A​ Utopian Time for American Animation

So there’s a bunch of movies I gave non-spoiler reviews since my first entry of the series back in 2013. However, I never got around to giving them their actual spoiler-filled reviews. Since I missed my chance to give Zootopia it’s deserved spoiler review (because it was good), I figured I would use this time to do just that–review a lot of recent animated movies spoiler style and get you guys pumped for my full Zootopia review. They’ll be a little preview of the things I’ll say about Zootopia at the bottom of this page if you want to skip to those thoughts.


Non-spoiler review summary:

The best animated movie of 2014 didn’t even get a nomination from the Academy, but that won’t stop me from loving this hilariously charming and vibrant animation. Filled with big name characters and voice actors, The Lego Movie never falters under the weight of its stardom balancing the more well-known characters with its novel characters in Emmet and Wyldstyle. Contagiously hysterical, creatively conceived, and visually addicting, The Lego Movie was a highlight for me in a time that boasted the Disney-delights of Frozen and Tangled.

What was left out (spoiler-filled) review:

The most “bland” and “boring” character in Emmett is rightfully center-stage, as this movie is truly about the average person. In a media that cares about the famous, rich, and powerful and scrutinizes the outcasts and the insane, us average people can often feel left out in society. Never garnering the spotlight in any way, this movie has a strong and unique message for its general audience driving the plot with essential movement amidst of all of its jokes and hectic animation. The ending where live-action human characters come into the mix was a bit jarring for me, though not careless or thoughtless–perhaps just requiring more careful execution. Besides that, The Lego Movie is with few complaints. Although it heralds the average, in the process of doing so, The Lego Movie comes up nothing short of exceptional.


Non-spoiler review summary:

I cannot recommend this sequel to my fellow How to Train Your Dragon fans. Perhaps to the general audience, I could. But not to you guys. As is the case with most summer blockbusters that underwhelm, How to Train Your Dragon 2 relies too heavily on its characters, effects, and action to engage the audience instead of heart. Although the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless remains intact from the first movie and the father-son relationship receives closer inspection in this one, practically everything else doesn’t live up to its expectations or name.

What was left out (spoiler) review:

Stoick’s death was fitting, touching, and beautiful. Just as Hiccup grows up in this film, the franchise seems to mature as well. While I wish no harm to this up-and-coming film series, I do think Valka–Hiccup’s mother–requires to be revamped or re-imagined in the next film as she was the biggest let down of this film. Introduced as someone who is wise beyond her years, she is easily taken out by the generic villain of the film allowing her son to be the main hero once again. In an era where action movies ramp up to a climax so predictably, it would be nice if this dragon world of How to Train Your Dragon also requires the cooperation and teamwork of fellow humans in its future iterations.


Non-spoiler review summary:

Disney tries something completely new by dipping their big toe in the superhero genre. It keeps the Japanese styling of its comic book origins but gives it an American spin, just like the setting of  San Fransisco. While this fusion was fresh and unique, the story was far from that with the exception of possibly one twist. What saved this superhero-flick from being average was Baymax who steals the show in a manner unlike any other since Robin Williamson’s Genie from Disney’s 1992 Aladdin. Now that is a big compliment and Disney hit big with this lovable and warm character.

What was left out (spoiler) review:

The professor was the villain!?! I didn’t see that coming. Something else I didn’t see coming was the ending with Baymax and Hiro. No, I kind of expected a touching moment that would reap the rewards from Baymax and Hiro’s wonderful friendship. Disney has learned very well from Pixar. No, what I’m talking about is bringing Baymax back from the dead! I thought it was a cheap way to make the audience tear up while still giving the ending its upbeat optimism. You simply can’t have it both ways Disney!


Non-spoiler review summary:

This is the Pixar film that got all the critics talking about the studio the way they did back in the 2000s with Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. While I think it was well-deserved, I’m not sure if I rank this as highly as everyone else. Still, this is a film that has one of the most creative premises in years along with a message that is as adult as any adult could ask for. I watched this film with some friends who were disappointed by the movie considering its reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but it personally lived up to my expectations as a thought-provoking and emotionally-riveting Pixar flick.

What was left out (spoiler) review:

I don’t think an animated film has ever examined the life of a child with the same depth and aptitude as Inside Out. Riley deals with the concept of growing up, materializing (and dissipating) our wild imaginations in the form of Bing Bong who represents all the bizarre imaginary friends we had to let go as we transitioned into adulthood. He and his death has to be one of the emotional peaks of the film, serving as both plot and story simultaneously. While the plot was a bit contrived with the physical journey back to Riley’s headquarters, the story always remained interesting in this Pixar screenplay. One could only wish bits and pieces from the abstract factory and dream production scenes would have been cut to make more room for the examination of Riley’s mind or perhaps the development of her own character.


Non-spoiler review summary:

The main points of criticism that me and other critics seem able to launch at The Good Dinosaur is its funky character designs for Arlo and the other dinosaurs. I, for one, couldn’t care diddly squat about that in this sweeping movie experience. The animation was gorgeous, the story–albeit simple–was told with grandeur, and every established relationship had their fair share of heartwarming and serious moments. Just like The Lego Movie, this is another movie that simply got ROBBED at the Academy’s. I cannot get over the fact that this movie’s throwback to Walt Disney’s animation (Bambi comes to mind) and fusion of different story genres could have been overlooked or underappreciated.

What was left out (spoiler) review:

I don’t think that the dad should have died. Nor do I think he should have made an on-screen appearance to motivate Arlo to save his friend Spot. In general, I think the dad could have played a much more prominent role in the film for cohesion purposes. Much like The Lion King’s screenplay can be fragmented by Mufasa’s appearance or disappearance (death by Scar and reappearance in cloud form) I felt Arlo’s experience with the T-rex could have been more fleshed out to convince the audience that Arlo has indeed embraced his fears in order to find his place in his family. In other words, I didn’t think Arlo’s dad had to die in order to achieve the impact Pixar was looking for from his character.


Zootopia marks an utopian time for animation. For as long as I have been watching the Disney renaissance movies as a kid, there has always been that top-notch animation studio that dominated the market and consumed our attention. Disney was the thing in the 90s but after computer animation with Pixar got its footing, hand animation essentially fell out of fashion. I’m happy to say that now, I am just as excited for a Disney release as I am a Pixar release.

Zootopia fits in the line of small successes from the Disney Animation company. It’s not quite the phenomena that Frozen was, but there hasn’t been a bad Disney film in a really long time.  Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6 have all been successful in their own way, whether that be through opening weekend, DVD sales, or merchandising. It’s no surprise, because all of these movies have been good if not great.

I think Lasseter can be distinctly tied to the recent success of Disney in their new “revival” era, and I say this because Disney has seem to have adapted Pixar’s film-making philosophy. Sure, they still maintain their identity through their princess movies–and we have Moana coming up this year–but Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia all represent new grounds for the studio, often with creative premises backing a story that clearly has meaning and value for the filmmakers in place. Stuff like Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons just can’t compare, and even Bolt on a technical level.

While I don’t think Zootopia bests Disney’s consistent output of beloved princess films, I do think Zootopia is the best non-princess film of Disney’s revival era. I’ll explore why in my full review of Zootopia coming up and I hope you’ll join me then.

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