My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
For a film that seemed pretty innocent and silly from the trailers, Zootopia ended up being as much of a surprise to me as the fiction city for which it is named was a surprise for Office Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin). I went in expecting a fun, light-hearted movie about a city filled with anthropomorphized animals going about their daily lives with minimal conflicts along the way. By now I should have realized that Disney’s animated films are about on par with those made by Pixar in terms of the graphics as well as the story. With spring barely upon us, I feel confident to say that Zooptopia may be the Inside Out of 2016.
Unlike Inside Out, however, Zootopia had a much broader focus, especially when it came to the underlying themes of the film. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie with such powerful subtext (especially for an animated film), which really made the experience even better since it showed how well crafted and well thought out the movie was. The main theme of Zootopia is overcoming stereotypes. Office Judy Hopps grows up wanting to be a police officer in a world where being a bunny from the country means she should become a carrot farmer. Despite the pragmatic warnings from her parents and peers, Judy heads to the big city of Zootopia to try and achieve her dream. Her belief in herself is very endearing and reminded me a bit of Lesley Knope from Parks and Recreation. This alone is extremely powerful and relatable to everyone that has had big dreams and been told by society that they need to be realistic and settle for less. The message is to keep fighting for your goals even if they seem impossible.
The beauty of Zootopia is that the metaphor only begins here. The main stereotype that the story tackles is one of race. Zootopia (the city) is a place where animals of all different species come together to live in supposed harmony. However, what lies beneath this idyllic veneer is suspicion and mistrust between prey animals (that make up 90% of the population) and predator animals. The latter of which are just as human and civil as the prey animals (the mayor of Zootopia is a lion), but are looked at as dangerous by the majority of society. Using this lens, Zootopia is able to explore racism and stereotypes in a really clever way that was very timely seeing as we are facing a lot of issues with categorization in America at the moment. The main message is that we shouldn’t judge people for things they can’t change, but instead judge them for their character. Some “predators” are wonderful people that just need to be given a chance to turn their life around, whereas some “prey” may be the most vicious members of society.
One of the things I loved most about Zootopia was how well-built the world was. The amount of detail in all the sections of the city and surrounding areas was like something out of a fantasy or science fiction novel. On top of this, the society was so expertly crafted from the modes of transportation to the restaurants. I also loved how much of our real American society was woven into the world of Zootopia. There was, of course, the music and technology, but there were also references to affirmative action and differences of worldview between generations. Being an avid follower of political history, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between some of the leaders in the film with American politicians. Without giving anything away, there are some politicians that seem timid and are really out to divide and manipulate their constituents through fear, where there are other politicians that mean well but do things that go against their better judgment out of fear of losing votes or being removed from office.
Much like Inside Out, this film can really only be fully appreciated by adults and, thus, has lots of references that only adults would understand. From key plot points relying on a basic understanding of tax evasion to quick Breaking Bad references towards the end of the film, Zootopia might have a lot to say to its audience, but it doesn’t speak down to them. While the message and themes can be a bit heavy a times, they are never slammed in your face and they never detract from the charm of the characters or plot. I highly recommend going to see Zootopia in theaters. It’s a great film for the whole family and will leave you with something to think about for weeks afterwards. There are some scenes that may be frightening for young kids, but the film is nowhere near as violent or depressing as The Good Dinosaur and doesn’t really move into the realm of tearjerking. There are dark scenes and a lot of suspense for sure, but the overall tone is upbeat and funny. Overall, Zootopia is a smart movie that is well thought out and well-crafted. It will definitely go down as one of my favorite Disney films of all time.