I didn’t quite know what to expect as I settled in for my screening of Disney’s Zootopia , directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and that’s probably for the best because if I had known in advance how charming this little film is it might have lessened its strong and delightful effect. What a delightful little film.
Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) has big dreams to become a police officer in the metropolis Zootopia, where all walks of animal life are invited to live and coexist together, and despite her parents trying to talk her down from her goals, she defeats the odds and is accepted. However, the problems end up being much greater than whether or not she’s skilled enough to be a cop, as this little rabbit finds herself in a precinct with much larger animals who are more immediately domineering. On her first day she’s assigned parking duty by Chief Bongo (Idris Elba), a no nonsense buffalo who believes that Judy is way out of her league. Giving herself a goal to dole out 200 parking tickets by noon on her first day in order to impress her chief, she’s distracted by a sly fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who believes that Judy is naive in her optimism, and that while Zootopia may appear to be a haven, in reality it is just as regulated by prejudice and the laws of animal nature as everywhere else. However, when given a missing mammals case with little to no resources at her disposal, Judy recruits Wilde to help, discovering along the way that there’s more to Zootopia than there seems.
From the expansive nature of the world building, the slick animation, the enthusiastic voice work done by a sprawling cast and a script that’s intelligent and warm, Zootopia is already shaping up to be a highlight of the 2016 cinematic year. Disney has created a few gems in the past couple of years in Wreck-It-Ralph and Big Hero 6, and Zootopia follows suit in injecting humor and heart into a film where you could have assumed on the outset to be hollow. With so much action and detail stuffed into a single frame, rather than feeling scattered and busy, it’s instead welcoming, telling viewers so much about the world they’re visiting without having to rely on lengthy and tiresome exposition dumps. A comedy, neo-noir, buddy cop film with dramatic tinges, there’s plenty of ways in which the film could have imploded under the weight of its lofty ideas but manages to soar because of them.
The artists involved have eyes for detail, which is something all the more impressive considering just how big and expansive the world of Zootopia is. From the specifics of each of the animals, from the snarling curl of a fox’s nose to the foot tapping of a rabbit to the marvelous and ridiculous existence of a sloth, the artists involved make sure to strike the perfect mix of the character and the animal nature they possess. Kinetically shot with a colorful and vibrant outlook, Zootopia subverts expectations through its details.
Goodwin and Bateman both do excellent work in their respective roles, bringing the characters to life in ways that make you forget that you’re watching an animated film. However, contrary to that thought, Zootopia never would have worked as a live action film, both due to the enormous scope of its vision, but also because in the end the film was a Trojan horse to trot out a storyline about racial biases and how they tear apart communities.
It’s just clever. Beyond the obvious influences and homages clearly inserted to get a chuckle from the adult audiences in attendance (successfully I might add), there’s also the abundantly clear allegorical message abut the dangers of generalizing, illogical fear and hatred inspired by prejudice, and living in a world that’s messy but crucially wanting to be accepting of all animals. In a world where bigotry and xenophobia still reign at large it’s alarming to see the point against both so strongly executed through the mouthpieces of animated animals. In Zootopia, the animals are more evolved than us, more willing to hear another out and readily jumping at the chance to open a discourse about what does and doesn’t define them. It’s not new for a kids movie to play with underlying messages or to draw in subtler motifs that may largely go over the heads of younger viewers, but Zootopia has made it blatantly clear what its message is. What it has done miraculously is making its message clear in different ways to both kids and adults. Adults will get the bigger, more universal themes, like when Judy tells her new co-worker that other rabbits can call each other cute but when other animals do it it’s offensive. Kids, on the other hand, will understand the message of accepting others for their differences, and in a world where we’re still battling prejudices on a daily basis that’s as good a starting point as any, especially through the eyes of someone as innocent as a child.
Zootopia is in theaters now.