Achieving both high critical praise and high ticket sales, Disney’s Zootopia seems to be the kind of high quality movie you can take your kids to.
Well, it totally is. Review and analysis, with mild SPOILERS after the cut.
Zootopia is set in a place that looks like the modern world, except all the different inhabitants are advanced mammals (no birds or things like that there) that talk and live more or less in harmony.
I gotta tell ya, the first time I spotted a trailer for this thing, I was unimpressed. Having fox character Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) explain the concept of talking animals, well, c’mon. Does that sort of thing really need explaining?
I would have skipped the movie entirely, but then the reviews came in and basically told me it wasn’t that straightforward than just “anthropomorphic animals can talk!”
This is the sort of movie that keeps kids entertained. I don’t have kids. How do I know this? The screening I went to inadvertently was hosting a birthday party, and none of those kids made a peep the entire time.
But underneath a fun story of a rabbit becoming a cop in a city where larger, stronger animals usually become cops there was something underneath it all: racism sucks.
Zootopia–the city not the movie, though the movie does this too–thrives off stereotypes. The movie plays them for laughs. Officer Judy Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin) was one of about two hundred kids for her parents. Her concerned dad gives her fox spray, and even an upbeat positive bunny like Judy lapses into using it when she first has to deal with sly fox Nick Wilde.
But the main mystery of the movie has to deal with some of the residents of Zootopia first going missing, and then discovered having gone feral. All the feral ones are predator species, and predators only make up about 10% of the Zootopia population (just like they do in most real world ecosystems). Soon, there is widespread predator shunning, and the predators are being seen as dangerous animals that are more aggressive and maybe should be locked up. You know, the minority species needs to be kept away from the majority species. Sound familiar?
A lot of the humor goes to these stereotypes. Judy tells a new co-worker than only rabbits can call each other “cute”. For anyone else, it’s a nasty slur. Nick can’t help but touch a sheep’s wool.
But oddly, the movie also references some stereotypes. The DMV is staffed entirely by slow-moving sloths (that scene there may be the comedic highlight of the movie). Judy at first struggles in the police academy until she works hard to become the first bunny officer, though there does seem to be the impression that she is, in fact, some sort of affirmative action hire as far as the chief is concerned, and the mayor is more than willing to play up this fact. These sorts of jokes and plot points actually help bring the message home. Just the way the movie plays with size works to that advantage.
The size elements play a role during a chase scene where Judy chases a weasel into a section of town inhabited entirely by smaller rodents. The usually diminutive Judy is now towering over various mice, and it makes for a nice change of pace. The film celebrates the differences between the different characters, often in interesting ways, while still having an implied anti-racism message.
The movie’s a ton of fun, and packs a nice lesson. Pop culture references are kept to a minimum (a lot of kid’s movies should keep that mind), and everything moves with energy and vitality. Ten out of ten howl chains. It’s just a good time and a good message.