relationship that goes beyond friendship. Maybe it isn’t quite a romantic relationship, but letting them patrol together–putting them in situations where they might be more concerned about their partner than the civilians they’re supposed to protect–seems like a ReallyBadIdea™.

Gripes aside–and remember, it’s QA’s job to break things; we focus on the bugs by nature and training–I greatly enjoyed Zootopia–and so did the young girl in the seat next to mine. The movie hits more of its targets than it misses, and it’s certainly not going to be a “When will the torture end?” experience for adults who take their kids.

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