Talking Animals Trample London
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
March 6, 2016
Three new movies debuted in North American theaters this weekend. In descending order of intellect, they featured Tina Fey, talking animals, and Gerard Butler. Suffice to say that the talking animals crushed the competition, earning more than twice as much as the other two films combined. Monument porn and Tina Fey’s wit are no match for the Disney marketing arm, especially not when they have an instant animated classic to sell to children.
In 2005, DreamWorks Animation was riding the high of Shrek 2, their most popular movie production ever. They had an idea for a new franchise in which Central Park Zoo animals would escape from captivity. Once released in the wild, these domesticated beasts would fare harshly in the precarious African landscape of Madagascar. Fights for survival are a moment-by-moment occurrence in the wild, which means it’s no place for kings of the asphalt jungles of New York City. Four films and $2.25 billion later, the popularity of this concept is irrefutable.
This past weekend, Disney released an inverted version of this premise. Rather than take animals in our society and place them out in the wild, Walt Disney Animation Studios took mankind out of the equation. Instead, they offered a story with anthropomorphic mammals all inhabiting the same city. Whereas Madagascar takes animals out of the city and places them in the wild, Zootopia turns the city into the wild. It’s where the entire animal society exists, which makes it half Madagascar and half Animal Farm. Whether George Orwell would feel flattered or offended is up for debate. What’s undeniable, though, is that kids loooooove the premise.
Zootopia has opened to $73.7 million this weekend. That’s a record-setting debut for an original Disney animated movie (non-Pixar division), which means that it has bested recent blockbusters such as Tangled, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph. That’s not to say Zootopia will surpass Frozen’s historic run to $400 million – it won’t – but it does reflect that consumers continue to trust Disney to deliver heartwarming family entertainment, just as the company has done going all the way back to the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Almost 80 years later, consumers revere the Disney animation brand every bit as much now as they did then.
Plenty of signs hinted at this spectacular debut. Disney has promoted the movie for over a year now, and the teaser showing a sloth as the ultimate example of bureaucracy gone awry instantly sold the concept to many potential movie-goers. In recent days, glowing reviews have alerted Disney fans that Zootopia is an instant classic. It’s 98 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site noting it’s the best reviewed film of 2016. Yes, we’re talking about a small sample size after the first week in March, but its grade would also make it one of the five best reviewed films of 2015 as well.
For perspective, consider that Pixar’s Inside Out received 299 thumbs ups from 304 critics (98.36 percent) with an audience score approval rating of 89 percent. Zootopia earned a fresh grade from 129 out of 131 critics thus far (98.47 percent) with an audience score of 95 percent. Both films also claimed A Cinemascores. Keep in mind that a film’s grades ordinarily decline over time since it benefits from opening weekend enthusiasm. At this point, Zootopia is slightly ahead of Inside Out, but it should fall just short overall. Still, the fact that we’re discussing them in equal terms speaks volumes about the underlying quality of Disney’s latest instant classic.