Published on March 21st, 2016 | by Ian Goodwillie0
Zootopia is a brilliant piece of animation from Disney — smartly written and conceived, with a subversive and timely message and top tier voice talent.
Marketing campaigns for movies frequently get it wrong. They leave little to the imagination, showing you exactly what you’re going to get when you walk in the door. They don’t intrigue you. The marketing campaign for Batman v Superman is certainly guilty of that. The campaign for Deadpool, on the other hand, was inventive and intriguing, though it also left little to the imagination. You had a pretty good idea of what you were going to watch. The same cannot be said for Disney’s Zootopia.
Watching the trailers, TV spots, and teasers for Zootopia, you would have no idea what the plot of the movie is. It’s quite obvious that it’s about anthropomorphic animals living in a city together. That’s really about it though it looked pretty cute. After watching Zootopia, it’s readily apparent that this movie is anything but just cute.
The plot is a simple one. A bunny named Judy Hopps decides to move from her rural home to the big city of Zootopia to become a cop. As a bunny on a police force dominated by more powerful animals, she encounters a lot of resistance but finds a reluctant ally in a small time grifter and fox named Nick Wilde. They partner up to investigate a series of animal disappearances that take a sinister turn.
It is, essentially, a police procedural story, which seems commonplace on the surface. It’s not.
The traditional predator/prey relationships have fallen away in this world and animal society lives in relative harmony. Supposedly. In reality, old prejudices exist in regards to which animals are capable of certain jobs as well as between species. There are real life racial issues being reflected in this movie. Elephant ice cream stores reserve the right to refuse service to other animals. Foxes find it impossible to be seen as anything other than shifty because of cultural stereotypes so they fall into bad patterns because of them. Predators, as the overwhelming minority in Zootopia, are marginalized and even feared in some circles, a crux point of the story. The belief that they will ultimately succumb to their genetic predisposition to kill is constantly there amongst the 90% of the population that considers themselves prey. And in an almost Donald Trump-esque turn, the film’s antagonist uses that to manipulate the city’s population. It is prescient and surprisingly socially relevant story.
Zootopia is also an exceedingly funny film. The story plays on the key perceived traits of different species to create comedy. The Department of Mammal Vehicles scene featuring a staff of well-meaning sloths running the show first appears to be an obvious gag but it’s also an exceptionally well-executed one. Beyond, that great writing and dialogue also create more than their fair share of laughs.
With a movie like this, a big part of the success comes from the cast. Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate, and Idris Elba all voice main characters perfectly but J.K. Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, and Alan Tudyk also play great roles. The producers also brought in incredibly funny talents like Don Lake and Nate Torrence alongside voicing royalty like Maurice LaMarche and John DiMaggio. Every single one of these actors and comedians were cast in the perfect, and in some cases unexpected, roles for them. Those choices make all the difference.
And given the response to Zootopia, it’s quite obvious that this movie is firing on all cylinders.
Zootopia quickly busted through the $500 million mark. It had the biggest opening weekend for a non-Pixar animated Disney feature, and that’s just one of a slew of records it’s broken. Audiences and critics are responding to this unexpectedly brilliant film, another in a line of recent wins for Walt Disney Animation Studios that includes Big Hero 6 and the movie your kid made you watch 93 times in a row, Frozen. Consider this fair warning; Zootopia might replace Frozen in your Blu Ray player.
Zootopia is an amazing piece of animation. It’s funny and cute. It’s subversive and challenging. It’s relevant and timely. I hope that people see it for what it is, one of the most original and best executed movies of 2016.
Sometimes having no preconceived notions about a movie going in is a very good thing.