To stay in good graces,
Most stay in their places,
Their happy, expected, and preordained spaces
Among their preferred and familiarized faces.
It’s fine, and it’s true,
But in some special cases,
We aren’t just contented
With life as presented
But strive to be more and to live reinvented.
Such paths can be ridiculed, feared, or resented
But that’s nothing new
When you’re unprecedented.
MPAA rating: PG
Disney has certainly been on a roll lately. Rising from the lameness of Chicken Little and The Wild, it’s been delivering consistently original CGI gems, films like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and now Zootopia (also called Zootropolis in Europe, supposedly to avoid confusion with an actual zoo over there). A box-office hit on par with Frozen’s success, Zootopia takes the idea of a world of anthropomorphic mammals and fills it with a winning blend of colorful characters, outstanding animation, and a universal moral message, three prime ingredients at which Disney excels.
Judy Hopps (chipper Ginnifer Goodwin) dares to be the first bunny cop, against her family’s worry and conventional wisdom, since most police officers are rhinos or elephants or something big enough to combat crime. When she actually realizes that dream and joins the force in the multi-species metropolis of Zootopia, her naïve idealism clashes with her chief (Idris Elba) and with the con artist fox Nick Wilde (smug Jason Bateman). Soon, Judy and Nick must form an uneasy alliance to solve a slew of missing mammal cases with unseen repercussions.
Right from the start, as Judy sees the city for the first time through a train’s observation deck, there’s enough visual detail and creative imagination to rival the world-building of Pixar. There are boroughs designed as habitats, from the lush rain forest to the frigid tundra, and a plethora of animalized modern conveniences: hamster-tunnel hallways, drink elevators for giraffes, sloths at the DMV (okay, that’s an inconvenience). So many scenes are full of varied pedestrians and fast-paced activity that the backgrounds alone are worth watching. Luckily, the script never lets its humorous potential go to waste, making Zootopia the funniest Disney movie in recent memory. I especially love how Alan Tudyk has become the John Ratzenberger of Disney, to the point that he’s now getting his own gags in reference to past roles (specifically, the Duke of Weselton in Frozen).
Aside from the vibrant animation and consistent jokes, there’s a layered message to Zootopia, a familiar one of tolerance and embracing differences over prejudice, in this case between prey and predator. Some may consider it preachy or heavy-handed, and I can understand why; one misunderstanding in particular seemed overly sensitive, like many perceived offenses nowadays that aren’t really that bad when you think about it. After all, unintended “insults” are often less offensive than people’s reactions to them. Despite this, Zootopia takes its lesson seriously. The finger isn’t just wagged at insensitivity; it’s also aimed at anyone stuck in complacency or those seeking to create problems where there were none. It isn’t all negative either; Judy herself is a wholly admirable female role model, not content to live under others’ expectations but rising to her dream and urging others to do the same. Now that’s a message worth lauding!
All in all, Zootopia is a fun buddy-cop mystery that plays to Disney’s non-musical strengths, even with a few weaknesses. I could have done without an awkward scene at a nudist spa, and it’s still a bit unusual to see modernized animated animals playing with cell phone apps. There are also a few unanswered questions, such as what exactly do predators eat if they’ve evolved past their carnivorous tendencies. Ice cream? I also couldn’t help wondering where all the non-mammals were, fish, birds, reptiles, and such. “Try Everything,” the catchy theme song sung by Shakira, even mentions birds but I never saw any. Have they not become sentient, or are they perhaps enslaved by their mammal overlords? My VC says I’m overthinking this, and I hope so. (She loved the movie too, as did my parents.)
Regardless, ever since John Lasseter was put in charge, Disney Animation continues to impress and entertain with a consistency only Pixar has shown thus far. Talking animals are nothing new, but Zootopia gives them a fresh spin that hits its intended message without ever forgetting to stay amusing. Like Big Hero 6, it’s also a film for which I can easily envision sequels, and based on the talent that created this original, my hopes are high.
Best line: (Judy, calculating Nick’s income to blackmail him) “Two hundred dollars a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year since you were twelve; that’s two decades, so times twenty which is… one million four hundred sixty thousand – I think, I mean I am just a dumb bunny, but we are good at multiplying.”
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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