My God, is Disney on a roll. This entire decade has been one of the best the animation giant has ever had, with such remarkable films as “Tangled,” “Wreck-It-Ralph,” “Frozen,” and “Big Hero 6.” This year, they’ve added another worthy addition to their canon: “Zootopia,” which not only is one to see in theaters, but amazingly is also a very good movie released in March, a month not particularly known for boasting high-end movie products.
The biggest dream that Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has in life is to be a cop, despite the fact that no rabbit has ever become one. However, despite her size and the doubt that other animals have about her goal, she graduates police academy at the top of her class and becomes a cop at the Zootopia Police Department. Of course, things start off rough: instead of being a cop straight out of the gate, she gets assigned to parking duty by her cape buffalo police chief (Idris Elba), who doesn’t really care about Judy’s accomplishments; and her day goes off the rails when she helps out fox Nicholas Wilde (Jason Bateman) only to find he’s a con artist, and he instills some doubt in her. However, after she nabs a weasel who committed a robbery and takes on a missing persons (or in this case, otter) case, things start to get interesting…
The movie has been noted for its timeliness. The film’s main lessons about multiculturalism, racism, diversity and such are worthy and especially prescient considering that we’re faced with the prospects of various real-life aspects, including our incredibly diverse and multicultural world, the ending of Barack’s Obama presidency and coming to grips with his legacy, and the fact that we have to seriously consider the idea of Donald Trump being our next president. However, at least a couple of critics (I’ve noticed this from at least both Slate and The Daily Beast) make note about the complications of the film’s message, and I’m wont to agree. The film’s overall message could’ve been tighter.
For example: predators used to be dominant, but that age has since long been passed. However, despite being a minority in Zootopia’s population (like, 10 percent), the city’s mayor (a lion, voiced by J.K. Simmons) is a predator, and his underappreciated assistant mayor is a sheep, voiced by Jenny Slate. The lines that are drawn are muddled, but it’s worth noting that the film does show us clear signs of what they’re getting at. After Judy helps Nicholas and his (unbeknownst to her at the time) partner help them get a giant popsicle from an elephant-run ice cream shop helmed by a particularly prejudiced elephant, one of the things Judy calls Nicholas is “articulate”. You can already feel the air getting sucked out of the room reading this. Another scene is when Nicholas tells his backstory and why he became the way he is today. Also, in a pivotal moment, Judy tries to explain why the missing predators that have been found are now savage after being usually docile. Naturally, she makes everything worse because of that conference. That scene helps expose all the underlying biases (conscious or not) that are present, and it’s scenes like these where the film excels in getting its point across.
Apart from the lessons the film attempts to get across, Zootopia has a wide number of pleasures to recommend The cast is excellent, and some of them are just perfectly cast. Bateman, Simmons, and Elba are just perfect for their roles, and Goodwin (who plays Snow White in “Once Upon A Time”) should do animated films more often. As usual, the animation is terrific, and the detail is exceptional. The city itself is so vast that one movie cannot contain the intricacies it surely has to offer. Not to mention the film has some excellent gags. You’ve already seen the DMV run by sloths in the previews, and the film makes some good references to things ranging from “The Godfather” to “Breaking Bad.” (Yes, you read right.) However, even for a Disney film, it’s unusually self-aware, with references to not only past films and such, but (in one scene with the same weasel) future films to be released by Disney.
That’s not to say the film is perfect. As I stated previously, the film’s overall message could’ve been tighter. Otherwise, the twists and turns the movie takes with its compelling mystery leads to a dénouement that is perhaps less surprising than it had the potential of having. Also, the movie’s big song, “Try Everything,” isn’t great. I like Shakira (who voices the film’s big pop star, Gazelle) a lot, and has come out with some great music over her long career. It’s also great that the pop star that’s huge in Zootopia is voiced by a real life pop star from Colombia, and her father’s parents were from Lebanon. However, I would’ve enjoyed absorbing some of Shakira’s signature quirkiness. Despite getting a co-writing credit from Sia, the Stargate-driven song doesn’t boast the weirdness that makes both pop stars so compelling. Still, the movie could become enough of a blockbuster that the kids will drive the song into becoming another hit for Shakira, like they did for Idina Menzel and “Frozen”.
This early in the year, and already we have one remarkable animated film under our belt? Hard to believe, but it’s true. Zootopia helps continue Disney’s current renaissance, and it gives us reason to anticipate how their next film will turn out.