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Why’s it Forgotten? Zootopia (2016)

Kevthewriter thinks people should talk about Zootopia more than they do.

Let me clarify one thing about this series: not every movie I cover is really forgotten. Like how with Why’d it Bomb, I sometimes cover movies that weren’t box office bombs but rather just movies that didn’t do as well as the studio hoped (like Amazing Spider Man 2), this series sometimes covers movies that aren’t forgotten per se but just didn’t have much in the way of a pop culture impact.

As a result, I think Zootopia counts. No, it’s not forgotten as it still has a dedicated fanbase (re: mostly furries) and I’m sure it would still be fresh enough in most people’s minds that if you mentioned it, they would know what you’re talking about, it’s just that…honestly, the success of this movie has always dumbfounded me.

I’ll admit, when I first saw the movie had a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I was surprised because the movie looked so adequate and generic. And, honestly, when I saw the movie, I thought it was mostly just adequate and generic.  But, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie personally, I realize that it’s just my opinion and I wouldn’t question those who enjoyed the movie more than I did just because I thought it was only okay.

No, what surprised me about the success of the movie is that, even though it had an almost perfect Rotten Tomatoes score and made a billion dollars at the box office (not to mention the awards it got later on), it never seemed to really become a huge phenomenon or got a ton of hype. I rarely saw people talk about it and most of the time, when I did, it was internet articles (or videos) talking about the anti-racism/anti-prejudice message the film had and whether or not they did it well. Or it was furries on Twitter going gaga over the film. Otherwise, I can’t really think of a line, a character, or a scene (maybe the sloth scene?) or anything from the film that has really become popular with the public and gets referenced or quoted often.

I mean, this year, there was a debate over whether white kids dressing up as Moana was considered racist or not. Last Halloween, was there any debate over whether, I dunno, having kids dress up as Zootopia characters for Halloween would turn them into furries? No, there wasn’t, because seemingly more kids wanted to dress up as Moana than they did anyone from this movie.

And that’s just one example of how indifferent the response from audiences to this movie felt, which is kinda surprising because it not only did well critically and commercially but it did really, really well critically and commercially. I mean, this movie had the 2nd biggest opening weekend for a Disney movie and (not adjusted for inflation and not counting Pixar) was the second highest grossing Disney film ever made yet it basically feel like, despite the high RT rating and the fact that it is the 2nd highest grossing Disney movie ever, it was just received as another Disney movie and nothing more, with the only thing that stuck out to people being some of the parallels the movie had to the real world.

In fact, many of the reviews I read of the movie and articles/videos I saw of the movie mentioned mostly the message and the parallels the movie had to the real world over mostly everything else in the movie which, considering our very divisive political climate, I understand. But, while things have not gotten better since the movie came out (if anything, things have gotten worse), it’s hard for a movie to be remembered only for its message, especially when, even though most critics thought the message was done well, audiences had mixed feelings towards it (some praised it for the message while others found it preachy, thought the movie didn’t really understand how racism works, thought the movie’s implications actually made it unintentionally racist itself, etc.).

Usually, for a movie to be remembered, it has to be remembered for its story, its characters, or at least some particular scene, regardless of what the political climate is at the moment and it just doesn’t seem like general audiences really remembered those elements of Zootopia that much.

Look at most of Pixar’s movies (at least pre-Cars 2). They may not sell as much merchandise as Cars or Toy Story but I still see people quoting Finding Nemo to this day or reference the opening scene of Up. Or, in the case of Ratatouille, I still see it get referred to in various movies and TV shows as “the movie with the rat who controls the guy with his hair” (The Good Place had a hilarious reference to it in the episode, “Mindy St. Claire”).  Zootopia, on the other hand, I can’t really think of anything specific thing from it that often gets talked about. I mean, even the sloth scene I don’t really see getting referenced that much anymore.

It seems that one of the reasons this movie was probably even more successful than your usual modern Disney film yet seems to have not much staying power is that it not only attracted families and your usual Disney fan but also furries and people who were interested in the progressive themes critics were talking about but, with the lack of anything that really stuck too much with the general public, most groups moved on from it (except for maybe furries).

But there are other factors to keep in mind.

I mean I did hear there was a whole lawsuit where a guy was claiming they stole the idea of Zootopia from him but, from what I saw, that was basically thrown out so I don’t think that had much effect on it.

Instead, I do have to realize I’m basically just talking about the U.S. here. I found out that Zootopia was huge in Asia. In China, particularly, it was very popular and ended up having its theatrical run extended. In fact, it made $235 million dollars in China, becoming the highest grossing animated film there. This probably did a lot to increase its BO intake and explain why, despite the huge gross at the box office, the movie’s hype just seems oddly quiet through American eyes, because the movie got really hyped up seemingly not in America but in Asia (and maybe some other parts of the world as well).

Also, maybe it’s just my inner social circle that wasn’t talking about the film. Maybe it was the talk of the town in elementary schools across the U.S. or with other people in their social circles. I dunno, can anyone in the comments section confirm whether or not they saw people were talking about Zootopia a lot?

In all seriousness, though, I think the reason it seems like no one really talks about Zootopia anymore (at least as far as the U.S. is concerned) is because there wasn’t really something about it that the general public found all that memorable (Frozen‘s success is pretty much attributed mostly to “Let it Go” after all) and it just wasn’t that big of a movie in the first place. Popular enough to spawn off a rumor Disney was going to make an entire land off of it in Animal Kingdom (which, who knows if that’s true, we’ll pretty much have to wait until D23 2019 or D23 2020 to find that out) but hardly the next Lion King in terms of popularity. But, even if it doesn’t seem to have really caught on with Americans, it still managed to become a phenomenon in China, which is probably why it did so well in the first place.

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Posted on November 22, 2017, in Why'd it bomb? and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I love ZOOTOPIA, but you’re right, as far as pop culture cache, it doesn’t have much. I really can’t say why either.

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    • I didn’t talk about this in the article but maybe it also has to do with the fact that there are many, many cg animated films about talking animals and, to the average joe, maybe they think that, due to the influx of CG animated talking animal movies, it doesn’t really stick out too much from the Kung Fu Pandas and Madagascars of the world (at least by looking at it)?

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