About two months ago, an extended scene for Disney’s latest animated film Zootopia hit theaters as a sort-of trailer. I’m talking about the scene where a bunny police officer and a fox go to the DMV in “Zootopia” (A human-like world inhabited by animals all living together in relative harmony) to run a license plate and discover the entire organization is run by sloths. While, yes, that in and of itself is kind of clever, the way the scene plays out is pure comedy gold. I posted it up top there in case you have no idea what I’m talking about. Seriously, it’s genius.
So, after that trailer exploded expectations were sky high that Zootopia would be just the kind of movie that both kids and adults could really enjoy and get some good laughs out of. Well as it turns out, not exactly. Rather than going for the low hanging fruit moments that are so common in most animated films these days, Zootopia is much more of a crime noir/dramatic thriller than a comedy laughfest. And while it’s a tiny bit annoying the film was presented as a full-on comedy, I’m personally pretty excited by how well done and out of the ordinary the film turned out to be.
As Zootopia opens we meet Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny who, after a way over-the-top onstage performance, declares that everyone should follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. Case in point, she wants to be a police officer. While in this day and age a female officer of the law is no big thing in Zootopia, this is unheard of. Literally. There has never been a bunny cop and no one takes Hopps seriously. But rather than let everyone get her down Hopps shows real grit and tries harder, perseveres more and eventually graduates at the top of her class and realizes her dream of landing on the Zootopia police force…as a meter maid. Clearly this is not the end goal she had in mind but ever the go-getter, she sets out to be the best darned meter maid she can be while remaining ever vigilant for crimes she might be able to stop.
Life in Zootopia is overall, pretty mellow. While there’s animals of all kinds they tend to live together in peace in terms of the predator/prey state of affairs. The big predators have now evolved to the point where they won’t eat the smaller prey. That is until suddenly and unexpectedly the predatory instinct comes raging back and before long, Zootopia is looking like a xenophobic Donald Trump rally and predators are being profiled and removed before they’ve even done anything wrong. And while yes, this is a pretty on-the-nose subtext for what’s happening in America post 9-11, I for one was pretty excited a Disney animated film was “going there.”
But Zootopia isn’t all heavy-handed liberal grandstanding, there’s a terrific buddy comedy in the mix too. Hopps soon meets a streetwise hustler fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, finding yet another great outlet for his smarmy personality) and before long they’re stuck together in order to find out what’s causing the once chill predators to start harkening back to their blood lusting roots. Wilde and Hopps really have a fantastic onscreen chemistry, which is pretty amazing considering these are an animated bunny and fox, but it’s undeniable. These two are going to be cashing Disney franchise checks for the next decade or more and with good reason – theirs is a well-written and performed relationship that’s vital to the success of the film.
In short, Zootopia is a joy. While it’s not the sly comedy it was pitched as, it’s actually better than that. There’s clever nods to classic films like The Godfather and Silence of the Lambs and shockingly, there’s nary a fart or poop joke. Nor does any male animal get kicked in the balls. It’s a miracle an animated film was bold enough to stay away from those overused moments and for nothing else, Zootopia succeeds for that reason. But it also succeeds in its positive message, great performances, wonderful animation and for putting a scarcely buried subtextual message right out on front street.
– Don R. Lewis (@ThatDonLewis)