Zootopia is a perfect 2016 movie. Sure, it depicts a bunny cop and a fox solving a mystery — which is utterly timeless, obviously — but what it does here and how is speak with surprising grace about stereotyping that’s pervaded both the American presidential election and interactions cops and civilians. I haven’t dug around to find out, but I’d imagine there’s a delicious Fox News segment denigrating the film is liberal propaganda for children. (And ironically, the film would argue against my last statement, but I thought it was good, so…)
Anyway, Zootopia is also a delightful animated adventure film with some of recent Disney Animation’s best over-the-heads-of-the-little-ones humor that, appropriately for 2016, relies a lot on pop culture references, memes, prestige TV, and nostalgia. I loved this movie.
The film opens with a stage play as little Judy Hopps (voice of Della Saba as a child, voice of Ginnifer Goodwin as an adult) explaining how all of Earth’s animals — predators and prey alike — agreed to forgo the laws of nature and establish a society called Zootopia where everyone lives in harmony and anyone can be anything they want. Judy wants to be a cop, despite the reservations of her parents and the fact that no bunny has ever been a cop in 1000 years. However, Judy doesn’t know how to quit. She graduates from the police academy at the top of her class.
On the job, her boss, Chief Bogo (voice of Idris Elba), doesn’t respect her and puts her on parking ticket duty. That’s when she meets the sneaky schemer Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a fox. After acquiring a real assignment — find Emmett Otter, one of 14 predatory mammals that have gone missing across the city — she realizes Nick is a lead and blackmails him into helping her. They make a good team — Judy is relentless, Nick is street smart — but are they good enough to crack the case in 48 hours? That’s how much time Bogo gives Judy to find Otter before she has to turn in her badge.
In recent Disney Animation films — Frozen, Tangled — women have been front and center, but neither of those films has a protagonist as compelling as Judy. She’s presented at first as a slightly obnoxious but well-meaning overachiever (think Tracy Flick). By the time the film reaches what appears to be a conclusion (much faster than you’d expect), it becomes apparent she’s in for a big change, and that’s when Zootopia elevates.
Nick facilitates a lot of this change, and the film asks him to go through a transformation of his own. He’s given a poignant backstory that I appreciated, even if I didn’t connect to his change on the same level as I did Judy’s. That, I must admit, made me very aware of my “white maleness” while watching this animated movie about bunnies and foxes, but it was a powerful realization that I think could/should/must do all viewers like me some good.
On the lighter side of things, the film is packed to the brim with amusing sight gags and other humorous references, mostly for adults (like when a chemist concocting a drug says that must be “Walter and Jessie” at the door). The film’s marketing spent a lot of time explaining to children what anthropomorphic means, which seemed silly and pointless — it’s a movie about a crime-fighting bunny for goodness sake! — but the film’s various montages through the streets of Zootopia are pretty hilarious. I loved the giraffe cars and the town square for rodents, and Judy and Nick’s to the DMV will have you in stitches.
Zootopia ranks right up there alongside Finding Dory as one of 2016’s best films. Again, that says more about how dreadful this year has been vs. how transcendent Zootopia is, but no need to qualify how much I liked this delightful flick. It’s practically flawless and actually aims higher than it probably needed to. I’m excited for an inevitable Zootopia 2, and look forward to Judy and Nick becoming a modern-day Riggs and Murtaugh.