Disney delivers another animated winner with Zootopia, a cute, uplifting story with a surprising dark side. It’s the sort of movie that’ll have kids asking their parents a few questions about some tough topics, while also being a movie that should entertain just about anyone who sits their butt in a theater seat to watch it.
Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin entering the Voice Acting Hall of Fame) is a little bunny determined to be the first bunny cop on the force in Zootopia, a metropolis populated by animals. On the road to joining the force, she faces a lot of opposition for being both a bunny and a girl. Judy beats insurmountable odds, and winds up on the force, much to the chagrin Chief Bogo (Idris Elba).
The chief assigns her to traffic, of course, where she meets up with shifty fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is running an ingenious Popsicle scam. When some mammals come up missing, Judy finds herself on the case. She eventually enlists the help of Nick, and they seek out a missing otter. That otter is actually named Emmet the Otter, which had me holding out hope for a jug-band hoedown but, alas, it never happens.
The film is co-directed by three guys: Byron Howard (Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Jared Bush (his feature debut!). Directing by committee certainly works in this case, as the film has a nice unified feel while sustaining a surprising depth for an animated movie.
Among the themes successfully tackled are sexism, racism and bunnyism. When discussing these aspects of the film, go ahead and get bunnyism out of the way first with the kids.
A hypothetical dinnertime conversation regarding Zootopia when a child asks if a bunny can be a cop:
“No, my dear child, a bunny can’t be on the police force,” the parent answers.
“But mom and dad, dogs are allowed on the police force. Why not bunnies, too?” the child retorts.
“Because dogs are big and strong and have heightened senses of smell that help us to find drugs and things,” the parent opines.
“Actually, rabbits not only have a very keen sense of smell, dear parent,” the child continues, “but they also have those big ears which make them really good listeners and potentially awesome detectives! Their presence on the force could provide a new level of insight and outreach for a branch of civilization often roundly criticized for its lack of empathy and compassion,” the child asserts.
“Shut up and eat your broccoli!” the parent commands.
To give away how the film approaches the topic of racism would be to give away too many aspects of the plot. There’s a good mystery at play, and it’s done in an intelligent way that will keep parents and kids guessing and engaged.
Other members of the voice cast include J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Tommy Chong as the fly-infested Yax, Jenny Slate as assistant mayor Bellwether, and Shakira as Gazelle, the pop star. Shakira’s performance of “Try Everything” is better than any movie music 2015 had to offer. Man, last year sucked for movie soundtracks, didn’t it?
The animation is top notch and inventive, with cute little touches throughout. Judy’s hometown is farmland distinguished by an Easter pastels palette. At one point, Judy chases a thief through a rodent community, sending a bunch of mice running for cover in their little buildings as if she were Godzilla. I especially liked a moment when a train arrived in a station, and a little door opened up beside bigger doors to let out a stream of chipmunks. Freaking adorable!
So, Disney has another great bunny to add to the souvenir rack at Disneyland alongside Thumper, Roger Rabbit, and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. (I feel Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.) Judy is a true winner, as is Zootopia, already a solid contender for Best Animated Film of 2016.
Take the kids knowing you might actually enjoy yourself and appreciate the film even if it does act as a shred grenade on your wallet, especially if you spring for 3-D. Mother of Christ, movie-going is expensive.