With nearly 80 years of experience making animated feature films, saying that Disney has made another thoroughly enjoyable family film isn’t anything particularly noteworthy. It’s what we’ve come to expect. While best known for their musicals led by princesses, Disney animation has been on a roll of late with movies like the Academy Award-winning Big Hero 6 and the underrated Wreck-It Ralph. However, Zootopia isn’t simply another fun Disney animated movie. It’s one of the greatest Disney animated movies the company has ever produced.
In the world of Zootopia, all mammals have evolved into intelligent bipedal creatures. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny who has always wanted to be a police officer. As this is a job normally held by large predator animals, nobody gives her much of a chance, but she successfully completes the police academy and is assigned to a precinct in the heart of Zootopia, the city where predator and prey animals live together in harmony.
At least it seems to be harmony. The first crack in the veneer comes when Judy meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who isn’t being served at the elephant ice cream counter because he’s obviously shifty. Of course, the joke is on Hopps when she discovers Wilde actually is a con artist. The two end up together again, however, as Wilde was one of the last to see a missing person, er, otter, alive and the smarter-than-she-looks bunny hustles the hustler into helping her track him down.
What follows is a solid detective story/buddy cop movie with Disney flare. But it’s only after the case is closed that it becomes obvious what Zootopia is actually all about. While it’s stated that prey animals make up 90% of Zootopia’s population, they are, as prey animals, at a natural disadvantage against the predators. The results of Officer Hopps investigation make the majority population fear the minority, giving Zootopia a deeper-than-anticipated social meaning.
Inside this fun Disney movie is a real look at what happens when different people and cultures find themselves crammed together in the same space. It’s not always peaceful, and it’s not pretty. Bias, and outright prejudice, exist. Some is overt, much is born from fear, and some comes from the most well-meaning of places, from those who simply don’t think their actions through. Sometimes it comes from us, even when we don’t mean it to. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar, in a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of way. However, Zootopia doesn’t push, and it doesn’t preach. There’s an important lesson to be learned here, and as it is located inside of a Disney animated feature, it has the potential to reach places where it might not otherwise be heard.
One of the reasons that Frozen has become as popular as it has is because of the way Disney put a twist on the romantic tropes that Disney themselves helped to create. Zootopia doesn’t shy away from self-examination, either. Here, there is a focus on the importance of taking action in order to realize your dreams. It’s a (polite) shot at the idea that your dreams will come true “when you wish upon a star.” In Zootopia, wishing won’t make it so. If you want something, you have to work to make it happen. It’s made all the more clear that Disney is willing to take an honest look at themselves when they actually use Frozen as the focus for their criticism, because for as much as that movie did differently, it still did quite a bit by the numbers.
From a technical standpoint Zootopia is top notch. The animation is spectacular. All of the animals look amazing. In close-up, each creature looks truly alive. Each animal hair looks like it was individually animated to react to its environment. Action sequences are tight, exciting, and a joy to watch. You’ll find yourself scanning every frame in the city looking for each available detail (and joke), and you won’t be disappointed. The voice cast is perfect. In addition to Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman we get the talents of J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, and Shakira, among others. Every actor and character is perfectly matched.
If all you’re looking for is a fun matinee to take the family to, Zootopia will provide everything that you need. But, for the “older kids” in the room, Zootopia provides a parable with a lesson for anybody old enough to understand it. Finally, it will leave you with a pop song from Shakira that’s going to burrow into your brain and leave you humming it for days.