Animated Film Critique – Zootopia

By Lily Hamilton

Zootopia (2016) received a lot of buzz last year for being not only a very well-animated film, but also a socially relevant one. This Disney picture is up for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2017 Academy Awards and has already racked up a few other accolades, including the BAFTA award for Best Animated Feature. Zootopia tells the story of a young rabbit named Judy Hopps, whose attempts to prove that she can be a successful police officer despite her size land her in a lot of trouble. With the help of a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, Judy cracks a case that the rest of the Zootopia police force could not, and learns a thing or two about stereotyping and prejudice along the way. Though Zootopia’s attempts to be socially conscious are a bit heavy-handed at times, the film provides a good commentary on the social state of the world today. With clever quips about race and class embedded into the story, Zootopia offers audience members of all ages a solid hour and fifty minutes of entertainment.

The sound design of Zootopia is well done, as is expected in an animated film, since all sound can be recorded in a professional studio rather than on set. Zootopia offers a wide range of sound effects and voice acting work, as there are many different animals, environments and adventure scenes throughout the film. One example of Zootopia’s strong sound design occurs during the DMV scene, when Flash the sloth slowly runs a license plate. Since each of Flash’s movements are incredibly slow, the sound of each action is also slowed. His keyboard clicks are slow and spaced far apart, the sound of his stamp pressing into the paper can be heard distinctly, and you can hear every tiny tear when he rips off a piece of perforated paper. This drawn out, lingering sound design emphasizes Flash’s leisurely pace and makes the scene all the more frustrating. Attention to detail such as this is carried throughout the sound design of the whole film, whether the audio be fur moving in the wind or the walla of a press conference crowd.

Michael Giacchino composed Zootopia’s score, which features twenty one tracks. This is Giacchino’s first feature-length project with Disney, though he contributed to the music for The Incredibles, Inside Out and Rogue One, among others. Shakira sings the film’s original song “Try Everything,” which was co-written by Sia and Stargate. She also voices Gazelle, a politically active pop star, in the film. The score is successful in driving scenes forward as well as setting the tone for specific scenes and characters. “Try Everything” is catchy and was likely purchased on iTunes by today’s technologically savvy kids.

From a filmmaker’s perspective, the technical aspects of Zootopia are very strong. The audio matches up with the animation to create a believable, beautifully done film. Animation today is becoming more and more realistic, so it will be interesting to how the sound design changes with that in the next few years.  

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