I’ll be the first to admit that I had little to no interest in seeing Zootopia after the first and even the second trailer came debuted (a DMV run by sloths is a funny gag, but not enough to sustain a two-and-a-half minute trailer). Quite simply, it looked like a concept that had been done a million times before: anthropomorphic characters living in a human-less society. However, to my genuine delight and surprise, the trailers simply didn’t do the film justice. There’s a lot to love about Zootopia.
Zootopia is one of those rare films that equally enjoyable for kids and adults. It was clever enough to keep me laughing throughout (no gross-out humor or mean-spirited snark to be found), and had enough pathos to bring a tear to your eye. The world (particularly the sub-biomes within the city itself) is lush and vibrant. Basically, Zootopia knocks visual and emotional appeal straight out of the park.
The basic plot is thus: two main characters, Judy Hopps, a rookie bunny cop, and Nick Wilde, a con-artist fox, find themselves embroiled in a Chandlerian mystery involving missing mammals. They must delve into the seedier sides of the supposedly idyllic Zootopia and confront not only nefarious critters, but also the prejudices that come along with living in such a diverse society. Surprise, surprise: in a world where wolves and sheep live side-by-side, there’s some friction.
What impressed me most was how deftly the film uses its subject matter to drive discussions about race, prejudice, and stereotyping. Judy has to overcome the hurdle of being the first bunny cop, and all the roadblocks that come along with it: being underestimated, being talked down to, and dealing with those who see her as a “token bunny” hire.
Judy isn’t the only character facing negative stereotypes. As a predator, Nick has had to deal with comments like, “He’s just naturally aggressive. It’s in his DNA,” his whole life. After a traumatizing childhood incident, Nick becomes cynical about the idea of peaceful co-existence, deciding that if the world will only ever see him as predatory and untrustworthy, then there’s no point in trying to change anybody’s mind.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is that the writers didn’t make Judy a perfect beacon of tolerance and acceptance just because she’s fighting against prejudice herself. Despite how open-minded she tries to be, she still carries negative stereotypes about foxes (note: much of her prejudice is passed down to her by her parents) and, when she first sees Nick, she automatically assumes he’s up to no good (which he is, but that’s not the point). And, after her first interaction with Nick, she even slips into a bit of condescension herself, complimenting him on how “well-spoken” he is. The film drives home the point that racism and prejudice is something we all learn, and all have to work to unlearn.
Zootopia deserves praise for refusing to slap an easy ending onto a complex story question. The film could have ended as so many other Disney films have, with a nice but simplistic message such as, “Follow your dreams and everything will work out.” In fact, the film cheekily derides that easy sentiment by having characters spout off lines like, “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true.” The movie drives home the point that yes, you can step out of traditional roles and break down stereotypes, but it is a process, both difficult and extremely worthwhile.
On top of being a funny, gorgeous, highly entertaining movie, Zootopia has a great message and a lot of heart. I’m gonna close with the film’s concluding monologue and let you decide if this movie is worth your time. It was absolutely worth mine.
I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.