ZOOTOPIA Movie Review
Delightfully fun, heartwarming, and surprisingly socially relevant, Zootopia is yet another triumph for Disney, a wonderful film for all ages, and the best film of the new year.
Handling topics like prejudice, stereotypes, and racism in movies can be extremely difficult, especially at a time when they are front and center on the news every night. So, naturally, it only makes sense to try and tackle them in an animated film headlined by a bunny and a fox. If this were virtually any other studio, this could be a colossal failure that would be lamented for years. Disney is no ordinary company though, and although their record isn’t spotless they have been on fire both critically and financially in recent times. A bunny and a fox teaching people about some of the touchiest matters surrounding America today? Sure, why not?
Zootopia takes place in an alternate universe compromised entirely of animals where all species live in peace and harmony. However, all is not perfect. While animals are rarely violent towards one another, there are still issues of animals not being able to accomplish the things they want in life due to misconceptions of what different species are truly capable of. In the case of Judy Hopps, a rabbit from Bunnyburrow, her goal is to become a police officer, the first of her species to do so. Judy quickly finds that although she is allowed onto the force, cape buffalo Police Chief Bogo has no intention of letting her make the difference she wants in the world. A chance encounter with Nick Wilde, a sly red fox, shows Judy that Zootopia is not always the place she though it was and just what people think of her as a cop. Judy demands Bogo give her a chance to investigate the rash number of animal disappearances plaguing the city and is even willing to stake her job on her ability to solve the crime in 48 hours. In order to do so, Judy must enlist the help of Wilde, a character witness at the last known location of a missing victim, to track down the missing animals before she loses her job, and potentially even more.
In many ways, Zootopia is not altogether different in formula than most other Disney films in that it follows the structure of what I call “the buddy adventure flick”; following two characters who have little in common, and a great deal in differences, while they work together to discover aspects of themselves they never realized, or never wanted to, while helping solve a common goal and becoming friends in the process. Disney and Pixar use this design to near perfection in the majority of their movies and it is once more apparent here, just like it was in 2014s Inside Out and most films preceding it. Zootopia could have been extremely stale, dry, repetitive, and, quite frankly, boring. But yet it wasn’t, and one of the largest reasons why is that it has more resonance than films that go out of their way to cram messages about race and stereotyping while making people more uncomfortable than actually changing their perspective. Guilt can be a powerful motivating factor to impart change, but perspective can be just as important, if not more so, in facilitating the change you desire. Zootopia gives the latter while still accomplishing the former.
Zootopia’s success rode on the audience’s ability to connect with its main characters, and not just children but adults as well. Although it saddens me to see so many career voice actors not getting the roles they once did and seeing them go to already well-paid celebrity actors, I can take some semblance of solace when the performances are well done. Luckily for Zootopia, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman bring their best in roles perfectly suited for their voices, and characters perfect for them. Goodwin’s constant upbeat tone is constantly thwarted by Bateman’s sarcasm that masks a greater pain and more depth. Even at points where you can see exactly where the story is headed, Goodwin and Bateman make the film feel fresh with their banter and outstanding vocal chemistry. The remainder of the cast, which includes Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, and Nate Torrence among others, performs admirably, though few stick out aside from their significance in popular culture.
Although it seems commonplace by this point, Zootopia is yet another beautifully animated Disney film that showcases the company’s ability to stay on the cutting edge of technology in the field while making it abundantly clear who they are marketing their movies to. Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore strike a fantastic balance in both the visuals and the pacing of the film, which does suffer ever so slightly from inconsistencies that are not altogether different from those of a noir/crime “whodunnit” style mystery, as Judy and Nick go from point to point trying to solve the case. Elements of drama and humor, as well as the aforementioned social influences, blend together seamlessly in moving the plot along while giving audiences the perfect break from the main narrative. Pop culture references are abound ranging from movies like The Godfather and even subtle jabs at Disney’s own Frozen, to more adult based jokes that children are unlikely to understand.
In evaluating Zootopia as a whole, it is rather difficult to point out obvious flaws as opposed to personal preferences as to what direction the film should have gone. Are many of the side characters as fleshed out as they could have been? No. Does the story fall into many of the tropes of the animation/buddy cop genre? Yes. Are there frequent moments of humor that feel as if they are included merely for a one-off laugh? Yes. Yet none of these critiques is altogether different from many other excellent animation films, or most blockbuster caliber films for that matter. Some movies set out with a vision and accomplish it, but it isn’t what the audience was expecting. Zootopia gives audiences of all ages exactly what they want, and then some. Above all else, Zootopia reminds us that even though the characters we grow to love onscreen are animals, they teach us more about how we as humans should treat each other with kindness and compassion than many other films have done in years. Just like the citizens of Zootopia, we may not be perfect, and we may never get to that point, but we can at least try to help each other along the way.
Zootopia is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and features the voice talents of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, and Nate Torrence.