Millions of years ago, in a world without humans, predators and prey evolved out of their hunting and gathering ways, abandoned their adversarial relationship, and built a modern civilization of peace and cooperation together. Zootopia is a major city in this anthropomorphic world, and serving on its police force is the dream of one small country rabbit, Judy Hopps. Against all odds, and through hard work and determination, she manages to accomplish her dream and joins the force.
Despite her accomplishments, she finds that her struggles aren’t over. The captain of the police doesn’t have any faith in her abilities and assigns her to meter-maid duty. She reluctantly carries out her assignment until she witnesses a robbery in action. Abandoning her post, she chases and arrests him, but when she returns to the station the chief berates her and goes to fire her when an otter arrives asking desperately for help finding her missing husband. Judy volunteers to take the case and the assistant mayor, who shows up at the station fortuitously, is pleased.
The chief is frustrated, but to allows Judy to take the case under the condition that if she doesn’t solve it in forty-eight hours she will turn in her badge and leave the force. From here, Judy, with the aid of a fox con artist named Nick Wilde, goes on an investigation that takes many twist and turns, and they find themselves at the center of a problem much bigger than they had ever suspected.
From watching the trailers, the film would immediately appear to be for children, what with all the anthropomorphic creatures and jokes. It’s not that this is entirely wrong. There are plenty of jokes, and the world is indeed full of animated anthropomorphic creatures, which does lend itself to the enjoyment of a kid audience. However, the film has much more to offer than that.
In many ways, the film is just as much aimed at adults as it is children. A lot of the humor is directed at elements of the adult world, and they will get the most out of the jokes and the clever sight gags. The plot is much more mature than your typical children’s film, and the characterization is far more nuanced. More than that, the film deals with complex social issues like sexism and racism in clever ways while managing to avoid feeling preachy, which could have sunk the whole movie.
So, in short, this film is for everyone except people who either hate animation or anthropomorphic animals. That is to say this film is for almost everyone except stick-in-the-muds.
“Zootopia” is easily the best animated film this year, and probably for the last several years. I feel that it matches a lot of Pixar’s most recent work, even if it doesn’t quite match the pure magic of Pixar’s best. The plot is very well done with genuine mysteries and surprises, all of which make sense and fit together in a cohesive whole. The characters are loveable and complex, and they can make mistakes and hurt and forgive each other. The humor is witty. The world is thoroughly realized and gorgeous. The music is good and fits well. On top of all these things, which would have already made for a fine film, “Zootopia” manages to fit in sharp social commentary that not only doesn’t distract or detract from the characters and plot, but rather is an integral part of both.
In other words, “Zootopia” is…
If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.
I can’t get over how beautiful this world is that Disney has crafted. Of course Disney’s studios are a finely tuned art and graphics apparatus, but it still feels like somehow they’ve managed to hit a new high. The city of Zootopia is itself a character in the film. It is divided into districts with different climates and geography, such as a desert district, an arctic district, a jungle district, etc. Each of them is lovingly detailed, and the plot manages to swing through several of them, giving the viewer a chance to experience a swath of what the city has to offer. Every single creature feels like a real unique character in this world, even the background characters.
All the pretty graphics in the world would have been worthless, however, if it were paired with lousy characters in a lazy plot. Thankfully that is not what we got. Judy Hopps is a great heroine, played to perfection by Ginnifer Goodwin. Viewers will want to root for her from the second they see her, a tiny child rabbit in her police officer costume, from the time she stands up to bullies, to struggling to overcome the challenges of the training academy and again later through the inter-office prejudices she faces.
Her trials feel very much to be a commentary on sexism. She is seen as weaker, smaller, less capable and just not suitable for a job that tends to require a certain amount of dominating physical presence. Even when she proves herself by catching a thief, she isn’t celebrated, but berated for not filling a role. It comes across in smaller moments too. A friend (someone who really has no room to use stereotypes, mind you!) questions her natural ability to drive.
Despite the fact that we are supposed to root for her and empathize with her she isn’t portrayed as perfect. She makes very impacting mistakes that hurt her close friends, for all that she means well. She holds some measure of her own prejudices, even if she isn’t conscious of them. This makes her feel all the more real and she becomes someone we can truly empathize with because of it. Most people have at some point put their foot in their mouth and hurt someone they love, after all.
Nick Wilde, the wonderfully sarcastic and clever con artist fox, is fantastically portrayed by Jason Bateman. Nick seems to fit the stereotype of the con artist all too well when he first enters the story, but as the layers are peeled back we witness his troubled past, his terrible insecurities, and ultimately he becomes perhaps the more sweet and empathetic of the films’ characters.
Other characters of note include Idris Elba’s imposing police chief Bogo; J.K. Simmons’ Leodore Lionheart, the lion mayor of the city; his assistant mayor, Dawn Bellwether, played by Jenny Slate; Maurice LaMarche’s hilarious “Mr. Big,” and many more. Every single one of them is performed excellently and fit their parts to a “T,” filling out the world and adding wrinkles to the plot.
Speaking of the plot, it is artfully unfurled in small chunks, beginning with a focus on one missing person and slowly growing in scope and implication until the ripples of consequence rock the entire city of Zootopia. While I will save specifics for the Spoiler Talk section, the fallout centers on issues that parallel racism perfectly, with seeds of distrust planted in the cracks between the predator and prey populations, and how this distrust can dissolve not only the bonds of society, but the friendships of individuals. Without spoiling exactly what happens, the resolution is a happy one, and perhaps a little idealistic, but what is Disney if not a peddler of hopes, fantasies, and dreams?
All of this sounds potentially very serious, but the film manages an impressive amount of levity and humor, though it is skewed far more to the adults than I would have expected. The kids will laugh at how painfully slow the sloths move and how they frustrate Judy, but only adults will get the added layer that comes from the sloths all working at the DMV. The best part of the humor is the layered nature of it all. There is some small bit of slapstick, but there are also jokes and funny uses of logic in the environment, multiple layers of meaning behind the witticisms, clever references to other films and stories, visual and verbal puns, and much more. It never undercuts or overrides the plot and characters, but is used to bolster it.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
“Zootopia” is a fantastic film. It’s a little hard to say how it will stand the test of time, so I’m unsure if it will join the pantheon of animated classics that includes gems like “The Lion King” and “Toy Story.” Even if it doesn’t quite reach those heights of iconic power and pathos, it is a film that speaks to our time with a sharp eye and a deft hand. The film has no major weaknesses. As of right now it’s a shoe-in for best animated film at the next oscars, and I’m already saving space on my shelf. “Zootopia” is an “Excellent” film.
I want to visit Zootopia pretty badly. I fell in love with that city. I need a virtual reality tour yesterday. Also, they are crazy advanced technologically to maintain those environments like that. Why aren’t they in space yet?
While the plot was generally pretty darn good there were a few weak spots that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film but exist nonetheless. How is there a plant that makes people go savage when they eat it and it isn’t public knowledge? It’s being used by farmers to keep their crops safe, for pete’s sake! Also, the second I saw that the bad guys were mostly sheep I suspected the assistant mayor, a sheep herself, was behind it all. I feel they did a good job obstructing that train of thought until then, but perhaps if they mixed in multiple types of prey it wouldn’t have been so obvious up until the big reveal.
I truly loved how nuanced their handling of racism was, especially in how unconscious prejudices play into our actions and behaviors. Judy was a truly goodhearted person who was a friend to Nick, but as she demonstrated when she grabbed for her fox repellent after her disastrous press conference, even she suffers from perceptions she can’t entirely control.
As a white person who loathes racism, the idea that there are some unconscious notions floating around in my brain is both frightening and sobering. The amount to which we have to be aware of the impact of our words and actions feels enormous. I first became aware of this through a friend of mine who helped me expose some of my own failings in these areas, and I owe him a great debt, though since his death I will never be able to pay it back.
I do not know that there is a clear way to solve these problems, though if there is any way, the key is honesty, repentance and forgiveness in our failings. I got a little misty eyed when Judy went to apologize to Nick. Hit me right in the feels.
The commentary on sexism was also spot on, and was it just me or does the officer at the front desk seem like he might be an unspoken gay character? Disney has been pretty progressive lately. It’s a real switcheroo from how many people perceive their portrayals of classic gender roles in their earlier films, though I think it’s arguable that putting women in leading roles in stories at the time, even if they were typically very damsel-in-distress-y, was still a little more progressive than we typically credit them for.
I don’t have a paragraph to write about each of these things, so here is a list of stuff I loved in this film:
- The tiny elephant costume
- Little Rodentia
- Mr. Big
- The howling wolf guards
- The complex portrayal of the lion mayor, doing shady but not strictly bad things for both the right and wrong reasons.
- The character turn-around of the fox bully from Judy’s childhood. I’ve known people just like that.
- The sloth driving the fast car at the end.
- The portrayal of how the media doesn’t help anything. It just makes bad stories worse.
- Politicians using race issues to propel themselves to power? Sound familiar? That is astute commentary.
- The “naturalists.”
Finally, on a very different note, I feel like there should be a parental advisory warning on Google image searches for Zootopia. There is no way that the furry community hasn’t already latched onto this and made a mountain of animated porn. There hasn’t been a gift to that community this big since Disney’s animated Robin Hood. I’m just worried that this will become a story in the news and serve as bad press for the film and Disney at some point. So to all my readers, beware. Unless… you know… you’re into that kind of thing. To each their own. You’ll find no judgement from me.
Anyways, see you guys later!