There’s no secret formula that produces a successful animated film (unfortunately), but the memorable movies that stand the test of time tend to remember how to entertain audience members of all ages. It’s easy – and lazy – to create a bright and colorful cartoon that satisfies easily distracted kids for 85 minutes. It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame to release a multi-tiered buddy cop comedy populated by talking animals in a domesticated urban landscape that dabbles in coming-of-age complications, the dangers of life in the big city, finding one’s true calling and, yes, the calculated introduction of drugs into an eco-system to control a minority of the population.
There’s an awful lot to unpack in Disney’s Zootopia, a blistering, energetic, and wildly entertaining feature film from directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and co-director Jared Bush that follows upstart police officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) on her first assignment in the city of the title. Judy’s the textbook over-achiever, a cute bunny whose only dream is to make it as a law enforcer… only, she needs the help of a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to crack her first case. I recently was able to sit down with Goodwin and talk about the accomplishment that is Zootopia, and why she thinks the material will appeal to parents sitting in the theater. She told me:
I worked on this thing for years, and still was surprised by it. I wasn’t expecting it to punch me in the gut quite as hard as it did. I knew that like, this overlying theme … is ‘Anyone can be anything.’ Which is up against Nick Wilde’s idea that you are what you are. But I didn’t understand quite how much we need some of the more underlying messages of the movie right now until I saw it.
During its earliest years, Pixar earned serious cred for bringing mature topics of conversation to the animation genre. When Finding Nemo and The Incredibles started picking up Oscars, they were beating the likes of Brother Bear and Shark Tale -- standard examples of the old way of doing things. Over the years, though, Walt Disney Animation has taken cues from its Pixar colleagues, and explored deeper emotional territories in Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, while also remembering that the movie should be fun and the story should move. It’s OK for an animated feature to appeal to a parent, as well. After all, who do you think takes a kid to the theater to see the movie, in the first place?
Here’s my full conversation with Ginnifer Goodwin:
Zootopia opens in theaters on March 4.