Some of you might have watched the 2016 Oscars, during which Chris Rock asked some very important questions of the film industry and their dealings with a difficult topic that must be addressed: prejudice. Ironically, one of the movies that will be arriving into theaters this weekend handles the subject of the issue and how to fix it, in such a simple way, that it is hard to think of any other film before that has gotten it this right. Oh, and it stars a bunny and a fox. Meet Disney Animation’s Zootopia, directed by Bryon Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, featuring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman.
The plot revolves around Judy Hopps (Goodwin), a bunny who dreams of becoming a cop. Problem is, no bunny has ever done such a thing in their world, and the odds are stacked against her. But when Judy meets up with Nick Wilde (Bateman)–a fox with a shady history all his own–she begins to discover the clues to a big mystery in Zootopia, all the while trying to prove to everyone that anyone can be anything they want to be in this great metropolis.
It’s easy to see that like most recent Disney films, Zootopia was made with a lot of love. But unlike previous princess movies such as Tangled and Frozen, this is a film that takes many of its influences not just from Disney movies of the past (Robin Hood, Jungle Book) but is fueled by the filmmakers’ admiration for the crime movie genre. From references to The Godfather to Chinatown and many more, it is hard not to grasp how much the team behind this film absolutely adored pouring their heart and soul into every little corner they could.
This attention to detail also becomes wildly apparent in the world building of Zootopia, which features some of the most lush and stunning landscapes the Walt Disney Company has ever presented on screen. From spooky jungles to snowy hillsides, this is a world that many (including myself) would like to visit if at all possible (seriously, Disney Parks, take note!) And if there ever was a playset I wanted more than anything, it is one of the rodent section of the main city–mini Target included! But this compliment is not just about the physical things that make Zootopia, well, Zootopia, but the lingo, body language and layered storytelling that take this from just a typical animated film to something really, truly special. Particularly in one scene, where Judy visits an ice cream parlor run by elephants, you get a sense of the history and scope of the citizens of this city very easily.
Then, of course, there are the characters, the pieces that could make or break a Disney film. Well, I can say with ease that the cast of Zootopia is among the best the company has produced in some time, as are the performers giving life to said critters. Judy is not only an adorable individual at face value, but she is one of the best female heroes in Disney’s roster. She’s intelligent, kind hearted, has a razor-sharp wit, but still has her flaws from time to time. Nick is a bit of a tough nut to crack–though he has a smart aleck type of personality, deep down he’s a bit of a softy, one that needs some intense digging to find. These two work very well together, both on paper and the chemistry between their actors–who prove that their voice acting abilities are among their best skills.
But if you thought these two were great, then you haven’t met the supporting characters. Particular standouts include Clawhauser (Nate Torrence)–an adorable nerdy leopard police officer,Chief Bogo (Idris Elba)—the grumpy head of the Zootopia police, and Bellwether (Jenny Slate)–a sheep that works for the Mayor of the city. All three of these roles had their moments to shine, and if ever there were to be a spin off or sequel (preferably both), these characters better get some much deserved respect and hilarious moments. I’d also like to give one loud, embarrassing round of applause to the character of Finnick, who produced one of the biggest laughs ever to come out of me in a movie theater in some time. Seriously, give this little guy his own webisode series or something.
But when you remove the laughs and sight gags, Zooptopia is more than just a friendly trip to the movies for some entertainment. In all seriousness, this is a film that speaks about issues that we as a society have yet to actually fix, but somehow these characters–in their anthropomorphic forms–have come up with solutions that us humans, as smart as we claim to be, haven’t even attempted. Of course, these messages of battling prejudice within race, sexism and other topics are handled in a gentle manner by Disney, but this is still a movie that should be recognized for the strides it makes to bring about such discussions, specifically in a genre that is known for neglecting such “tough life” lessons.
Another similar animal filled film, Warner Brother’s Cats Don’t Dance also tried to speak up on this issue, starring a group of animals trying to get the same roles in films that humans were getting with ease, set amidst a 1940s-inspired world. But due to poor box office results and terrible marketing, Cats never left the impact (aside from its cult fan base) that it should have on the world of filmmaking and animation as a whole. But hopefully Zooptopia can bring about that similar message of understanding and tolerance in a world that needs it badly, especially in Hollywood itself. The American film industry has a lot of catching up to do regarding what true diversity and unity is, in both its behind the scenes and on screen aspects. But if a movie that stars two fluffy protagonists can bring about some sort of change, then maybe Tinseltown will get even more of a clue than they have in the past.
One of the few animated movies that truly transported me as of recent years, Zootopia is one of those unexpected surprises that leaves an impact on you, not just because you had no clue it would be this good, but because you never in your wildest dreams thought it would touch you this much. And though it might take a little while for the plot to get on the track it is going for, the laughs and characters along the way to getting there are worth every cent. May we all learn to be as cool as Judy and Nick, and maybe then we can make the world just a little bit of a better place.