Review: Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia

Rating

Director

Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Screenplay

Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Jennifer Lee

Length

108 min.

Starring

Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira

MPAA Rating

PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action

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Soundtrack

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Review

Disney is at its best when it’s tackling important issues facing society through its animated projects. Zootpia may just be their most eloquent and pointed observation yet.

Animation has been filled since its beginning with anthropomorphic animals speaking and acting like humans. Dumbo and Bambi were doing it long before most of the audience for this film was even born. In this world, we are treated to one far more analogous to our own than at any time in Disney’s rich, vaunted history. Zootopia is a land filled with all manners of predators and non-predators alike.

Each type of animal fills useful roles that aren’t too far outside their stereotypical behavior. Rabbits are farmers. Foxes are sneaks and bullies. Buffalo, Yaks and Cheetahs are policemen. Lions are mayors. Sheep are secretaries. Yet, these cliches serve an important purpose. They highlight the gender and racial backgrounds that form the basis of prejudice and suspicion in the real world.

Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love, Once Upon a Time) voices Judy Hopps, a rabbit who was so inspired by the mistreatment she received as a child, has broken down barriers to become the Zootopia Police Department’s first rabbit police officer. After her initial excitement wears off when she’s assigned as a meter maid, Judy decides to investigate a strange series of disappearances that have targeted the predator population, most recently an otter.

To help her in this quest, she blackmails con man fox Nick Wilde voiced by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Juno). Together, they unravel a devious plot to pit predators and “prey” against one another, which may well destroy their well balanced Utopian society.

As the two uncover shocking details in the case, their lives are made more cumbersome by several animals, both friend and foe. After initial distrust, Judy and Nick become fast friends, but all of that allegiance pays the price as Judy’s childhood prejudices begin clouding her judgment and pushing Nick away.

While their approach to the modestly predictable reveal is filled with beautiful visuals and a wicked sense of metaphorical splendor, the large team of screenwriters have no problem giving the audience something to enjoy. Clever sight gags, humorous puns, and a sense of dramatic purpose pervade the entire project. If it has a fault, it’s the too frequent over-reliance on humor that modestly mutes the impact of the film’s purpose.

The goal with Zootopia is to encourage the audience to step outside of the narrow box of labels they’ve been categorized into. They are asked to realize that not only are they frequently mischaracterized, but so too are those who look differently than they do as well as those who come from unfamiliar backgrounds. This deep-seated and systemic prejudice isn’t always visible to the oppressor and a film like this helps point out just where our society is struggling in its effort to become more open and accepting of all genders, races, religions and sexualities.

Most demographics who have experienced prejudice first hand know these lessons all too well, but that’s not important in the grand scope. Those who don’t recognize it are the least likely to realize they don’t. That’s why a film like Zootopia might help those struggling with accepting their privilege to recognize it, or, at the very least it will help youngsters identify these qualities and help them grow up recognizing it and working to be more accepting.

Zootopia is a dizzying, compelling animated adventure that breaks through its own stereotypical bubble. Animated films have long been perceived as the cinematic realm of children. However, through Pixar and Disney’s efforts of the last two decades, they are finally moving beyond the concept of trifling playthings and becoming brighter, more evocative landscapes that ensure richer, more bounteous, and certainly more thought-provoking moviegoing experiences.

Oscar Prospects

Guarantees: Animated Feature
Potentials: Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Review Written

June 16, 2016

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