Zootopia is filled with lovable characters and a heartfelt message for kids – along with a layered subtext for adults that is both timely and moving.
In a world where mammals have evolved from savage predators and meek prey into civilized anthropomorphs, small town rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer in the big city, Zootopia. In spite of her short stature, hard work and determination lead Judy to the top of her class at the police academy – and, thanks to a new mayoral initiative encouraging the hiring of small mammals on the Zootopia police force, Judy lands her dream job at the city’s central precinct. Unfortunately, even though Judy has support from the mayor’s office, she isn’t treated with the same respect by her fellow officers – and the 1st Precinct head, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), sidelines the new recruit with parking ticket duty.
Undeterred, Judy attempts to make the most of her job as a meter maid – until she is outwitted by a conniving fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Despite years of progress, relations between predators and prey can still be tense, even in Zootopia, and Judy is humiliated for letting a fox take advantage of her good nature; after all, Judy’s father had warned her, first and foremost, to steer clear of foxes. Bucking her reservations, Judy ultimately realizes that Nick possesses the street-savvy and local connections she needs in order to solve Zootopia’s biggest case: law-abiding mammals are going missing and Chief Bogo has no leads.
Brought to life by Walt Disney Animation Studios (the branch of Disney that is, most recently, responsible for Frozen and Big Hero 6), Zootopia was originally scripted by Jared Bush before collaborators Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) joined the project as co-directors. Fortunately, the more the merrier, as Bush, Howard, and Moore assembled a quality animated picture together: Zootopia is filled with lovable characters and a heartfelt message for kids – along with a layered subtext for adults that is both timely and moving. Poignant storytelling, vibrant animation, and memorable heroes produce an imaginative throwback to classic Disney animation for modern moviegoers.
Viewers, young and old, will relish in the Zootopia world – which features a clever mix of archetypal Disney tropes blended with pop culture references. Unlike lesser CGI animated films, which might lean hard on of-the-moment memes for cheap laughs, Zootopia is a timeless allegory – one that magnifies the features and, more importantly, the troubles of human society through a fictional mammalian civilization. Alongside clever bits that poke fun at the real world (such as a laugh-out-loud scene at the DMV – Department of Mammal Vehicles), Zootopia is, at its core, a cautionary tale of prejudice, discrimination, and overt xenophobia – arriving at a time when the world might need a reminder on the subject.
It could sound aggrandizing to suggest that a CGI animated film about a tie-wearing fox and a law enforcing rabbit, fighting crime in a city full of anthropomorphic animals, is one of the most socially progressive films in recent memory but Zootopia is deserving of the claim. Underneath its colorful animals characters, Bush, Howard, and Moore have delivered a treatise on fear of outsiders and “the other” as well as the nagging prejudices that plague even the most open-minded of people (and fictional anthropomorphs).
Based on those achievements, some moviegoers might worry that Zootopia is saddled by heavy-handed social-commentary, but Disney’s latest animated offering moves at a lively pace and can be appreciated on multiple levels. The reluctant friendship and subsequent banter between Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde serves as an engaging narrative backbone – punctuated by witty callbacks and clever character dynamics throughout (not to mention solid voice acting work from Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman). Thanks to nuanced parallels in Judy as well as Nick’s individual backstories, Zootopia succeeds in highlighting juxtapositions that further develop and compliment each character.
As in any good buddy duo film, neither hero is stronger or more developed than the other – allowing Judy and Nick to play off their respective idiosyncrasies in equal measure. Judy is an uptight but well-intentioned overachiever that inspires her friends to greatness and Nick is a laid back smooth-talker who, in spite of a good heart, still has a mischievous side. To than end, Zootopia takes tried-and-true buddy cop tropes and injects a fresh layer of conflict – playing up underlying tensions between predators (such as Nick) and prey (like Judy) in the city to reinforce the film’s message of tolerance. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities for the filmmakers to wind their characters up and watch the sparks fly.
That said, other characters in the film are relegated to small roles – pitstops along the way as Judy and Nick bounce from one corner of Zootopia to the next. The film’s villain, in particular, is half-cooked and woefully predictable, even in a movie aimed at kids, and certain support players are little more than one-joke set dressing; still, even the most thinly-drawn characters in Zootopia serve their primary purpose (to be entertaining) and lay a solid foundation for possible expansion in future series installments. In particular, fans, young and old, should be eager to see more of Flash (Raymond S. Persi), Officer Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche), and Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) – a testament to the strength of Bush’s world-building and the memorability of even the smallest Zootopia characters.
Zootopia is playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters – and the return on an upgraded ticket is especially subjective. Since Zootopia is CG animation, it looks great in 3D; yet, like most Disney 3D films, the director’s aimed for comfortable and immersive use of the depth, rather than pop-out effects – which may be underwhelming to viewers who want to notice 3D whenever they opt for the add-on. Similarly, despite being the first Disney animated film shown in IMAX since 2002’s Treasure Island, the IMAX format isn’t a necessity for Zootopia either; though, viewers who don’t mind paying for a premium ticket, shouldn’t hesitate either – since they’ll get to enjoy a great movie on a bigger screen size with sharper sound.
Even when Zootopia falls into animation and buddy cop movie traps, the filmmakers inject enough fresh material to ensure even the most familiar moments still entertain. The movie’s central stars, brought to life by superb computer animation and spirited voice work, are sure to be fan-favorites at in the theater, at home, and at Disney theme parks – setting the stage for a new Disney movie franchise (and, no doubt, future adventures in Zootopia). Beyond financial and artistic success, Zootopia‘s greatest strength is its message – which challenges moviegoers, young and old, to be more tolerant, compassionate, and loving. A blend of classic Disney-inspired animation and progressive social commentary, Zootopia is a delightful and humbling film – that also issues a timeless challenge: when it comes to accepting others, we still have a long way to go.
Zootopia runs 108 minutes and is Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. Now playing in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D theaters.
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