It’s always hype when a new Disney movie comes out, and so far the going’s been good. Wreck-It Ralph and Inside Out have proven that Disney is set to usher in a new golden era of animated movies, and Zootopia is its latest entry.
The basic premise is that there is a world where animals evolved to form human-like societies, complete with typical archetypes like businessmen, teachers, celebrities, the mafia, and so on. Our main character, Judy Hopps, dreams of becoming the first rabbit police officer, and discovers that both the city life and the life of criminal behaviour isn’t as black and white as she may have thought. This sets up a story whereby Disney takes the opportunity to say its piece on a contemporary social problem, framed within the context of a kid’s film, and it is the execution of this presentation that makes Zootopia a great film. Stick around, and we’ll talk why that is.
Following in the footsteps of Bugs Bunny, Roger Rabbit, and the Trix Rabbit is a tall order; these animated rabbits have entertained a whole generation of kids with their goofy antics. Thankfully, Judy Hopps is more than worthy of the task. Energetic, clever, and insanely adorable (I love rabbits), Judy is a lovable character right from the opening scene, as we immediately understand her passion and goals, and she stays lovable throughout the story because she is virtuous, funny, and has a never-give-up attitude (okay, she gives up on one thing during the movie, but she bounces back… get it?). Best of all, she is a perfect personification of feminism; she never blames her problems on the fact that she is a female or the fact that her adversary is a male, and she never glorifies her accomplishments as anything intrinsic to her gender. I know this film doesn’t have a feminist agenda, but this is the most effective way to empower little girls: give them a female character who gets things done, and is no-nonsense about it.
Likewise, just about every other character in the film is cute and funny, and not only because of the fact that they’re fluffy animals. One of the recurring jokes is which type of animal has been assigned to which job (all civic centres feel like they’re run by sloths, don’t they?). In a wise production choice, Judy’s sidekick is Nick Wilde, a sly street-fox with a smooth voice and a lax demeanor, making him a great complement to the enthusiastic and jumpy Judy. If it were otherwise, Zootopia may have had a few loud animals yelling at each for most of the movie, a la Madagascar or Shrek. Animated films have a unique position in the film industry. Being animated, they usually appeal to children, but these are professional movie studios with capable writers and directors, and hence they are, at all times, capable of creating something that is more than just a film, something that actually matters. Zootopia accomplishes this with impressive ease, its major theme dealing with the highly relevant and modern problem of social and racial stereotyping. It is always magical when a cartoon succeeds in getting kids to think about something profoundly difficult and touchy by presenting it in a simple and appealing context, all the while wrapped in a fun and engaging story no less! That’s what Zootopia is, and for the more serious side of this discussion, please continue scrolling.
There needs to be a law banning dance sequences in closing scenes. Shrek is the likely instigator for this mainstay in kids’ films, and Madagascar probably cemented it. It needs to stop! I don’t know why, and I don’t have a good argument here, but it’s been done so many times that it’s always a disappointment to see a good movie doing the same thing as a lot of other mediocre ones. This film would’ve been great if it ended with Hopps chasing down the speeding car, followed by the reveal, and then the credit roll. But no, they had to make every character dance. I sighed with exasperation when it happened.
But that’s all I did. There is really nothing else for me to complain about. Zootopia has a solid story, the jokes were a hit just about every single time (I lament at the number of kids who won’t get the Godfather reference), and the entire presentation was professional and executed with obvious love and care.
Here’s a sentimental moment for you: I’ll never forget how Hercules became my favourite Disney movie of all time. Near the end, Zeus tells his son that “a true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” Not just that line, but the entire movie taught me, as a kid, what it meant to be a good person. It wasn’t about saving the day, being super strong, or having some super power, but instead it was about doing the right thing, which is something anyone can do, including a ten-year-old kid.
Zootopia delivers all the standard messages: dream big, never give up, good guys prevail in the end, and so on, but the most ambitious goal of this movie deals with racial issues. Given the recent migration problems and police-related incidents in the United States in the past couple of years, what Zootopia wants to say is highly relevant and commendable. We live in an age where the Internet exists as a medium to communicate any opinion rapidly. The result has been both a glorification and suppression of political issues. Somehow, Zootopia rises above all that, unafraid to say what it has to say, and being concise and mature about it as well. Ironically, it may be the very fact that this is a children’s cartoon that we can take its messages seriously.
I don’t want to spoil anything in this review, because I want you to watch it, so I won’t say much more. During my own viewing, however, I was very conscious of the film’s opinion regarding racial profiling and racial stereotyping, two very delicate topics, yet they were dealt with positively in the film, and while I’m no longer a kid who is influenced in the same way by Disney movies, I am confident the film says something worthwhile and meaningful on these subjects that kids can fully understand. I do not exaggerate when I say the existence of Zootopia makes this world a better place.
And that is what makes it a great film.
Watch it. Watch it because of rabbits, clever jokes, heavy social commentary presented lightheartedly, and rabbits. While I’m certain I still like Inside Out better, I’m not sure whether I prefer this or Wreck-It Ralph, and Wreck-It Ralph is a fantastic movie.
Highly recommended for film-lovers of all ages. Perfect for the family, perfect for a date, perfect if you want your faith in humanity to be restored. Disney has been making a comeback lately, and it’s starting to feel more and more like a second golden age for the magical movie studio. At the very least, Zootopia is a worthy addition to the Disney Vault, and I feel fortunate to have seen it.
This has been a gamobo review.