Zootopia

Posted by Joel Copling on March 4, 2016


"Zootopia" imagines a world where the citizens of its titular metropolis are all manner of individuals who have chosen to unite in spite of their differences of behavioral upbringing and/or of social ideology. In other words, as is the case with fables, it is about the worst human tendencies paving the way for our best attributes once we set them aside. It very much details exactly the word with which its title rhymes. Our window into this imagined universe is the first among her kin to have become a police officer, a goal she was prepared to reach (or to attempt to reach) from a young age, but her family, friends, and schoolyard bullies told her it was a waste of time.

Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny rabbit, waifish and diminutive in stature and all the more determined to rise above those qualities in spite and because of them. No rabbit has ever joined the police force, and indeed, when she beats the odds and tops her fellow applicants in the Zootopia Police Department's academy, she still manages to hit a brick wall on her way up the occupational ladder. Mayor Lionheart (voice of J.K. Simmons) assigns her to Chief Bogo's (voice of Idris Elba) unit, and Chief Bogo relegates her to parking-ticket duty (which means, obviously, she must deal with the Department of Mammal Vehicles, run by sloths in the most uproariously funny sequence of a very funny movie), despite the fact that a major case is under way and he could use the manpower to search for some missing people (well, mammals).

This universe also has an unfortunate flip-side, which is that Zootopia is only a utopia for those with the privilege of having some sort of overarching social status. Curiously, the screenplay by Phil Johnston and co-director Jared Bush (who gets his own credit separately from the other co-directors, Byron Howard and Rich Moore) makes the case for neither class to be all that advantageous in this society. The aforementioned differences include the fact that predators and prey are coexisting harmoniously, except that the ones who were once food supply on the evolutionary chain are still seen as second-class while the ones who would have benefited from their nutritional value (Let's not mince words here, all right?) are favored.

Yet once the first part of the conflict sets in, the dynamic is shifted considerably. A certain sect of the Internet community is sure to attack the film for what they see as social justice warfare of a sort. They'll have their usual place in the conversation (or, you know, below it), but Johnston and Bush have more going on here than such a black-and-white reading of the subject matter. Judy is now involved in a 48-hour manhunt for one of those 14 kidnap victims with Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a wily fox who is, naturally, a con mammal, and when the plot seems to have been uncovered, a label is placed upon all predators. A sort of special prejudice sets in, the idea is passed around that predators should be muzzled and sectioned off from society until a solution is presented (!), and Judy feels responsible for dividing by class while being labeled a hero.

Of course, the solution to the mystery, found shortly thereafter, is far less consequential, which means the final act of "Zootopia" is a bit underwhelming in its trajectory, at least with regard to what precedes it. That conflict's second element is external in nature: The plot's gears set into motion, a double-crossing is a hubbub of its own and considered just as serious as everything else (Dramatically, it is not), and the thematic focus is directed onto a more generic sort of villainous plot. It ultimately doesn't interfere all that much, though, because here is an animated film with the guts to face social issues relevant, not only to our time, but to this very minute.

Film Information


Featuring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart), Tommy Chong (Yax), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton), and Shakira (Gazelle).

Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, co-directed by Jared Bush, and written by Bush and Phil Johnston.

Rated PG (thematic elements, rude humor, action).

108 minutes.

Released on March 4, 2016.