Zootopia is one of three Walt Disney animated features this year, and, at a glance, it seemed to be the lowest profile of the trio. It’s not the big Pixar sequel (Finding Dory), and it’s not the Thanksgiving fairy tale princess epic (Moana). The quirky gem of a comedy, which sold itself as a zippy talking animal comedy but turned out to be a potent metaphor for race relations and fear-based social control, earned superb reviews and terrific word-of-mouth. It sits alongside Deadpool as the “Holy crap!” success story of the year.
And now it’s on the cusp of crossing the $1 billion mark worldwide. With $991 million worldwide, it’s the fourth-biggest animated film ever behind Toy Story 3 ($1.063b),Minions ($1.159b), and Frozen ($1.276b). It is the sixth-biggest “non-sequel/prequel” of all time, behind Alice in Wonderland ($1.025b), Jurassic Park ($1.029b, including the 2013 3D reissue), Frozen ($1.27b), Titanic ($2.186b), and Avatar ($2. 787b). It is Walt Disney’s eleventh-biggest movie ever globally.
Oh, and it is the second-biggest “original” movie ever released (not accounting for inflation) behind only James Cameron’s Avatar. Zootopia was not based on a television show, a comic book, a novel, or a stage play. It was not a sequel, prequel, or reboot from an existing franchise. It is not based on an actual historical event. It was an entirely original concoction.
The hook for Zootopia was basically “Here is a Disney animated feature that looks quite good, and the critics say it’s quite good,” and the film itself did the rest after a gonzo $75 million opening weekend. Disney sold the heck out of it of course, with a variety of gimmicks (the satirical “the year in movies” posters) and that killer sloth-based trailer that played in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But once the movie opened, it just kept going and going well beyond realistic expectations for a $75m animated opener.
With $336 million domestic (and not quite dead yet), the film has earned a remarkable 4.5x weekend-to-final multiplier, which is one of the leggier runs in recent memory for a wide release. It spent 13 consecutive weeks in the top 10, putting it right behind Avatar (14 weeks) and Frozen (16 weeks) among pretty much any film over the last decade.
The film has placed itself at the forefront of next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar race, and there may be a Best Picture push depending on what falls where.
Zootopia arrives on VOD/DVD/Blu-Ray in just over a week, so I imagine it’s near the end of the line. But it’s been a hell of a run, far surpassing any realistic expectations for a film that I merely hoped would be the “Let’s go nuts!” alternative to the Pixar sequel and fairy tale epic. Beyond the fact that a lot of the would-be original franchises we get these days seem to stem from animation (Despicable Me, Kung Fu Panda, Toy Story, etc.), I just wanted to make a note of it.
You don’t need me to make a bullet-point list of why Zootopia kicked as much box office butt as it did, but a tip of the hat is in order, especially considering how much more digital ink we spend discussing why a given movie didn’t work.
Frozen was the culmination of Disney’s slow march back to the top of the animation mountain, as well as a declaration that they were willing to embrace their cultural legacy as top-tier purveyors of fairy tale musical adventures. Zootopia was confirmation that the brand that is Disney animation has grown to such a point where, as it was in theWaking Sleeping Beauty era, the very fact that it’s a Disney animated feature is enough to turn it into a must-see event.
Now let’s see if it can also be the second-biggest movie ever (after Titanic) to not be a sequel and not spawn a sequel.