One film from Disney that has been somewhat under the radar and hiding underneath other “bigger” Disney films like Inside Out has been Zootopia. It might be because Disney is taking a big chance on the venture. It’s not a princess movie which automatically comes with a large fan base nor is a take on well-known story. It is also the first Disney movie to feature talking animals who stand on two feet and wear clothes since The Great Mouse Detective in 1986. (I guess some of the animals wore clothes in The Rescuers Down Under in 1990, but that doesn’t really count.) Fortunately though, Zootopia is generating great reviews and currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and with good reason. The film is fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about it. In fact, the only negative thing I can say about it is that it has a very ambiguous name. Then again, it’s better than “The Brave Bunny Who Saved the Day.”
For animation fans, Zootopia is beautiful to look at. Every scene is full of pastel colors, incredible detail and lots of little gags that you can’t possible catch in just one viewing. Though we have never seen these characters, they have a very distinctive Disney look about them. To top it off, it’s an all-new story, so you don’t know how it is going to end.
Little children will enjoy the movie just because they love cartoons, but parents might be surprised just how “adult” this cartoon really is. The animals are still cute and cuddly, but this isn’t an extended version of a Disney Jr. show. Nope, this movie was made with older kids in mind with lessons that everyone can learn from with references to subject matters not usually found in children fare. For instance, would you ever expect to see a reference to the mafia or Breaking Bad in a Disney Cartoon? Don’t worry, it’s subtle enough to go over little one’s heads, it isn’t offensive and believe it or not, it actually goes along with the story.
Zootoppia starts out with Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) blazing the trail from little rabbits everywhere as she leaves her comfortable family carrot farm to join the police force in the big city of … well, you know. Her parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) are not thrilled by this idea. They tell her that she should play it safe and settle for a more safe life like they did. But Judy is determined and becomes the first rabbit to join the force. Judy seems to have read somewhere that you can be anything you want to be in Zootopia and everyone loves each other. Of course, things don’t quite work out that way. Still, ever the optimist, Judy is ready to make a difference in this new world. No one really takes her seriously and she is assigned parking duty. It is only after a series of events that she gets assigned to a special missing persons case and the story turns into a mystery/adventure story.
Early on in the film we learn that Judy was once bullied by a fox, so it is interesting that later she finds herself working with one. Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is a less-than-honest fox and could possibly be a creature that her parents warned her about. Judy decides to give him the benefit of the doubt fighting her own prejudice knowing that all foxes are not the same. But maybe they are?
Zootopia also smartly takes on race and gender equality issues in a clever way. In one scene, there is a soda fountain that only caters to elephants and when a non-elephant wants to make a purchase, they are refused. In another scene, one character refers to the rabbit heroine as a “cute little bunny” to which she tells them politely, “I don’t know if you are aware, but it is okay for rabbits to refer to each other as cute bunnies, but it is not okay for you to do so.” Neither point is belabored nor do they feel like a public service announcement. Without giving any plot points away, just know that the issue of predators versus everyone else, and the prejudice that goes with it, is presented.
Even the movie’s theme song, sung by this world’s pop star Gazelle (Shakira) is uplifting. The lyrics to “Try Everything” sound like they were written by Judy Hopps, stating how she is going to “try everything” and when she fails, she will get up and try again. The catchy tune is played near the beginning and finishes the film out during the credits. Like “It’s a Small World,” it will stay with you for days. I did question the fact that Gazelle’s clothing is a bit skimpy and that she have a quartet of buff tigers only wearing pants dancing around her, but my son pointed out that all he noticed was that the Gazelle was surrounded by a bunch of predators but they all got along just fine. In short, Zootopia is a great place to visit, except maybe skip the DMV.
(Main Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.