We’re barely three months into 2016, and we’ve already seen what I’m sure will be next year’s Best Animated Picture Oscar winner. I’m talking, of course, about ZOOTOPIA, the latest 3D animated film from Disney.
At its base, ZOOTOPIA is a buddy cop action movie as only Disney can do it: with fantastic comedy and a lot of heart. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first bunny police officer in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia, must partner up with fox and con man Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve a string of missing person (or rather, missing mammal) cases before time runs out, and discovers there’s much more to the case – and to herself and Nick – than she could have ever expected.
What ZOOTOPIA great – what nobody expected, and what makes it such a timely release – is the on point social commentary that comprises the very architecture of the story. While animals have evolved beyond base predator/prey instincts and now live together in a civilized manner, there are still internal prejudices that shape the city and the world. Rabbits are seen as dumb, backwater hicks; foxes are sneaky and untrustworthy; despite predators and prey being equal, predators still hold many positions of power in the city; the list goes on. While there’s never a direct one to one parallel – as in, “this subset of people in the human world is always represented by this particular species in the movie” – the reflections are still very much there. Predators may be granted some privileges simply by virtue of being predators, but they’re also discriminated against – especially as events unfold later in the story – for that same reason. ZOOTOPIA makes dual points on this front: that being the victim of prejudice doesn’t mean you don’t have prejudices of your own, and that trying to help is very different than actually helping and one cannot substitute for the other. It’s the best executed moral Disney has had since FROZEN, and it’s conveyed with subtlety and emotion.
(Yes, ZOOTOPIA will make you cry at least once. It’s the Pixar influence. Bring tissues.)
On a story level, ZOOTOPIA is very tightly written; everything that plays out throughout the movie, from minor clues to huge plot twists to character insights, is set up within the first third of the movie. Even the jokes feel organic and function as development for both plot and character. Nothing in ZOOTOPIA is wasted, and that is a feat of writing in and of itself.
ZOOTOPIA could not have come out at a better time, especially with presidential elections this year. I don’t usually refer to anything as required viewing, but in this case I’ll make an exception. ZOOTOPIA is a must-see movie for children and adults alike, both for its story and its message. Watch it, discuss it, and take its message to heart; then, if you’re like me, go see it again, because you just can’t get enough of a good Disney movie.