By: Andrew Haas
Disney Animation has been at the top of their game throughout this decade. They’ve made hit after hit with Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and the ever popular Frozen. So when it was announced that the company would be releasing two animated films this year, I was curious. I figured that Zootopia would be a simple fun film to pass the time waiting for their next big fairy tale Moana later this year. But after seeing this film and how clever and layered it is, I actually think Moana has some big shoes to fill.
In a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, has become the first rabbit police officer in the city of Zootopia. Feeling the need to be taken seriously, she takes a missing person’s case with the help of con artist fox Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman. During their investigation, they discover something bigger going on in the city.
Disney has done films about talking animals in human roles before, but this one is especially clever in its design. The animation is beautiful to look at as it shows off the practicality of how the city works. I could tell a lot of thought and effort went into putting the setting together and it truly is a sight to behold. One of the best pieces of the animation is when Hopps first arrives in Zootopia. She’s seeing the different areas of the city for the first time, and the audience is viewing it through her perspective. The viewer is amazed just as she is, and for good reason. I especially love the way the animators play around with scale. There are scenes that in any other police film would be considered standard fare. But since the characters, vehicles, and even buildings are of varying sizes, there’s a lot more creativity adding more excitement. Plus, there are plenty of things going on in the background, which is great for repeat viewings.
The story is where the film becomes really fascinating. The plot is like a typical buddy-cop flick. It even has some of the cliches. Luckily, most of it is well executed. There is plenty of good humor, from the sloth scene shown in the trailers to some clever references and in-jokes. I was actually surprised by how strong the drama in this film was. There are moments that get pretty intense for a family film. But then the overall themes come in, which are what most audiences are going to talk about after seeing this film.
The idea of this world is that predators and prey have evolved and are living together in “harmony”. But it turns out there’s still a lot of prejudice and stereotyping amongst each other. Sound familiar? Yep, this family Disney film starring cute animals is actually a commentary on the social issues and discrimination in our modern society. And that’s not me overanalyzing it as the film is pretty clear on what it’s trying to accomplish. A lot of what it has to say is surprisingly accurate in various ways and adds many deep layers to the story and characters. What I like most about this aspect of the film is that even when it’s obvious, it never becomes preachy or one-sided. It shows the issue as it is from the perspective of both prey and predator. In that regard, I feel that anyone can relate to these situations.
The characters are what help make the message strong. The two leads, Hopps and Wilde, have some of the best chemistry I’ve seen in a Disney film. Ginnifer Goodwin works as the rabbit fighting for her goals while facing prejudice and Jason Bateman is perfect as the sly fox forced into solving a case. They work off each other perfectly and the way their friendship grows is especially heartwarming. The side characters are also highly enjoyable. Idris Elba works as the tough police chief who can’t take Hopps seriously, J.K. Simmons is great as the mayor seeking votes from different demographics, and there are many more who add a lot of humor and emotion to the film. I don’t think there’s one character in this film that I didn’t at least find amusing.
Overall, Zootopia is one of the smartest films to come out of Disney Animation in years. Not since The LEGO Movie have I left a family film so surprised by how well-crafted and intelligent it was. The animation is stunning, the characters are fun to watch, and the themes are surprisingly deep and layered. Considering all the controversies that have been happening over the past few years, I don’t think this film could have come out at a more perfect time. It’s one of those rare films that I think is made just as much for adults as it is for children. I highly recommend this film to all ages.