If there was ever a time when we needed a film to reaffirm the values of diversity, tolerance, acceptance, empowerment and rejection of bigotry and stereotypes, I'd say it was now, wouldn't you? And to have that film be an expertly fashioned, completely entertaining buddy cop movie and neo-noir from the Mouse House itself, that's nothing other than a complete triumph, and a totally unexpected one at that.
To say that Disney's 55th animated feature film has more on its mind than yuks and warm fuzzies is an understatement, and yet it gives you all of that and more. An original idea from directors Rich Moore (Wreck-it Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled), takes the premise that the animal kingdom has evolved thousands of years past the "savage" days of the Stone Age, and now predators and prey occupy the same lands as anthropomorphic creatures who dress snazzy, speak English, use iphones and go to work, same as us. But things are not perfect, because they suffer from the same kinds of prejudices and preconceived notions that will feel all too familiar to those of us that live in the human world.
Our heroine is Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny rabbit from the country who more than anything wants to grow up to be a police officer, get off the farm, and move to the big city of Zootopia, where animals of all stripes live in supposed harmony together. But her parents discourage her from those dreams, telling her there's never been a bunny cop before, and to settle for what she can most realistically achieve- selling carrots on her family's farm with her 235 brothers and sisters. Judy doesn't take that lying down though, and of course grows up to graduate from the Academy and become the first bunny (re: female) cop of Zootopia, where she is surrounded by bigger, more aggressive mammals (re: men) and demoted to meter maid immediately. As she struggles with attempting to break the glass ceiling of her own profession, she comes in contact with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox and con man whose own species renders him labeled with all kinds of adjectives from shifty to deceptive and untrustworthy, even by Judy herself, who fears the long antagonistic history of foxes towards rabbits. Their relationship sparkles with friction and dry, snarky exchanges from a perfectly cast Bateman who provides Nick with an instantly appealing, sarcastic personality, a tragic backstory of his own, and visually resembles a CGI version of Disney's Robin Hood from the old 1973 classic.
Nick and Judy get caught up in a missing mammals case which leads them through the underbelly of Zootopia (ala Chinatown or L.A. Confidential) as they happen upon the various denizens of each beautifully detailed and aesthetically rich district of the metropolis that caters to all kinds of animal life and habitats. The plot unravels a complicated conspiracy being strewn by those at the very top, meant to render the city's minority predator population feral as power is consolidated by those with fearmongering methods and an agenda meant to sow strife and discord among the citizenry. Fear always works, as one official proclaims, and eery rallies occur on the news as species turn against each other and yell "we want our city back..." does any of that sound familiar to you? It's hardly veiled commentary. This is a movie that wants to confront these issues, to give kids a funny, colorful and visually dazzling entertainment with gags referencing everything from The Godfather to Breaking Bad. But it does this while also making sure, through no uncertain means, to deliver a message of female and minority empowerment while rejecting the fear and racism stoked by those who seek to divide us and even that which is buried within our own psyches as a result of the long and painful history of our own evolution. I couldn't love this movie any more if I tried. It's Disney's best film in at least twenty years and could not have arrived at a better moment in time. Go see it. You’ll get more out of it than the kids do.
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