Animated family movies with talking animals are about as safe as it gets. You can almost set your watch by the pop culture references, fart jokes, and a sappy moral.
“Zootopia” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a movie packed with talking animals that dares to be something more by offering up a bold little slice of social commentary. This latest offering from Disney is still family-friendly and still has plenty of laughs, but it touches on some uncomfortable themes by plowing headlong into the complications of living in a diverse, multicultural society.
“Zootopia” is the story of an idealistic bunny from the country named Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), who lives in a world where animals have evolved to the point predators and prey live peacefully side by side.
Of course, the animals still are beholden to their evolutionary advantages and disadvantages, which is why everyone laughs when Judy wants to become a police officer in the vibrant metropolis of Zootopia.
Judy struggles at first, but eventually finds her stride and earns her spot as the first bunny on the force alongside a group of much more physically imposing animals.
Her presence is not particularly appreciated and Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) quickly assigns her to parking duty.
Meanwhile, a nefarious plot is afoot as a seemingly unrelated group of predators from all corners of Zootopia have gone missing. Judy noses her way onto the case, but with no help from her fellow officers, she enlists a conman, a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), to help her navigate the mean streets of the city.
The mystery turns out to be a conspiracy worthy of “Chinatown”; and while the twisty plot and animal gags are a lot of fun (the sloths at the DMV are particularly killer), what makes “Zootopia” remarkable is how it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of inclusivity.
Even though the animals live in peace, there is an underlying tension between predators and prey that can make even the simplest of interactions uneasy.
The movie pits the ideas of “you are who you are” against “anybody can be anything they want” while being a pretty clear allegory about racial and cultural discrimination.
The ultimate message here is diversity is awesome; but it’s also messy, complicated and takes some work.
Not everything in this movie works. It takes some detours that don’t really go anywhere and some of the jokes fall a little flat; but, for the most part, this is a nimble, entertaining, and smart little movie.
There is an urgency in this film that reflects an urgency in society that our own Zootopia/Utopia is just within reach if only we can get past our fear and our prejudices. It’s going to take some brave and optimistic bunnies, but I do believe we can get there without eating one another. It’s nice to see a movie that believes that, too.
“Zootopia” is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor, and action.