Not since The Song of the South has Disney tackled race and class issues as head-on as in Zootopia. Despite their origins, Mulan and Aladdin barely looked at those issues, probably because the studio was still gun-shy due to the reactions The Song of the South received and so trying to avoid making that well-meaning but ultimately badly received mistake again. (I get why South was slammed, and don’t argue with those reasons, but Uncle Remus was the hero, and one of the only decent adults in that movie, and it dealt with class issues in America in a way that children could understand, so I don’t hate it in the way many do.) But Zootopia is, make no mistake, an animated feature about race relations in America. Pointedly. It’s also a very entertaining animated feature about adorable animals who are dealing with race relations.
Basically the plot is a rookie police officer and a con artist have to team up to save the city from a nefarious conspiracy that’s trying to pit the various races against each other. Only with adorably animated animals, not people.
We start off with a little kids’ play, where the actors are describing how they once were predators and prey, but now all live in harmony together. And we’re immediately shown that this noble sentiment isn’t actually true. Not even in the Big City of Zootopia is this actually true.
Our heroine, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who dreams of becoming Zootopia’s first rabbit police officer. Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is a con artist fox who’s given up on the “dream” of integration. Judy manages to graduate from the Academy at the top of her class but she immediately faces resistance from her commanding officer in terms of assignments (hello G.I. Jane). Nick distrusts the system, rightly as near as we can tell. Judy is adorable, but only rabbits can call each other “cute” – it’s an insult if any other animal does so. Nick once tried to integrate, but was attacked for his optimism and now lives as outside the system as he can. Judy is upbeat and bouncy, Nick is sly and charming. All the animals, regardless of whether they’re predators or prey, distrust the foxes.
While there are female animals of all kinds on the force and in positions of power, it’s pretty clear that you can interpret the rabbits as the Female characters, Judy in particular. And while there are plenty of predators who are around, it’s abundantly clear that the foxes are standing in for Black characters. As in, this is a buddy cop movie between the police force’s first Female officer and a Black criminal with a heart of gold. 48 Hours for the kids. Breaking Bad for the kids, too, since the conspiracy that Judy and Nick stumble into relates to what sure resembles blue meth.
Of course, the other movie homages will fly over the kids’ heads. However, one very terrifyingly realistic scene with major predators will scare the crap out of little ones. In the premiere we were in, at least three children were screaming in terror, several were crying, and many looked rather stunned and scared as they were leaving the theater. It’s a Disney movie and it’s rated PG – seriously, parents, please pay attention to that. It’s rated PG, meaning that some of your younger kids are probably not ready for this movie. That one scene is bad enough, but it’s following another terrifying scene with a major predator after our heroes. This has a lot of scary in it for little ones, and because it’s in the really good form of 3D – as in, the 3D creates an immersive feeling, so you feel that you’re IN the movie, versus “throwing” things at your head – it feels frighteningly real. I’m a great big grown up girl and I jumped out of my seat at the part where the kids were screaming. If your children are more sensitive, wait for this to come out on DVD/Blu-ray.
My biggest complaint with the movie is the trailers. They give away literally all but one plot twist. Because I’d seen the trailers, I knew most of what was coming, meaning that the trailers have stolen the enjoyment of the movie’s twists, turns, and surprises from a good portion of their audience. (I mean, seriously, does anyone doubt that Good Will Triumph and Judy will prove her worth? Anyone? Bueller? Right, so showing us the surprises is taking away the only things we don’t know going in.) It’s why this review is somewhat vague – the trailers have already ruined enough, as far as I’m concerned. Go in and enjoy what hasn’t been shown to you already.
The voice work was universally good. I had no idea who was voicing the characters, meaning they were the characters, versus me being able to say, “Wow, So-And-So is doing such a great job.” That’s much harder than it sounds (heh) and the entire cast was stellar. The animation is excellent, vibrant and, as stated earlier, immersive. The storyline is exactly what you’d expect from a buddy cop movie, but that’s fine because that’s the storyline we as audiences like for the buddy cop genre. The movie’s pacing is spot on, with only one scene that made me go “um, what, that seems out of place” early on, with characters that are enjoyable, sweet, scary, dangerous, and heroic.
Yes, the racism parallels are obvious and, for older viewers, a little heavy handed. But you know what? The mere fact that Disney felt that this movie was necessary (it is) to hopefully start changing the hearts and minds of little children still dealing with ridiculous race and religion prejudices (please let this help, and maybe affect their parents, too) means that this is possibly the most important movie Disney’s done in a long time. Following on the very successful heels of Frozen and Big Hero 6, both of which dealt with important societal issues in an entertaining way, I’m hoping that Zootopia succeeds and succeeds well. And I’m really hoping that, sooner as opposed to later, movies like Zootopia won’t need to be made, because the harmony they’re espousing as the highest goal (it is) will have finally been achieved.
Hey, just like Judy Hopps, a girl can dream, right?
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.
Voice Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, John DiMaggio
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Co-director: Jared Bush
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Following on the very successful heels of Frozen and Big Hero 6, both of which dealt with important societal issues in an entertaining way, I’m hoping that Zootopia succeeds and succeeds well. And I’m really hoping that, sooner as opposed to later, movies like Zootopia won’t need to be made, because the harmony they’re espousing as the highest goal (it is) will have finally been achieved. Hey, just like Judy Hopps, a girl can dream, right?