Zootopia is the newest feature from Disney Animation Studios, and is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. It stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, a plucky young rabbit with grand dreams of becoming a great police officer. Her dreams seemingly come true when she becomes the first bunny cop in the city of Zootopia, a metropolis of anthropomorphic mammals of all kinds, where predator and prey live side by side in relative harmony. However, to her dismay, once there, she gets relegated to parking duty as a result of the other officers constantly underestimating her, especially the strict Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Ambitious and wanting to prove herself, she puts her job on the line and takes on a missing-animals case no other officer has been able to crack. Judy, with the begrudging help of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly hustler fox who takes pride in tormenting her, must follow the clues and uncover an insidious plot that threatens to plunge all of Zootopia into chaos.
What makes Zootopia stand out above most other animated films are the messages it wishes to convey. This children’s film about cute animated animals living in a colorful cartoon city is very much about the nature of prejudice, institutionalized racism, and the negative effect they can have on someone’s life. Throughout the film, they use the divisions between predator and prey as an analogue for different races that generalize each other and even themselves (predators are seen as strong, smart, and dangerous and prey as meek, dumb, and harmless). Zootopia uses this setup as a springboard to present the audience fairly complex concepts such as how treating someone differently according to a stereotype eventually causes them to conform to that label, as well as how bad past life experiences and even historical events between races can linger well into the present and impose misplaced animosity. The movie discusses how prejudiced disrespect of a person or people can push them to violence and set deep prejudices in them, and it even briefly touches upon how race issues can affect an institution’s public image and how politicians exploit racial pressures to further themselves. This film covers so many aspects of our racially charged society that it’s hard not to consider it an expertly crafted commentary of our world. In addition, with all these messages tied to the final moral of not assigning categories to people and then presented to children at an age when most deep set beliefs take shape, I can’t help believing that this picture might really play a large role in assuaging kids from becoming prejudiced towards others. Does the film execute its themes flawlessly? No. There are one or two moments when the points it wants to get across are made a little too obviously and in your face so that the meaning gets obscured by some brief ensuing awkwardness. But those moments are few and far between, leaving the film a marvel of a children’s feature and a fantastic potential learning experience for kids.
Remove all the morals, themes, and preaching from Zootopia and you still have a spectacle of cinematic entertainment. Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy Hopps with an infectious amount of enthusiasm and cheer. Jason Bateman’s witty and sarcastic Nick Wilde is a joy to watch. They have fantastic chemistry together and by the end of the film, you really do care about these two and their endeavors. The entire movie is chock full of likable, fun characters and the vibrant, dynamic and endlessly detailed universe of Zootopia is a sight to behold. The animation and voice acting are of the highest caliber you can expect from Disney, and the story is intriguing and emotional. However, I have some microscopic hang-ups with the humor. Where for the most part it is funny and witty, there are a couple jokes that are a bit too obvious. Other than that any issues I could have with the feature would be hyperbolic nitpicking. With it’s seamless and smart execution of its message and mastery of most other areas, Zootopia is a neatly woven tapestry of a movie that digs deep into real world conflicts. I will give Zootopia an A and highly recommend it as a must-see to lovers of animation, Disney, or just well crafted movies of any variety.
By Sam Finbury