*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Zootopia walks the line between being an amusing watch for its younger viewers and deep and meaningful for the parents dragged along and the teenagers looking to continue reliving their pasts with movies about cuddly animals and slightly more adult themes to make them feel a little less childish about it. While the level of creativity and animation in this film is above and beyond, even for a Disney film, the plot is definitely more childish- it takes a good half hour for the plot to actually start, and maybe it’s because the movie is meant for children, but it is not shy about beating us over the head with the lesson off acceptance. As important as that lesson is and as hard as Disney tried with it, I have come to expect a little more elegance from them.
The story centers around a world where animals have evolved into more civilized beings, and every animal can live in the city of Zootopia in relative peace. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who has become the first bunny cop of Zootopia, finds that it is hard to be taken seriously in a job mostly dominated by predators. In order to prove herself, she jumps at the chance to work on a mysterious case, even if it means working with the con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who has his own ideas about what it means to live in the city where “anything is possible”.
The level of detail that goes into this movie is astounding. It almost makes me wish that there wasn’t a movie plot to follow, because I would rather just walk around in this world that’s been built for me and just look at everything. From the little details like the fur on every animal and their little ticks (the attentive ears always caught my attention, as well as Judy’s rabbit feet) to the big, imaginative details like the hippo blow-drying system, the living space of Little Rodentia, the different sizes of pretty much everything to accommodate for every animal (all kept to scale, by the way). It’s this J.R.R. Tolkien-level world building that keeps you immersed in the story, because you want to know everything about this fantastical place that you’re suddenly part of. The only reason the story matters after that is because you just want to know what else there is, and if you follow the characters around you get to see more and more of it all. I would gladly watch a movie that was nothing more than walking around Zootopia and overseeing how animals live their lives, because there’s just so much to see there.
As for the story itself, there are certain things that sort of amaze me, and not always in a good way. I know that this is a movie meant for kids, after all, but for a movie that’s meant to be about abolishing stereotypes, there are an awful lot of stereotypes being thrown around casually. The animals themselves and their personalities are addressed, of course, but what’s not are the moments like the lemmings following their leader (which honestly I’m not even sure the kids watching this movie would get), the Italian Mob Boss schtick, the chubby cop who loves food (mostly donuts), a naturalist club full of dirty hippies, and the fact that the DMV in any world is slow and full of incompetent workers (and as someone who was recently at her own DMV, I can account for the fact that this is not always the case). It just seems to me that with the message Zootopia was trying to send, it could have been a little less on the nose with it, because that just brought all of these other stereotypes to my attention. Again, this is a kid’s movie, so maybe I’m being a little hard on it. Most of these things were thrown in for laughs and probably laughs alone- the majority for kids, some for adults- but since we spent the first half an hour hearing about how Judy is under appreciated because of what she is, how there is still prejudice in Zootopia and how anyone can be whatever they want, it just seems to me that the lesson could have been told with a little more subtlety with just as great an impact.
The actors chosen were fun to watch in their roles, especially Goodwin and Bateman’s interactions with each other. Since so much plot relied on them, it was only natural that they be able to play off each other, but every interaction (humorous and serious) worked the audience with an elegance and maturity that doesn’t always make it into a kid’s movie. Bateman, though, I think was the real interesting character of the film- originally he was supposed to be the main focus of the movie, and the story was changed after it was found that audiences responded more to Goodwin’s character, and this saddens me a little, because his story could have been so much more interesting and maybe a little less cliche, but again, kid’s movie (that is usually the reason for these types of changes). The supporting cast also do wonder for their parts, adding to the complexity of the world around them. Idris Elba, the intimidating Chief Bogo, provides a stern and yet amusing figure, as well as one of the most inspirational lines of the film (and my personal favorite) – “The world has always been broken. That’s why we need good cops.” There are a few characters who are a little more hyped up than their actual characters achieve on film- Flash the sloth, I’m looking at you- but the cast is almost like Zootopia itself- bringing them all together creates something big and beautiful.
Now there are bits and pieces of this movie I roll my eye at, just a little bit- as good as the ending turned out to be, Disney is starting to fall into a bit of a habit with their villains (I’ll stop there for the sake of those who still haven’t seen this movie) and some of the story is a bit predictable, but what really blew me away was the racism. Not the normal racism we knew the movie was giving us going in- obviously we knew that Judy was going to be looked down on as “prey” in a job full of “predators”, but without meaning to, she is just as judgmental towards Nick and predators as they were towards her. This is partially because of her experiences as a child and partially because of her parents, but it’s an interesting insight into the movie to highlight that fear starts on both sides and it’s not necessarily done out of pure maliciousness (Judy’s experience with animal racism and Nick’s were very similar in childhood, but how they reacted to it and expect it in each other is very different) and I thought that was the most important part of the movie, that even though we’ve spent the last hour and fifteen minutes being smacked in the face that Judy wants all animals to be equal, sometimes there’s a part of us so deeply engrained in behavior we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Seeing that behavior in ourselves, as well as others, is the true evolution of the film, and it’s a beautiful (albeit small and sparkly) thing.
All in all, I do believe that this is a good movie, maybe the best one Disney has put out in years in terms of imagination and its message. It might not ever be one of my favorites, but I’m not a kid anymore- I’m going to pick it apart more than they ever will. What you get from the movie is more important than being completely taken in by the story, so if they don’t care about predictable plots and stories they’ve heard before, it doesn’t matter. And, if they do care, there’s still plenty of new things to find in Zootopia.
Also, Shakira’s song “Try Everything” is so fun and uplifting, you probably won’t care that her actual character is given prime dominance in the credits despite the fact she has maybe three lines.