The Good Dinosaur may have won over the kinder crowd and Inside Out may have walked away with all the award-season kudos last year, but when it comes to deep, penetrating, allegorical animated films about the world we live in, it’s hard to top Disney’s Zootopia. On the surface the film is a cute buddy comedy about a rookie rabbit cop named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and a sly hustler fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) working together to solve a mystery, but deep down Zootopia is a dark, searing examination of how our fears and biases about others rule our daily lives. Yes, you read that correctly, the mass market hitmakers at the House of Mouse have produced a dark, shockingly-timely kid’s movie about gender, workplace, and racial biases peopled with adorable talking animals. And best of all, it’s really good!
Set in a world where predators and prey animals of every ilk have learned to peacefully coexist for the betterment of society, Zootopia makes clear from its very funny opening scene that things are not what they seem. For although most animals get along just fine in public, age-old prejudices and suspicions about any animal that is different than them linger in the various breeds and animal classes like primordial ooze on the beach. In other words, Zootopia is a lot like human society today, where even as we aspire to be inclusive and play nice with the other “animals” in our various kingdoms, many of us all too often find ourselves reverting to easy stereotypes the minute things go awry. And if you think that sounds like heady stuff for an animated Disney film, you’re right. It is. But Zootopia is so well made that it never gets preachy and in fact, plays on several levels at once.
Those looking for deeper, subtextual meaning will find it in Zootopia’s deft handling of such sensitive, hot button issues as bullying, racial profiling, the Black Lives Matter movement and, perhaps most movingly of all, in Officer Hopps’ all-too-realistic struggle against gender bias in the workplace. And those looking for a visually-arresting thrill ride with a whip smart, take-no-prisoners female lead, a crafty sidekick, and some killer action set pieces will love Zootopia in equal measure.
Directed by Wreck-It Ralph helmer Rich Moore, Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and co-director Jared Bush – who have mentioned films as diverse as Chinatown, The Godfather and Disney’s animated classic Robin Hood as inspiration for the movie’s look and overall tone – Zootopia also features the stellar voice talents of Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Tommy Chong and Oscar-winners J.K. Simmons and Octavia Spencer. And though it was made and marketed primarily to kids, trust me when I tell you that you won’t need a wee one strapped into the seat next to you to enjoy this film.
Fun, dark, suspenseful and often laugh-out-loud topical (Hopps calls Wilde “articulate” at one point in a cheeky ode to a classic Joe Biden-ism about Obama), Zootopia also features two of the best animated characters Disney has ever brought to life onscreen in Hopps and Wilde. Not only do the pair have chemistry to burn as a makeshift crime-fighting duo but they are both deeply flawed individuals and real in a way you rarely see in an animated film. As the father of a seven year-old girl I’ve watched a lot of really bad kid’s movies on airplanes over the years and they are rarely this nuanced and well, articulate, so, don’t miss Zootopia the next time you fly. And make sure you stick around for that jamming Shakira song (“Try Everything”) at the end. Not only will it be stuck on a constant loop in your head for days, but the lyrics, like this plucky little gem of a film, pack a serious punch. Try everything indeed!
Now playing on select Oman Air, Singapore Airlines, United, Delta, American, and British Airways flights worldwide, Zootopia is also available via streaming on iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play.