Animation is not always the first thing you look at when you're watching an animated film. When you go back and rewatch something like Toy Story, which is remarkable for its animation, you're usually paying attention to the characters and the story, because both are tremendous. And that's what keeps us coming back time and again. And Zootopia's story, which is incredibly deep and subtle, will keep you watching it as you figure out what metaphors you want to ascribe to it (and there are many). But even more than the story (which I'll get back to), this really is a triumph of animation. And not in the way that Pixar can astonish you, or Hayao Miyazaki can transport you, but instead it's in the "acting" of the characters.
Zootopia is set in a world where every animal exists in harmony. lions, and tigers, and bears work and play with mice, giraffes, and lambs. The predator/prey cycle has been gone for years. But prejudice still exists, as (don't call her cute) bunny Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit police officer, and is promptly put on traffic duty. Fighting for more responsibility, she's given 48 hours to solve a missing person case or else quit the force. Her only lead is Nick Wilde, a con artist of a fox, who wants nothing to do with Officer Hopps. And all this is just one of many layers of subtle digs at both sexism and racism that flow throughout the film. It's pretty staggering that a film aimed at kids is as progressive as it is without being preachy or pandering, and is entertaining as all get out.
But, for me, the real genius of the movie is the way the animators have focused on the characters' reactions to the events around them. When Officer Hopps has Nick completely under her thumb, just look at the sad, defeated expression he has on his face. He was not expecting that when he got up that morning. And I could spend the whole movie watching Officer Hopps' ears. They might be the most expressive thing in the film. They're up when she's excited or happy, down when she's at work, and somehow even lower when she's feeling her worst. She'd be perfect in a silent film, with her ears doing all the acting. And don't get me started on the gloriousness of the sloths. The pure joy that slowly (ever so slowly) blossoms across their faces is nothing but a treat.
Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are the perfect voice actors for their characters. You're rooting for the indefatigable Officer Hopps to triumph over forces out of her control. And Bateman brings just the right amount of sarcasm and cynicism to Wilde's Fox. When his backstory is revealed, it's impossible not to sympathize with him.
And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. The movie has all the action and humor that you expect in a movie like this. It's just buoyed by a strong story and fantastic animation. So, so good.