Directed by: Byron Howard & Rich Moore.
Written by: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston and Byron Howard & Rich Moore & Jennifer Lee and Josie Trinidad & Jim Reardon and Dan Fogelman.
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Tommy Chong (Yax), J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton), Shakira (Gazelle), Raymond S. Persi (Flash), Della Saba (Young Hopps), Maurice LaMarche (Mr. Big).
Zootopia is a fun, entertaining Disney animated film, aimed at children, that manages to provide laughs to parents watching the film with their kids, without the outright pandering of a Dreamworks film, like the Shrek movies. It’s basically an animated version of Walter Hill’s 48 Hours, where Nick Nolte’s cop teams up with the street smart hustler played by Eddie Murphy, to solve a mystery, and for the most part, it all works beautifully. The film also has a pro-diversity message about looking past stereotypes to see the animal underneath the surface, and not just judging them on the something they cannot control. It’s a good message, even if the internal logic of the movie is kind of muddled here, and doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny (it is true, for example, that predators have instincts to kill and eat their prey – which is wildly different than thinking all black people are violent criminals, which is just plain false). But if you let that slide, than Zootopia is a wonderfully fun, brightly animated kids film that adults can enjoy as much as their children.
The film is about Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit for a small, farming town who has always dreamed of heading to the big city of Zootopia and becoming a Police Officer – even though a bunny has never done that before. This is a world where predators no-longer eat prey, but they certainly do acknowledge their past sins when that sort of thing happened all the time. Hopps makes the Police Force – as a part of some sort of “outreach” program, and heads to Zootopia – a massive metropolis, with many different boroughs, ranging from subzero temperatures to rainforests, and everything in between. Her prejudiced parents give her “Fox Repellent” when she leaves, and are ecstatic when they discover that Hopps isn’t a “real” cop – but rather a meter maid. But soon a case comes up, and Hopps volunteers for it – her boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a massive Water Buffalo, gives her 48 Hours to solve the case, and if she doesn’t, she’ll be fired. A lead takes her to Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a wily fox that Hopps has already crossed paths with, and she blackmails him into helping on her case. Nick is a stereotypical fox – a conman – but a traumatic childhood flashback lets us know – if all the world was ever going to see was a fox, then Nick was going to be the most foxlike fox there ever was.
Zootopia moves quickly from beginning to end, and directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore keep the pace up throughout. The film is more thoughtfully animated than most of its kind – it is not just a loud collection of colors flashing by, as some many animated features are, and the character design and in particular the different environments are beautiful. The film is full of humor – some of it quite obvious, some of it quite ingeniously clever (I love the Breaking Bad reference). Disney, it must be said, knows it brand very well – and has experienced a bit of a renaissance in the years since Pixar’s John Lasseter took over in 2007 (not the same kind as the early 1990s, but I digress). Disney animation films don’t have the same worldview or sentimentality of a Pixar film – and that’s good (Pixar does that better than anyone else could).
I like how Zootopia really does try to address diversity. So many Disney films throughout their history have basically been about knowing your role, knowing your place – characters from different worlds often get together for a short time, but eventually, they have to go back where they belong (this is true of their classic animated films, all the way up to Wreck It Ralph). Zootopia asks that you look beyond the surface of each other, and not stereotype others, not place them into categories. It is an imperfect metaphor because animals and people are different (and even within the movie, who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor seems to shift) – but the film’s heart is in the right place.