Hip, heartwarming ‘Zootopia’ shows how far House of Mouse has evolved
Starring the voices of Gennifer Goodwin & Jason Bateman
Directed by Brian Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Rush
A little girl dreams of leaving her rural hometown, moving to the city, becoming something no one else has ever been and making the world a better place. Sounds like a cliché, you say. Well, maybe—except in Zootopia, the little girl is a bunny, she wants to be a cop, and the city is full of other animals, but no people.
And there’s this: Rabbits are “prey,” like 90 percent of the population of the mammal metropolis of Zootopia, which is also home to predators—lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, jaguars. But over the centuries, prey and predators have evolved past their primal, biological instincts and learned to coexist…mostly.
And Zootopia, the latest Disney film, shows just how far the House of Mouse has evolved from dreamy prince-and-princess fairy tales of decades past. There’s bold new energy and excitement coursing through the studio, and it’s everywhere in this hip, ingenious, wildly creative tale full of wit, emotion and a message of inclusion, understanding and diversity.
To see where the movie gets its mojo, start at the top. Co-directors Brian Howard and Rich Moore’s credits include Disney’s Tangled, Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph as well as The Simpsons.
The smart, super-sharp story (Jennifer Lee, one of the writers, won an Oscar for Frozen, and Phil Johnson wrote the new Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Brothers Grimsby and the underrated Cedar Rapids) begins with the departure of buoyantly optimistic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) from pastoral Bunnyborough for the teeming Xanadu of Zootopia, where she aspires to become a police officer, the city’s first bunny cop. She does, and quickly hops smack into some deep-rooted prejudice, fears and stereotypes.
An elephant refuses to serve a fox in his ice cream parlor; a tiger is told, “Go back to the forest, predator!” It’s no stretch to substitute racism, sexism and other “isms” for the “species-ism” that Judy finds separating animals that are otherwise friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens.
After Judy encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox who makes his living running small-time scams and hustles, she soon must enlist his help investigating a mysterious case that’s baffled the police chief (Idris Elba, a blustery cape buffalo).
To say much more about the plot—which deepens and thickens considerably—would give away its many delights. The animal animations are outstanding, and the computer artists create special-effect magic melding the menagerie with the personalities of the actors—J.K. Simmons as a lion, Jenny Slate as a sheep, Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) as a “naturalist” yak, pop star Shakira as a sexy gazelle (who sings the movie’s theme song, “Try Everything”).
The movie is a visual feast full of fun, suspense, surprise and adventure. It delivers its uplifting, more serious theme of unity and togetherness in a way that will rarely feel preachy or ponderous for kids. Grownups will keep busy tracking the dozens of pop-cultural riffs, sight gags and in-jokes, including meta-references to other Disney flicks and nods to classic Hollywood, like an especially clever Godfather scene and one of the best cop-doughnut jokes in any movie, ever.
From a talking mouse mascot to a flying elephant and 101 Dalmatians, Disney has always had a thing for animals. In Zootopia, they’re not only running the show, they’ve taken over the world. And they’ve got a very important, oh-so timely message for us all.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine