Disney’s reputation as an animation juggernaut can sometimes leave viewers disappointed as they leave the theater. Luckily, Zootopia manages to live up to expectations by skillfully traversing the line between humor and heart with witty jokes and cultural allusions.
As we learn in the opening scene, the metropolis of Zootopia was established so predators and prey can live harmoniously. It’s also seen as a place where dreams can come true, especially by Judy Hopps.
Hopps – a determined bunny from the small town of Bunnyburrow voiced by Once Upon A Time’s Ginnifer Goodwin – moves to Zootopia to join the police force, where she’s immediately put on parking duty. After multiple mammals go missing, Hopps is challenged to find one in 48 hours or resign. With the help of unlikely ally Nick Wilde, a fox and con artist (voiced by Jason Bateman), she manages to track down the missing mammals before realizing there’s much more to the case.
The plot flirts with falling into the same formula as recent cop movies, The Heat and The Other Guys, where two unlikely partners come together to solve a case.
Luckily, its saving grace comes in the second half when the film offers a surprisingly poignant reflection on one of today’s most polarizing issues: inequality.
When some of the captured animals begin to revert back to their natural states and become vicious, it’s quickly pointed out that they all happen to be predators. When Hopps announces this in a press conference, tension quickly divides predators and prey, causing a rift between Hopps and Wilde and sending her back home to Bunnyburrow.
This is possibly the furthest Disney has ventured to allow its animated films to reflect real-world issues. It’s chilling how the film so openly mimics current events, especially a scene involving a protest led by Zootopia’s most famous pop singer Gazelle, voiced by Shakira.
Though risky for a kid’s movie, the writers do a masterful job of balancing humor and substance. At times, it feels like a mashup between the fun of Wreck-It Ralph and the gut-wrenching authenticity of a Spike Lee film.
One of the film’s most tear jerking moments is a flashback to Wilde’s childhood where he goes to join Zootopia’s version of the Boy Scouts. When he enters, the meeting room darkens as he’s attacked by the other boys and forcibly muzzled while they taunt him for being a predator.
Wilde explains that this incident led to his criminal behavior, stating, “If the world’s only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no sense in trying to be anyone.”
As important and jarring as these moments are, the film still offers many opportunities for a good chuckle. In particular, Tommy Chong makes a fabulous cameo as a yak who owns a naturalist club. Another enjoyable scene portrays all of the Zootopia DMV employees as sloths.
The animation is also noteworthy. During an early scene where Hopps enters Zootopia for the first time, the open-air view of Zootopia’s skyline is breathtaking. You almost forget for a moment that you’re watching an animated film.
Zootopia offers an exquisite blend of jarring social commentary and smart, sometimes crude, humor. Though it seems risky for Disney to intricately weave important issues into a kid’s movie, it pays off and adds another notable entry to the company’s impressive animation resume that’s easily enjoyable to viewers of all ages.
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