I’m an ardent fan of both Disney and Pixar’s animated films. The original “Disney Renaissance” coincided with my childhood; as did Pixar’s meteoric rise to rival Disney before the former’s acquisition by the latter. So it’s no surprise to me that Zootopia is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year. Perhaps that’s because it's one of two new films I’ve seen thus far...but still! Disney has made another fantastic film that will only continue to bolster the “Second Disney Renaissance”. Zootopia is a fast paced, exciting, and funny animated film with a surprising amount of depth.
Zootopia gives us little background about how this world came to be. Suffice to say that there are no humans in this universe, only animals. The two broad classes of animals--predators and prey, have “evolved beyond their savage ways”, and now live and work together. Our story focuses on a naive female bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as she attempts to become the first bunny police officer of Zootopia ever. To her Zootopia is the city of her dreams where, “anyone can be anything.” The film wastes no time, going from childhood, to police training, to first day on the force in the first third of the film. The narrative becomes clear as Judy is forced to work with a slick con artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve a difficult case that unravels into a larger sinister conspiracy of predators mysteriously “going savage”.
Judy quickly learns the hard way that the real Zootopia isn’t at all like her idealized version. Predators and prey don’t all get along like a big happy commune. There are definite tensions, prejudices, and misconceptions among the animals. Judy herself harbors prejudices against foxes, passed down from her parents, reinforced by a traumatic childhood incident, and is hustled by Nick several times on her first day. “You are what you are,” Nick schools Judy in their first meeting, “Sly fox, dumb bunny.” Judy is even relegated to menial parking duty by Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) despite her high academy scores as even elements of sexism come into play, “I’m not just some token bunny Chief.” She is constantly looked and talked down to (literally) by the larger predators and prey who occupy the police department and don’t think of her as a “real cop”.
As the conspiracy at the heart of the plot unravels, it threatens to tear Zootopia apart. Deeply rooted prejudices rise to the surface, as the city’s 90% prey majority begin to seriously fear the 10% predator minority. Judy ignorantly and accidentally makes this much worse, and even tells Nick, “You’re not like them [the savage predators]”, to which Nick replies angrily, “Oh, so there’s a them now!” Not to reveal too much of the plot, but the main antagonist serves as an allegory to the current political race, and the filmmakers comes down hard against fear mongering, stereotyping, and discrimination. That’s not to say that the film is overtly heavy handed, most of this stuff will go over the heads of the young audience who will be enjoying the story and animation. But it does have positive messages with regards to ending prejudice, stereotypes, and profiling.
The film does a great job investing in its two main characters. It’s narrative is essentially a buddy cop story, where cop and criminal are forced to work together and through trials and tribulations dispel ill informed misconceptions about the other. At first Judy is skeptical, suspicious, and easily tricked by Nick, and likewise Nick is very dismissive and demeaning to Judy. By unraveling the conspiracy they begin to learn about the other, value their different strengths, and save each other’s lives a couple times.They have ups and downs, but grow and feel like real people...er...animal people...characters. Their character arcs are the emotional core of the film. Nick’s backstory in particular is poignant in its mirrored opposite to Judy’s, as he teaches her important lessons on how prejudices can make lasting impacts.
The anthormophication of animals works so well because the animals are literal representations of people complete with cell phone gawking, cars, news media, politicians--modern American society in a nutshell. Think “that guy’s an animal” or “men are a different species” taken to its logical extreme. All of the animals have clever quirks that are rooted in their anthromophication, and the film works wonders with animal slapstick and subverting your expectations of what some animals should be like versus what they actually are (Anders). The film is a joy to watch, as usual Disney’s animation team brings its “A” game for Zootopia, creating a vibrant fantastical city complete with twelve unique districts. Besides being funny in its own right, the film is loaded with parodies, references, and Easter eggs, that are both enjoyable and rewarding without being pandering. The feared crime boss of the Tundra district and the entire DMV being hilarious highlights.
Zootopia is a refreshing delight. It’s first rate animation and patented Disney family entertainment but it’s more than just mere popcorn cinema. A palate cleanser to the depressing, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric of this election cycle, Disney’s Zootopia asks us to put aside ill informed stereotypes and fear stoked prejudices; to foster community harmony by accepting and even celebrating the differences of others. It’s a fun, clever, brilliantly animated family film that has a lot more on its mind than mere entertainment. Take your kids, or see it yourself you won’t be disappointed.
TLDR: Disney’s Zootopia is a superb animated film that’s enjoyable for both children and adults. It’s a charming, clever, and heartfelt film with both depth and fast paced excitement. 4.5/5 Stars.
Anders, Charlie Jane. "Zootopia Is One of the Smartest Animated Films We've Ever Seen." Io9. Gawker Media, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. Mar. 2016.
Dries, Kate. "We Never Had Disney Movies Like Zootopia When I Was Growing Up, and That's a Shame." The Muse/Jezebel. Gawker Media, 7 Mar. 2016. Web. Mar. 2016.
Lussier, Germain. "One Animal in Zootopia Has More Individual Hairs Than Every Character in Frozen Combined." Io9. Gawker Media, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. Mar. 2016.