Review: Zootopia

Review: Zootopia

Drugs, criminal justice, racism, prejudice, stereotypes, gender norms, political corruption, classism,  and privilege. While these sound like themes covered in an episode of The Wire, these animated creatures have a lot to say about all of these topics. Zootopia is, on its face, a story about a bunny's attempt to defy the odds, but the story unfolds to deliver heft that is rare in any movie, let alone an animated one.  Zootopia delivers energy, candor and quality to match the very best of the genre. I could have watched these characters and lived in this beautiful world for hours more.

Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Judy Hopps (voiced mainly by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young female bunny determined to become the first bunny to become a police officer in Zootopia. She faces skepticism from every direction as her parents, boss (Chief Bogo, voiced by Idris Elba) and community think it is impossible. She perseveres through these challenges in an effort to prove herself over and over again. Along the way, she meets Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a sly fox with a good heart, who serves as the perfect partner for her in every way. If the movie had stopped there, it would have been a respectable effort in its own right, but thankfully, it keeps going. 

Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One of the overarching themes is largely socio-economic. The commonly repeated trope "Anyone Can Be Anything" sounds like a pithy slogan for capitalism and the free market. Our characters repeat this over and over, in part, as a reminder to themselves to "Try Everything," which is the message of the hit song by Gazelle (voiced by Shakira). Before Judy became a police officer, there was pressure to stay home and be what her parents were, carrot famers. There are constant subtle reminders of what the world expects for each of these creatures and it is only through self-affirmation that they are able to overcome. 

Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The other broad theme is best described as prejudice. If you look closely enough, you will see several different takes on prejudice, as the film seeks to identify the barriers we erect between ourselves on a daily basis. It calls into question the ways in which we stereotype others to make ourselves feel safer or to give ourselves an elevated position in society. These ugly practices play out in the most kid-friendly ways possible and the result is a film for everyone. 

Officer Hopps's duties unfold into a parable about the struggle between minority and majority, as prey and predator seek to co-exist. As in life, self-interested forces seek to manipulate a fine balance. Zootopia is meant to represent our most-prized American ideals and there are some in it who would rather divide. In an age where the rhetoric of Donald Trump dominates news coverage, Zootopia can't help but feel like something of a response. Officer Hopps represents our better selves and even she struggles to fully appreciate the effects of bigotry and her own role in furthering prejudices. "We may be evolved, but deep down, we're still animals."

Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

If this heavy message is the medicine our society needs, it is served with the most delightful candy coating possible. At no point will you forget this is a Disney film. There are laughs and surprises throughout.  Kids of all ages will love it and will take away messages at their own levels. And honestly, only the most perceptive adults will appreciate the most-nuanced allegorical elements. It is clear that a lot of thought and effort went into making Zootopia. If audiences put forth the same thought and effort while viewing, they will certainly be rewarded.

Zootopia is the first movie of 2016 you can officially put squarely in the Oscar race. In part because it has its own category (Best Animated Feature) and in part because it is just that good. Any audience can enjoy this one and every audience should. I implore you to see this one. 

 

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