In the interest of journalistic integrity, let’s get one thing straight: I am a magic believing, pixie dust bleeding, Dole Whip eating, grim grinning, diehard life-long Disney fan.
I knew I was going to enjoy the animation giant’s new release right away.
I’d seen the different trailers, such as the crowd pleasing Sloth DMV spot, dozens of times, especially at Disneyland. But one clip that really caught my eye featured Zootopia’s version of the Godfather, a tiny shrew named Mr. Big.
But even with all the trailers and cute references, I still didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
On a basic level, Zootopia is a brightly-colored, beautifully animated police/buddy comedy about the cutest damn animals you have ever seen.
Judy Hopps (voiced with warmth and confidence by Once Upon a Time’s Ginnifer Goodwin) is a small bunny with big dreams–to be the first bunny cop for Zootopia, the sprawling metropolis of hundreds of animals living together.
She’s continually told she’s too small or that a life of complacency and farming is safer. But her strong personality, brains, and need for justice in the world pushes her through the police academy to success, only to be placed on parking duty.
After the case of a missing otter becomes known, Judy finally finds an opportune moment to prove herself, with severe consequences if she fails.
With the help of a hustling fox, named Nick Wilde (played with mesmerizing charm by Jason Bateman), the two of them learn to overcome their biological bias of prey vs. predator and try to solve the ever evolving case.
But Zootopia is much more than that.
A small part of it is a Matthew Vaughn (director of Kingsman & Kick-Ass) like love letter/satire of the Disney anthropomorphic animals that came before Nick and Judy. Another part of it is clever jokes for the older audience members (like the aforementioned Mr. Big). The rest of it, however, is a biting look at race and gender relations in today’s society.
The intricacy of the themes feels more like a Sundance drama then it does a children’s movie. There were times I was uncomfortable (in a good way) about how close events in the film were to reality.
Although it presented some mature topics for kids, I felt they were delivered in an easy to understand way, much like how Avatar: the Last Airbender delivered it’s themes. And just like my generation before them, today’s kids won’t understand any of the intense messages, but they will understand the usual Disney message of “be kind to others no matter the differences” and “follow your dreams“.
In later years, however, these future young adults will watch in awe as they realize what Zootopia is really about.
It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago, Disney was clamoring for new ideas and releasing sequels of their beloved franchises, (*cough cough* Mulan 2, Bambi 2, Tarzan 2, Fox and the Hound 2, Kronk’s New Groove etc, etc).
Thankfully, the past ten years have given us socially-aware jewels like Princess and the Frog, Frozen, and now Zootopia, and I cannot wait to see what the next ten years will bring!
★★★★½ A remarkable film that manages to be both an amazing Disney movie and a brilliant commentary on our society.
All images via Disney