The Disney Empire has grown substantially over the past few years. After the company bought Marvel and Lucasfilms, they began growing both franchises to monolithic successes. But, even with all these new properties, the company has remembered its roots, and continuously puts out quality animated movies, ones the whole family can enjoy together. When they first abandoned their classic 2D animation format in favor of 3D animation similar to Pixar, there was much speculation on whether they could keep that Disney magic alive. Well, with such huge success as Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and, of course, Frozen, Disney has shown that they are still the crème de la crème of the animation world. Their latest movie, Zootopia, is a testament to this very fact, and will fit perfectly amongst the ranks of Disney classics.
In a world populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals, young bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwyn) dreams of becoming the first rabbit police officer in the city of Zootopia, a utopian city where predator and prey live together in peace and harmony. After a lot of hard work, her dream becomes a reality, but when she shows up for work, Judy quickly discovers that she is nothing more than a diversity hire, and is quickly relegated to the menial post of traffic duty. However, after a string of disappearances overloads the police department, Judy is given her chance to shine when she takes on the case of a missing otter. With her job on the line and only 48 hours to solve the case, Judy must team up with the sly and cunning fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). As the two quickies discover, Zootopia holds many dark secrets, and not all is as great as it appears.
It’s impossible to talk about this movie without first discussing the themes that are such an important part of what makes this so culturally relevant. Zootopia’s ultimate goal is to inspire a message of unity and inclusiveness, while cleverly camouflaging that message in a talking animal buddy cop movie. The movie tackles racism, sexism and xenophobia in a way that doesn’t feel like the audience is being talked down to, but also does not make light of the matter. This kind of message is especially important in today’s cultural climate, where things like the “Oscars So White” controversy are becoming more important to the public consciousness (and rightly so). Though I’m sure the subtleties of the message will be lost on the younger viewer, that doesn’t matter because little kids will still get a very funny, colorful and fast-paced animated film that is sure to make them excited. Older kids and adults, however, will understand the film’s message, and it’s that ability to please both young and old that separates Zootopia from more maudlin kid movies like Minions or Kung Fu Panda 3.
The animation here is unbelievable, and a true testament to how far animation technology has come in the past few years. There is a large part of me that still misses those old days of classic 2D Disney animated movies, but that side of me is quickly silenced when I see just how beautiful 3D animation can make films look. Every character and location is seamlessly brought to life, and the screen is constantly filled with things to admire and look out for. There’s also no denying the incessant cute factor that comes from these talking animals. I will say that there are a little too many night-time scenes which makes it a little hard to appreciate the quality animation and that problem only intensifies when seeing the movie in 3D, which makes it even darker.
Zootopia’s major weakness is in its story. Not that it is bad or anything, just a pretty average, by-the-numbers police mystery. All the major twists can be easily spotted long before they happen, and the character beats are also pretty expected. Thankfully, it’s the humor in Zootopia that makes you look past these flaws. The film is peppered with great visual gags, one-liners and jokes that kept me chuckling throughout. The DMV sloths have figured heavily into the movie’s marketing, and though they are amongst the movie’s funniest ideas, I had seen the trailers so many times that they lost their effect when I saw the actual film. What also makes Zootopia so great is that it is filled to the brim with references; so much so that it encourages multiple viewing just to see them all. These references mostly include other Disney properties (Frozen especially) but what surprised me most was the fact that Zootopia also had nods to things no kid would ever know. For example, there is a lengthy Breaking Bad reference towards the end of the movie that made me laugh hysterically; I could not believe that I was seeing a joke about that show in a kid’s movie.
As with most Disney animated films, the voice cast is terrific, and each actor perfectly fits the character they are bringing to life. Ginnifer Goodwin brings a lot of sweetness to Judy Hopps, Jason Bateman brings the loveable craftiness to Nick Wild and Idris Elba is excellent as the tough bull police captain. Other smaller parts include JK Simons as Zootopia’s lion mayor, Jenny Slate as the bubbly SHEEP assistant mayor who forms a bond with Judy over their shared status as prey, and Alan Tudyk who gives his voice to a weasel who holds a very funny connection to the character Tudyk voiced in Frozen.
There is very little to complain about with Zootopia, and even its somewhat routine plot can be overlooked because it’s the world of Zootopia itself and its allegorical connections to our world that make the movie what it is. It is one of the more important animated films we have had in years, and sets a good precedent for what Disney will hopefully be doing in the future. It has a very important message, made even more relevant by what has been happening in the media recently, and it delivers laughs for kids and adults alike. The only question I have left for Disney is… How long until we finally get Frozen 2?