Home > Reviews > ZOOTOPIA – Michael Giacchino

ZOOTOPIA – Michael Giacchino

zootopiaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Zootopia is the latest animated film from Walt Disney, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. A comedy-crime caper with undertones that explore themes of racism, xenophobia, and political corruption (yes, really!), the film follows the adventures of Judy Hopps, an ambitious rabbit who wants to become the first leporine police officer in Zootopia, a city populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals. Before long Judy is embroiled in a case in which several animals have been reported as going missing and “turning savage,” reverting back to the old ways of predators and their prey. To solve the case, Judy must team up with a wisecracking and streetwise fox named Nick Wilde, find the missing persons, and discover how and why the animals are devolving to their “natural state”. The film features the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, and J.K. Simmons, and has an original score by Michael Giacchino.

Giacchino has had great success writing for animated features over the years, winning an Oscar for Up in 2009, as well as scoring things like The Incredibles in 2004, Ratatouille in 2007, and Inside Out last year, but unfortunately Zootopia seems to suffer from a largely underwhelming and strangely anonymous personality. It’s a large, symphonic, well-crafted score, with a wide range of world music influences that accurately capture the multi-ethnic environment in which the film is set, but there is a distinct lack of specificity to the score which hampers it somewhat, and stops it from attaining the heights any of its genre predecessors did. This is very unusual for Michael Giacchino, who usually imbues all of his scores with at least one memorable melodic hook around which the rest of the music is built; it’s possible that one small leitmotif, a four-note theme for Judy’s sense of determination and idealism, exists, but if it is there it is subtle almost to the point of invisibility. I was unable to positively identify it in the context of the film, although it does seem to crop up on the soundtrack album in parts of “Grey’s Uh-Mad At Me” and “Not a Real Cop,” among others, and there are a couple of slightly sinister variations in “World’s Worst Animal Shelter”.

Instead, what Zootopia does very well is present a series of enjoyable set pieces, which jump from style to style as each scene and character interaction demands. Giacchino captures the lively hustle and bustle of Zootopian society with Lalo Schifrin-esque jazzy riffs and references to 1970s cop shows in cues like “Jumbo Pop Hustle,” “Walk and Stalk,” “Hopps Goes (After) the Weasel,” and “Weasel Shakedown,” which have a swaggering sense of style in the rhythmic core, and feature Hammond organs and wah-wah electric guitars to augment the orchestration. There are toe-tapping salsa rhythms in “Ticket to Write,” Indian-style ragas for Tommy Chong’s hippie yak in “The Naturalist,” faux-Italianate Nino Rota pastiches for the mafia shrew “Mr. Big,” and even an amusing little woodwind waltz for Flash, the fastest sloth at the DMV, first heard in “Work Slowly and Carry a Big Shtick,” and which cleverly reappears completely revamped with an upbeat rock vibe in the final cue, “Three-Toe Bandito.”

The action music in cues like “Case of the Manchas,” “A Bunny Can Go Savage,” and “Ramifications,” is fast and percussion heavy, with especially prominent tribal drums in the former that remind me of his score for Land of the Lost performed at breakneck speed, and much more pronounced guitar and woodwind orchestrations in the latter. The aforementioned “World’s Worst Animal Shelter” has a caper-like ‘sneaky’ sound, with staccato string writing and sly, mischievous woodwinds leading the cue, although it does get quite dark and ominous towards its conclusion.

Elsewhere, the more emotional moments, such as the lullabyish “Foxy Fakeout,” “Not a Real Cop,” “The Nick of Time,” the very dramatic “Some of My Best Friends Are Predators,” and the finale of “Ewe Fell For It,” have more than a hint of the score for the TV series Lost about them, with slow, thoughtful tempos, and the string-and-piano combination writing that has been one of the calling cards of Giacchino’s career for over a decade. They are certainly moving and undeniably attractive, but for me there is a certain nagging feeling that Giacchino has been writing variations on this same sort of music since 2004, and as a result it’s beginning to lose its potency.

All of this is all perfectly adequate film music – well composed, pleasant, often very enjoyable – but it never really comes together as a cohesive whole, and it suffers as a listening experience as a result. Some may call this style of writing mickey-mousing, but it would be inaccurate as Giacchino doesn’t use the music as sound effects and doesn’t mirror the action directly; however, many will still find the score rather scattershot, jumping from style to style very quickly, sometimes even within the same cue, limiting its capacity to sound like a fully self-contained piece of music. Zootopia is a fun diversion, but it pales in comparison to the rest of Giacchino’s illustrious filmography thus far, and is likely to be remembered as one his minor works – if it is remembered at all.

Buy the Zootopia soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Try Everything (written by Sia Furler, Tor Erik Hermansen, and Mikkel Eriksen, performed by Shakira) (3:16)
  • Stage Fright (0:39)
  • Grey’s Uh-Mad At Me (1:44)
  • Ticket to Write (1:07)
  • Foxy Fakeout (2:08)
  • Jumbo Pop Hustle (1:50)
  • Walk and Stalk (1:29)
  • Not a Real Cop (1:34)
  • Hopps Goes (After) the Weasel (2:19)
  • The Naturalist (3:09)
  • Work Slowly And Carry a Big Shtick (0:44)
  • Mr. Big (2:47)
  • Case of the Manchas (4:00)
  • The Nick of Time (5:02)
  • World’s Worst Animal Shelter (4:24)
  • Some of My Best Friends Are Predators (3:47)
  • A Bunny Can Go Savage (1:45)
  • Weasel Shakedown (2:04)
  • Ramifications (3:58)
  • Ewe Fell For It (6:37)
  • Three-Toe Bandito (0:43)
  • Suite from Zootopia (7:28)

Running Time: 62 minutes 34 seconds

Walt Disney Records (2016)

Music composed Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Brad Dechter, Jeff Kryka, Cameron Patrick, Jonathan Sacks and Tim Simonec. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Stephen M. Davis. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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