Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush.
Featuring the voice talents of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Octavia Spencer, Tommy Chong, Alan Tudyk, Maurice LaMarche, J.K. Simmons, and Shakira.
In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a fugitive con artist fox and a rookie bunny cop must work together to uncover a conspiracy.
Finally, a studio of talented artists, animators, and writers have collaborated on a feature involving animals that doesn’t use pee, feces, twerking, banal mainstream culture references, and other insulting cheap ideas to slap together a movie for a quick profit, because we all know regardless of quality, adults will pretty much take their children to see anything with talking creatures. The beauty of Zootopia (Zootropolis as it’s called in other parts of the world) is that it aims higher with mammoth-sized ambition to spin a buddy cop detective noir narrative that uses animals as an allegory for race relations, prejudice instincts, and equality.
Zootopia also doesn’t cram this in your face, as it’s also about the unbelievably charming determination of a bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) headstrong to prove herself as a competent police officer in a field typically handled by predator species. It’s another classic Disney story where the protagonist is repeatedly shot down (her parents tell her to give up on her dreams, her water buffalo police chief played by Idris Elba has no confidence in her and assigns her to be a meter maid, and more) except with a much more defined and well-written character at the center.
It goes without saying that Judy is a strong female character (and probably better written than most live-action female heroines), but her journey isn’t without faults and mistakes. Due to a traumatic childhood experience (and further brainwashing by her parents) she has developed a prejudice for foxes, and it’s triggered again as an adult on the force when she is conned by Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). The stroke of genius however is the mature, honest touch of the script to express that people aren’t born racist, and that personal experiences in life, along with misguided upbringings, shape them into who they are. Chances are, if you go around talking to a racist person, aside from being frustrated and wanting to bash your head in, you’ll probably uncover tidbits of their life at one point that hint at negative interactions with certain groups. Of course, some people are just assholes, but in this case, Judy is a complex character; the most fascinating part of all this is that she is just a bunny in an animated film.
Zootopia wisely sidesteps falling into the trap of correlating each species into a race. None of the characters are meant to speak for a specific demographic of the world, and more importantly, both Judy and Nick have their own triumphs of moral success and missteps along the way. The movie also has quite a few humorous jokes drawn from factual animal knowledge to serve as stereotypes, like the memory of an elephant. Zootopia, much like America, seems like a rather peaceful place but definitely has its boiling issues, and the movie admirably addresses that change starts with me, you, and us. It’s one of the finest takeaways ever for a film, and it comes from an animated Disney feature.
This isn’t just a sociopolitical exercise though, it’s first and foremost an investigation regarding a missing otter that is part of a much deeper crime. It’s also the location-to-location proceedings of the sleuthing that allow the writers to fully flesh out and develop this world. Forget the much advertised trip to the sloth-run DMV, there is also a stop at a nudist colony helmed by a yak played by Tommy Chong. Remember, the animals of Zootopia are all fully clothed, so Judy finds it awkward watching a bunch of naked animals doing yoga. But audiences will find it smartly hilarious.
There are admittedly segments of the investigation where the movie falls into a formulaic story that will be predictable for adults. Zootopia definitely works best when the filmmakers are only halfway stepping their feet into the detective aspect, so that they could remain consistently exploring the world that they’ve created and just how animals coexist, which is one of the film’s greatest strengths. With that said, the movie does make a recovery towards the end with a surprising emotional arc handled delicately, that will make audiences both sympathize and root for Judy.
Some of the framing device is honestly a little bit flawed, considering that Judy could easily look over Rodentia, seeing even as a small rabbit she towers over the inhabitants of that particular area. Why she isn’t just assigned there in never addressed. It’s also not really clear what many of the larger predators are feasting on, but throughout the film we do see glimpses of characters chomping on donuts and popsicles, so it is clear that they have adopted some sort of meat-free lifestyle. Shakira is also depicted as a singing gazelle promoting tolerance; it’s weird and a superfluous addition.
Even with those minor quabbles aside, Zootopia is one of the best films since the resurgence of quality Disney animated features with Tangled. This may be a five star review, but it’s also not even the best Disney creation of the decade, although it is pretty close. The tolerant message is handled with a great degree of precision, successfully functioning in tandem with the beautiful metropolis on display.
Disney could easily coast along making good money with basic stories assisting their state-of-the-art animation, but as of right now they are ambitious and keeping the new golden age rolling. It’s also worth noting that the detail of the animation is spectacular once again, actually using the mannerisms and designs to express the emotions of various characters. Whether it’s Judy’s ears drooped down or the shady facial structure and shifty eyes on Nick’s foxy face, the attention to detail make the offering even more impressive.
It’s also absolutely impossible to get through a review of Zootopia without mentioning this, so here goes. Someone needs to break into Donald Trump’s home, kidnap him, sit him down in his own personal theater, clamp materials to his eyelids Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange style so they remain open, and play Zootopia on a loop until the themes and messages sink in.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★