Movie Review: Zootopia
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Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Shakira
Studio: Disney Animation Studios
Release Date: March 4, 2016

On the surface, Zootopia looks like just another talking animal with anthropomorphic features piddling around getting laughs by means of using childish humor. But that is just the surface, and it is a very thin one. In reality, for beyond that layer lies a deeper and more meaningful story, and if you peel that layer back, you’ll soon discover that Disney Animation Studios’ latest film has a message, a very poignant one that could not have come out at a more perfect time.

In a day and age where bullying, prejudices, stereotypes, and preconceived notions are hurting many, and social issues are becoming more prevalent in our neighboring communities and homes, Zootopia has a message. Yeah, expecting a film like this to get everyone to get along is merely impossible and expecting too much, but all it is asking of us is to “try.” Try to understand one another, because if you do, you’ll become more exceptional. Check out the full review of the movie here below.

Zootopia is Disney’s 55th animated feature. We’ve done some extensive coverage on the film in the past, exploring its story, animation, and look development. All of it came together for this wonderful film. Everything has its purpose in the city. The heat from Sahara Square keeps Tundra Town from getting way to cold, the melted ice and snow then feeds the sprinklers in the Rainforest District to keep it wet.

The rules of Zootopia are quickly established by means of a school play where the audience learns how predator and prey species can co-exist in harmony. That is where we are introduced to Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young optimistic bunny who doesn’t adhere to her parents philosophy of “settling.” Instead, she is a dreamer and a trier who refuses to let anyone get in the way of her goals. One of those goals is to be the first bunny cop.

Flash forward a few years later we see Judy go through the Academy in what looks like a training session that resembles the same training sequence in Mulan. Judy is unable to complete the course at first, with her instructor repeatedly berating her and telling her that if this were a real situation she’d be dead. But through sheer will and motivation, she passes the tests and finally becomes a cop and is assigned to work in Zootopia.

But she is still looked at as nothing more than just a bunny. In a department full of intimidating animals with muscles and fangs, Judy is designated as a meter maid to write parking tickets. While a job like this might sound discouraging, Judy’s faith the idea that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover is restored when she sees Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) become a target of judgments and refused service when he tries to buy an oversized ice pop for his son (who is actually his tiny partner in crime) at an ice cream shop for big eaters like Elephants. Judy warns the shop owner that he cannot refuse service, and Nick takes advantage of her kindest and pulls a hustle on her by getting her to buy the pop for him. When she realizes she’s been conned, she starts to lose her sunny disposition.

Feeling defeated, opportunity knocks when she is given an assignment to find a missing otter in 48 hours. With time running out and very few clues, Judy’s only lead is Nick, who is the last person to see the missing otter. Together, Judy and Nick find more clues and discover that this is more than just a missing otter case.

Though the film uses buddy cop tropes we are accustomed to seeing in that genre, Zootopia isn’t as funny as it could be, despite having writers like Wreck-It Ralph scribe Phil Johnston, and Jared Bush. But that shouldn’t take away from the joyful experience you get while watching the movie. As it progresses, Zootopia makes up for that lack of humor by building the genuine chemistry between Judy and Nick, as well as the heartfelt message that the world needs to hear.

Of course, when you have a story that has a message about acceptance, inclusion, and rising above preconceived notions and stereotypes, it might be misconceived as preachy. The film really drives home those stereotypes of predator and prey, and animal dichotomy to a point where it does feel a little preachy. But that unexpected commentary is really refreshing. Zootopia delivers a message that needs to be heard. Our lead characters actually confront these prejudices and stereotypes, and not just beat around the bush. Judy tells Clawhauser that he cannot call her a cute bunny while Nick stresses that you should never let anyone know they are getting to you.

While these films tell us it is okay to dream, very rarely do they bring us commentary on timely and serious social issues, especially one as hard hitting a bigotry and racism. You see, in the film, there are a few within the prey species who fear predators. Again these sort of preconceived notions can be harmful. The fact that this film mirrors our own world is just shocking, but in a good way.

And Zootopia balances out the message with the buddy cop mystery and sprinkles it with some light humor that uplifts the film at all the right moments. The animated feature looks gorgeous, with the world, structures, and even automobiles built for animals by animals. Everything has a purpose no matter how strange it looks, but that’s what makes it so appealing. And it never gets too outrageous, as you can see that these structures can possibly work if they existed. The colors pop, the animals’ fur seems real, and the textures are almost life-like.

Zootopia will touch your heart, and for those who are just as open as the characters in the film, I can see them accepting it. But I can also see how the film might rub off on others in the wrong way. Which is fine, they are open to opposing it. It is a film, after all, and art is subjective. But I’ll just end this with one of the film’s messages: The more we understand each other, the more exceptional we can be.

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