Zootopia was one of Disney Animation's two major releases of 2016, the other being Moana. It was the first time ever that Disney Animation had two major releases in one year. Zootopia is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore and features voice work from Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, and J.K. Simmons. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
If time has taught us anything , it's that there's nothing that can charm little children like cute, furry animals that talk. Disney has assembled a massive and still-growing Hall of Fame of anthropomorphic animal characters over the years, spearheaded by the Disney mascot, Mickey Mouse. Now, of course, there is absolutely nothing new about Disney putting an animal character at the forefront of one of their animated features. We can go back to the likes of Bambi and Dumbo in a heartbeat for your earliest such examples. The thing is, I don't think any of Disney's prior animal centered features have been able to find such layered storytelling and effective thematic presentation as Zootopia is so successfully able to find. Zootopia is part comedy, part buddy film, and also part mystery, and it has enough animal entertainment to keep the younglings amused. Parents will appreciate the film's timely messages of prejudice and stereotypes, but it does make me think if kids seeing Zootopia will be able to see through the lines of what characters are saying and doing and realize that they too are being sent a message about accepting others, no matter how different their culture and/or lifestyle is from your own.
The title refers to the name of the metropolitan, animal-populated city where the majority of the film takes place. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an ambitious young bunny from the rural Bunnyburrow, and she hopes to fulfill her dream of one day becoming a police officer. This is met with severe admonishment from Judy's parents and friends, since there has never been a bunny cop before in the history of Zootopia. Most of the cops in Zootopia consist of larger, more intimidating animals like elephants, rhinos, and polar bears. Despite others' attempts at crushing her dreams, Judy perseveres and graduates from the Police Academy as valedictorian and moves away from home to become a member of the Zootopia Police Department (or just ZPD). Things get off to a rough start for Judy when she is assigned to parking duty by the ZPD's unfriendly African buffalo police chief, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). During parking duty, Judy meets the red fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who hustles Judy after she tries to stop and arrest him for one of his confidence tricks. The next day, Judy abandons her duty to stop and arrest a thieving weasel. Just when Judy is about to get fired for abandoning her post, an otter named Mrs. Otterton comes and pleads for someone to find her husband who went missing. Judy agrees to find the missing otter, who is actually one of fourteen different predator animals that are missing in Zootopia.
The central song that plays near the beginning and at the very end of the film is Shakira's "Try Everything." It's easy to see that the song is meant to go along with one of the film's most central messages: you can dream big and do anything that you put your mind to, no matter what anyone tells you. I also find it interesting how the song can describe what Zootopia accomplishes as a Disney film. It successfully blends all of the various genres that are appropriate for Disney, all while effectively communicating a worthwhile message that is important to both kids and adults. In other words, Disney "tried everything" (okay, not literally EVERYTHING, but you get my point).
- A young Judy Hopps explains in the film's opening minutes of how predator animals were once savage creatures that hunted on innocent prey. Over time, predators and prey learned to live in harmony together as predators grew past their aggressive nature. The idea of predator vs. prey is central to the mystery component of the film, as well as the most important cog of the film's themes of prejudice and stereotypes. Zootopia presents its messages in a non-preachy manner, and the story never slows to a halt for pretentious shove-it-down-your-throat talk.
- Zootopia is one of the most well-balanced animated films that I've seen in a long time when it comes to humor and references for both kids and adults. While kids will most likely get caught up with all of the cute animals, parents are most likely to get a laugh from moments such as Judy and Nick visiting the DMV, where all of the workers just so happen to be sloths (what other animal could possibly work at the DMV?). Nick and Judy also meet with a crime boss named Mr. Big whose Vito Corleone impression is spot on. There's even a Breaking Bad reference in there. Now that I think about it, what if Zootopia is secretly meant for adults?
- There aren't any major low points to speak of in Zootopia. It's a tightly coiled mystery buddy comedy that moves along at a fast pace, all while informing us on the messages and themes that it wants to tell.
There's really nothing else for me to say that hasn't been said already. Zootopia is memorable fun for people of all ages, and rightfully deserves to be up there with some of Disney's other animated classics. This film will be remembered for years to come for its gorgeous animation, fun characters, and timely themes. Keep being you, Disney.
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