It is perhaps ironic that a Disney movie about not judging on preconceived notions shattered all my initial expectations of it. I expected Zootopia to be a middling to fair animated feature, not a stunningly textured self-aware joke machine. I expected Zootopia to be a brainless anthropomorphic romp, not a kid-friendly critique of institutionalized racism and sexism. I expected Zootopia to be a furry movie, and that assumption was maybe correct.
Let’s just get this out of the way: yes, I think Idris Elba as a cape buffalo is still attractive.
Zootopia tells the story of fresh-from-the-farm Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who is determined to become the first ever bunny cop on the beat. She teams up with Nick Wilde the confox (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that exposes corruption at the very heart of the bustling city of Zootopia.
Both Judy and Nick deal with prejudice throughout Zootopia. Although she worked hard to become the top of her class at the police academy, Judy is still explicitly a “diversity hire,” and her new captain keeps her on meter maid duty regardless of her talent. Nick shares childhood memories where he was assumed to be violent just for being a predator. Zootopia touches on issues of intersectionality, apologizing without expecting forgiveness, and how biases warp the media and our own expectations of those we share the world with. It also manages to be simultaneously pro-police and anti-police corruption.
The animation in Zootopia seamlessly rides the line of the uncanny valley, with impossibly big Disney eyes set into fur and hair and hide and wool. There were minute mammalian details which gave the whole movie a “PG-rated Bojack Horseman with Mickey’s animation budget” feel. The city of Zootopia is split into biodome districts (rain forest, desert, tundra, etc) so even amidst the language-speaking, clothes-wearing, upright-standing animals, there’s still a bit of zoology to be learned. The movie conveniently ignores the issue of “what exactly do these carnivores eat in this post-predator/prey dichotomy society,” but much like the nudist yoga-instructor elephant’s intimate lower body details, it didn’t have to be present for Zootopia to be an enjoyable experience.
“Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go,” says Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), with a cheeky jab at Disney’s last non-Pixar mega-hit. Zootopia doesn’t have the musical numbers of Frozen, but it didn’t need them to overthrow its previous opening weekend record ($75 million to Frozen’s $67.4 million). Artistically, thematically, character- and humor-wise, Zootopia is the better film. That’s pretty impressive for a movie I’m 90% sure started as a “bunny/buddy cop” mix up.
If the high animation quality, awesome messages, and promise of laughter isn’t enough to convince you to give Zootopia a try, perhaps the all-star supporting voice cast is. A sampling of these include JK Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Jenny Slate, and Octavia Spencer. Shakira plays a pop-star gazelle, constantly flanked by four beefy tiger back up dancers.
Zootopia is fun, and Zootopia is funny, and you better believe that Zootopia is furry.
Author: K-K Bracken
K-K Bracken grew up overseas and in the Washington, DC area, went to the Ohio State University to get her BA in English, and has been in Columbus, Ohio ever since. She is currently querying her first novel ORCHESTRATION under the name Bracken Beveridge. She is the founder and organizer for the first Steven Universe exclusive fan convention, Beach City Con.
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