I will admit it, when I first heard about and saw snippets about Zootopia, I wasn’t super excited. “Another movie about animals that can talk,what will make this one any different,” I thought. I then saw the sloth DMV scene at the D23 Expo, laughed, and thought it had some promise. I do love Jason Bateman, and hearing him as the voice of Nick Wilde for over an hour couldn’t be too bad, right? Once home from the D23 Expo over the summer, I kind of forgot about it until recently, when I was able to attend a screening. I had seen a few little promo pieces about it, and saw that they were trying to make the Zootopia universe relatable by changing common things we were used to with “Z” words (zoogle rather than google, zuber rather than uber, etc.) I was then worried that it would be too corny, trying too hard. But really, that’s only in the marketing. In the actual movie, I was relieved to see, the gags and puns are little rewards for keen-eyed observers.
As a side note, I’ve found, in recent years, Disney marketing does tend to go a little overboard on the jokes of site gags found within its animated films, as if trying to ensure these things catch on and “go viral.” While I totally understand this is a necessary evil of marketing on this scale, it’s no less annoying, to me personally, and really makes me wish I could just watch things sight un-seen and make my own judgments from there. But then again, I’m not a typical movie-going Disney fan. I don’t laugh at all the jokes I’m supposed to, and do tend to like more subtle attempts at both humor and any moral-of-the-story lessons. So, maybe it’s just me.
In any event, I was proven wrong in my pre-judgment of Zootopia. Very wrong. I loved it and I think it has the true distinction of being engaging and relatable to everyone and every age. In addition, the universe created for the film and the city of Zootopia is absolutely amazing and so infinitely detailed, I want to live in each of the distinct little areas of their world. The opening scene of the movie tells all the backstory you need to know about both our main character, Judy Hopps, and the world of Zootopia itself. The different neighborhoods are perfect homes for the various types of animals best suited to that environment; Sahara Square for desert animals, the Rain Forest District for those used to jungle environments, Tundratown for polar bears and other cold-weather animals, along with Bunnyburrow, where Judy is from, and Little Rodentia, for the tiniest mammals (the scenes in this area are among my favorite in the movie), while the downtown area Savanna Central, is a bustling city environment where animals from every climate and environment come together to work and live.
Judy Hopps is, at the end of the day, a glass half full kind of bunny. She is an eternal optimist, not only in life, but in her own self-confidence. Despite the motto of Zootopia being “where anyone can be anything,” there is a sort of unwritten rule that in certain situations (when bunnies want to become police officers for example), that isn’t really the case. Judy is determined to prove them wrong, and most importantly, prove to herself that she can be and do anything, and do it well. What follows when Judy does graduate as the first bunny from the police academy, is, at the heart of it all, a buddy comedy. I can actually picture the storyline of Zootopia (minus some animal-specific aspects) translating to a live-action film with humans rather than animals, and that’s perhaps the best compliment for the writing and strength of the plot.
Another major-yet-more-subtle subplot to the movie is the idea of prejudice, profiling of different types of people (or animals in this case). As mentioned above, the animals in Zootopia may claim to be evolved and accepting of all different types of species and allowing them to be anything they want, but there are several lines and situations within the film that directly correlate to our own real-world racial profiling and embarrassingly stereotypical actions – “other bunnies can call each other cute, but other animals can’t call a bunny cute” for example. This may go over the average kid’s head as a funny throw-away line, but adults watching know where it’s coming from, and if it sparks conversation among parents to their kids, all the better. In any event, I love when “kids movies” don’t pander to kids and leave modern and important themes out of the mix. It is possible to have a fun story, animated characters, and important life lessons in one film. Zootopia does that with ease.
I won’t drone on with (much) more analysis of plotlines and characters, but I will say (again) that I loved Zootopia, I loved the message that it tells, and how it tells it. There was not a princess in site, and there was absolutely no feeling of “oh, this is a female empowerment theme” because the whole point of the story is literally, anyone can do anything, and that they should, if they want to. That we shouldn’t judge others based on preconceived notions, and although someone may do something differently than us, it doesn’t mean it’s any less right or valid. And I loved that take-away. I took my 7 year-old son to the screening I saw, and I love that he was exposed to those messages probably without even realizing it. Judy Hopps failed a few times, but kept going, learning all along the way. Nick Wilde lived his life one way because he thought that’s how he had to, and learned that he could and should do more. I hope it sticks in his little sponge-like brain to – as pop sensation Gazelle (played by Shakira) sang in the movie – “Try Everything.”
This was a movie I instantly wanted to see again, and cannot wait till I can do just that. The animation itself is gorgeous, robust and detailed. The character acting is great too, Idris Elba as the Chief of Police is so fun to listen to, as is J.K. Simmons as the mayor, and Nate Torrence as the lovable police station cop, Clawhauser.
I’m excited for Zootopia to be released and have a presence in Disney parks. A meet and greet has already been announced for Disney California Adventure, and Judy and Nick will join the “Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It!” Street Party at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, both happening this spring. My son has already asked for a Zootopia backpack and lunchbox, so that means the movie has reached Star Wars level approval ratings in our home.
I’d love to hear what you think if you see Zootopia this weekend!
Disclaimer: I attended a free screening of this film in order to write this review. As you can see, my thoughts and opinions are my own.