Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush (co-director).
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk.
Plot Summary: After a lifetime of being raised to believe that everyone has their rightful place in the world, an earnest young bunny named Judy Hopps (Goodwin) defies all odds in becoming the first Bunny police officer and is assigned to work the streets of the anthropomorphic metropolis, Zootopia. Hopps, under-appreciated due to her size, makes the most of her daily task as a meter maid, but there are larger things at work in Zootopia as mammals go missing after reportedly “turning savage” – showing predator instincts that have long been repressed in Zootopian society – in particular a Mr. Otterton who disappears under mysterious circumstances. Hopps eagerly takes the case, but in order to solve it, she needs the help of a fox, Nick Wilde (Bateman) – the cynical con-artist who was the last animal to see Mr. Otterton – and together they have 48 hours to find the missing mammals and consequently unravel a conspiracy that could destroy the balance between predator and prey in Zootopia.
Review: One can assume that there’s always a moral message to be taken away from a kids movie, otherwise parents might start feeling less inclined to take the trouble to see them. With Disney, especially, the moral lessons tend to shine through most prominently in their stories, quite eloquently so, even if it’s not always subtle (Wall-E, Frozen, The Good Dinosaur). But seriously, leave it to Disney to lead the charge in tackling some of the major social issues of today and doing so (in typical Disney fashion) in the most accessible way possible that even grown-ups should be able to walk away with a lesson learned. Zootopia, Disney’s latest animated venture, goes in for the long haul by facing issues ranging from diversity, gender inequality, stereotyping and everything in between whilst managing to never feel preachy or patronizing, and still delivering in good humor and solid entertainment.
Once again, the animators over at Disney have a created a wonderfully elaborate world in Zootopia. The details of each individual character and various landscapes are as remarkable as ever. The various contradictions, nuances of the copious species on display of the animal kingdom are hilarious. From the trailers you have an example of the sloths who run the DMV (a scene I’ve seen so many times now, yet still hilarious), but it goes on with an overweight cheetah who works the front desk at the police station, two noisy antelope neighbors butting heads all night, Lemming mobsters with polar bears as their muscle – that last one was a real tickler, if only kids could understand Godfather references. It’s all good fun, and the story runs fairly steadily throughout with the main plot and antagonist remaining a mystery up until the end as Hopps and Wilde work through the investigation. There is a point at about half way, as the movie nears it’s final act, where you start to feel a lull and begin to wonder “Ok, where is this going?”. It is fairly consistent otherwise, the story goes through the motions, but that would honestly be my one complaint.
The voice cast, as you would have guessed, all do as good a job as most voice casts… if that means anything. Ginnifer Goodwin gives us a determined and overwhelmingly positive Judy Hopps, but not in annoying way like Joy came to be in last year’s Inside/Out. I read somewhere that initially she was supposed to be a side character, but here as the main protagonist I don’t think the movie would’ve worked without her relatable, contagiously upbeat character and makes for as fine role-model as any. As Jack Wilde, Jason Bateman also brings forward some good, relatable traits to the character. Being a fox who also faced discrimination for his species, Wilde lived up to the reputation that society already had him labeled as, becoming a con-man as an adult, only to partner up with (though reluctantly at first) Officer Hopps to later discover that he could actually have potential in the world were it not for the stereotypes held against him and his species. The chemistry between the two balances out nicely, and they are met with a fun array of characters throughout their adventure such as Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche), and Yax, the hippy yak (Tommy Chong), and so many more.
I’m going to indulge for a moment – what better way to tackle some of the aforementioned issues than through the animal kingdom? From early on, one could probably sum up the moral message and themes of the Zootopia within the first 10 minutes, but you’d only be half right. What starts with the typical “You can do anything if you put your mind to it” and “even a small person can have big dreams” progresses into “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and so on. I’m simplifying, of course, but that’s how they’re presented – mostly because it’s intended for children – but honestly the messages should resonate just as strongly with adults – painting, in broad strokes, a clear picture of the dilemmas of modern day society and breaking it down. In a way, Disney is talking to us like children because, frankly, we all act like children sometimes, especially when it comes to social issues. It beckons us to meet dreams and ambitions with encouragement and motivation; overcome ignorance or intolerance with understanding, perspective and education instead of adversity; instead of pointing the finger at people’s faults and wrongs, guide them down a better path. Sometimes, it just helps to consider these things, no matter how blunt or lacking in subtlety they may seem, especially in kids movies. The moral questions given in Zootopia are actually and genuinely thought out, and the answers given are just so.
Disney these days can often hit or miss. On the occasion that they have a hit, which isn’t altogether rare, they really knock it out of the park. The characters and animation in Zootopia are as good as ever and there’s something there for all audiences to enjoy – the goofy characterizations, the fun quirks, The Godfather references – whatever it is you enjoy in a Disney film, it’s all there. And whilst the kids can be swept away with the fun adventures happening on the screen, perhaps the rest of us can pause and actually consider the lessons that Disney are so eloquently bestowing on us and apply them to everyday life, instead of disregarding them as mere kids’ tales. Just a thought.