Disney has scored again. On almost all accounts Zootopia is grade-A family entertainment. To address the elephant in the room, the film is rather formulaic in its hero’s journey and at times it feels like we are attempting to systematically check off all the necessary moments in the rise, fall, and redemption of our spunky heroine. However, there are moments of wit and grace that begin to slowly grab hold of us an audience. It, in turn, becomes ceaselessly inventive with this metropolis of anthropomorphic animals, whether it is the rhythms of daily life or the social issues present that look strangely familiar.
In truth, it works as a thinly-veiled parable for mankind in our present condition. The lines are not black and white, but predator and prey. True, there are differences and they give way to pernicious spells of racism or more aptly in this context, “specism,” but there is room for understanding and symbiosis, to use an ecological term. We could go back and forth for a long time about the actual mechanisms and minutiae of evolution and whether it makes sense or not, but the bottom line is that humans and animals have a lot in common.
Zootopia playfully makes that blatantly clear, and within all the subtle ribbing, it does have a broader message which is true of all great pieces of family-oriented animation. Movies have the ability to allow us to more fully understand the world we live in and that applies to children as well–in fact, they are even more malleable.
There are various other reviews alluding to Animal Farm, In the Heat of the Night, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. All are interesting touchstones for this film, but obviously all comparisons falter at some point. For me, Zootopia has surprisingly interesting social undertones to its drama that try to make sense of these things even for young viewers. That’s no small feat and perhaps even more praiseworthy it delivers it in a delectable story that follows in the footsteps of the best buddy films and police procedurals. It’s all wrapped up in the encapsulating animation of Disney that at points feels overwhelming, but the characters of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), Nick Wilde (Jason Batemen), and even the likes Clawhauser give it winsome charm.
Everything from Sloths at the DMV to a raspy Godfather possum is on point, and the film continues with a stream of gags. However, we are always being drawn back to the journey of Officer Hopps as she tries to prove herself and solve the mystery behind the 14 missing animals. But if this was only her journey it wouldn’t be all that interesting. Thank goodness she has a buddy to cross her will, make her stop and think, and ultimately stand by her when the world isn’t an utopia anymore. I’m not sure what I think about Shakira’s presence in the film, but I’ll let it slide this once.