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Disney In Depth: 2016 Animation Battle: ‘Moana’ v. ‘Finding Dory’ v. ‘Zootopia’
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Disney In Depth Banner

The Walt Disney Studios released three critically/viewer acclaimed films in 2016 that also were major financial hits – Moana still pending, but early signs look favorable; Finding Dory; and Zootopia.

Which of the three films, though, is the best? That’s like picking a favorite child, considering each movie’s unique strengths. To help determine the winner – in my book, at least – I have established a bunch of categories that apply to all of the films. Let the battle commence!

Best Dynamic Duo

One pair of familiar fishes are on the list, but they face off with a sly fox and driven bunny, as well as a teenage warrior and slick demigod. How to choose? To narrow it down, Marlin was not as much of a focus in Finding Dory, so we can take those two out, unless you would want to substitute septapus Hank in for the clownfish. Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps, much like Moana and Maui, start off as polar opposites, but eventually end up as the best of friends. Formulaic, yes, but the bonds these two sets of protagonists develop are endearing. I have to hand it to Nick and Judy, though, because of the turbulent nature of their relationship during one of the film’s most pivotal scenes, when Judy delivers a speech and alienates her foxy friend. It’s a moment that catalyzes core themes and makes their eventual reunion all the more rewarding.

WINNER: ZOOTOPIA

Best Sidekicks

Despite the advertising appearing like Moana had two animal sidekicks, Heihei is featured much more than Pua. For a wordless rooster, Heihei is responsible for inspiring much of the film’s comedy. Meanwhile, Dory featured a slew of new characters, from wisecrack Hank to silly Becky the bird. Then there’s also Destiny, Bailey, Fluke, Rudder and poor Gerald. Zootopia also had its share of allies to the heroes, including Officer Clawhauser, Yax, Chief Bogo, and Flash, just to name a handful. In this case, the joy that emerges from seeing the sea creatures and how they worked collaboratively to work toward Dory reconnecting with her complete family again allows the Marine Life Institute crew to win the category.

WINNER: FINDING DORY

Finding Dory

Best Song

Although Moana is the only pure musical of the bunch, boasting an array of songs with varying musical styles, the other two films also featured hits. Sia‘s version of Nat King Cole‘s “Unforgettable” in Dory and Shakira‘s original pop smash “Try Everything” in Zootopia were both featured in end credits. Without a doubt, two songs from Moana stand out. Dwayne Johnson‘s fun rap-based “You’re Welcome” is a joyous sequence with clever wordplay, even topping Auli’i Cravalho‘s gorgeous performance of “How Far I’ll Go,” a traditional Disney “I want” song. To its credit, I could not get “You’re Welcome” out of my head, and you cannot either. Check out the full song, as featured in the film, right here from the Disney Movie Trailers YouTube channel.

WINNER: MOANA

MOANA - (Pictured) Maui. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Best Tearjerker Scene

Disney and Disney-Pixar did not hold back at all for any of the films. Moana avoided Disney’s typical route of killing off one or both parents, but instead Moana loses her clever Gramma Tala. Dory performed a full-on fake out in making the audience think Dory’s parents died, but the Blue Tang is finally reunited with Charlie and Jenny. As for Zootopia, watching Nick as a victim to bullying is also hard to take. Alas, the touching rapport that Moana demonstrates between a grandparent and grandchild is rare territory for Disney, and the beauty in which it demonstrated her death – with Gramma Tala’s stingray spirit guiding Moana on her expedition – is quite poignant.

WINNER: MOANA

Best Laugh-Out-Loud Moment

Finding Dory elicits memories of shrieking when Sigourney Weaver, voicing a version of herself, emerged from the hallowed grounds of the Marine Life Institute. Then again, some of Maui’s one-liners are also hilarious. Ultimately, though, the moment we meet Flash the Sloth in the Division of Mammal Vehicles tops them all. Disney could not have paced this better, and featuring this portion from Zootopia as one of its trailers was a winning idea.

WINNER: ZOOTOPIA

Zootopia Header

Best Message

Moana centers on the importance of embarking on a selfless journey of self-discovery to rebuild one’s community. Finding Dory shows that coping with a disability – e.g. short-term memory loss – can actually enable individuals to identify their unique gifts. Finally, Zootopia addresses racism and stereotypes, a theme rarely attended to in animated films. Considering the social impact and timeliness of Zootopia‘s themes in our very divisive country, it struck a chord with me most. Yet I also recognize the beauty of the messaging of both Moana and Dory. In any other year I think each of these would stand out as remarkable and novel.

WINNER: ZOOTOPIA

Best Score

Marc Mancina, known to Disney audiences for his work in Tarzan and Brother Bear, composed Moana‘s lush score. Thomas Newman, who originally composed Pixar’s 2003 smash Finding Nemo, returned for its sequel Finding Dory. Last, Pixar favorite Michael Giacchino composed his first Disney animated feature with Zootopia. I am a fan of each of the three, making this decision challenging. I was indeed struck with the unique orchestration and memorable themes found in Dory, which carried a few notable elements from the Nemo score, but had an identity all its own. From the pumping “Nobody’s Fine” to Dory’s touching theme, it should be an Oscar contender this year.

WINNER: FINDING DORY

After reviewing all of the factors, and Zootopia winning three of the seven categories I noted, I still believe Zootopia is the best film of the three. Absolutely, each of the films possess unique strengths, but the originality of the animal-based society, topics it broaches, and overall enjoyability make it one of Disney’s best of the past decade. What are your thoughts?

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

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