Welcome to Zootopia; a gleaming city where predator and prey alike live together in peace and harmony, a melting pot metropolis where “anyone can be anything”… or so it seems. That idea alone — of fellow predators to not be on each other’s throats and natural enemies to be side by side — is quite the sight, though that doesn’t mean that everybody gets along. Neither is it a completely safe city to live in because police force called ZPD is still in place to keep things in order.
Here, the animals — mammals, to be exact — are very much human-like. They walk around on two feet, wear clothes, use technology… and eat donuts. Okay, the last point may not apply to all, cuz i do wonder if the denizens are all vegans. And while not a fan of anthropomorphic faunas (case in point: i prefer Finding Nemo to Shark Tale and The Lion King to Madagascar), i find this feature thoroughly enjoyable because the situations they are in mirror ours. It’s pretty much our
storysociety told in animal form.
What i like about animated films are their relevant, relatable, easily understood message(s) and uplifting OST. If that’s what you’re looking for too, then i’m pleased to inform you that Zootopia has that. And then some. Plot points may feel random and fall a bit too neat at times, the story may seem simple on the surface but the allegories are not. It got me to think, reflect, and learn. It is not as pun/wordplay-heavy as Inside Out but given the jokes, dry wit, and not-so-subtle jabs at social and political issues, i also think that this movie is more adult-friendly than it is kids. The little ones, however, shall be engaged through the entire 108 minutes thanks to the colorful palette, detailed and lifelike universe, expressive and lovely characters.
Despite the utopian front, Zootopia is a flawed world. As much as it offers inclusion, concord, and freedom to be whoever you wanna be, problems like prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are still rampant. Offspring are free to dream as long as it’s not too big and not believed in too much. Like how those on Bunnyburrow sort of laugh at young Judy Hopps’ (voice of Della Saba, later by Ginnifer Goodwin) dream to be a cop just because that’s not what rabbits do, which only bolsters her determination to be the first ever bunny cop.
Fast-forward to 15 years later, she not only makes her dream come true by sheer persistence but also graduates at the top of her class. Alas, that alone isn’t enough. She is soon dismissed by the Police Chief, cape buffalo Bogo (Idris Elba) who acknowledges the elephant in the room but cares not to introduce the new recruit and assigns her to mere parking duty despite having 14 missing mammal cases to solve. This isn’t what she signed up for, but Judy proves her worth by issuing 201 parking tickets by noon on her first day of work, one of which is for her own vehicle. Hee. After successfully arresting an elusive weasel (and saving a tiny shrew in the process), she is given the teensiest mammal to find with 48-hour window.
And despite the integration and evolution all mammals have gone through, certain traits and labels are deep-rooted: foxes are sly, rabbits are dumb, sloths are suuuuuper slow, and predators are inherently savage. The (first?) female cop may be sweet and high-minded whose moral compass doesn’t have rooms for any type of injustice, even though the victim is once-predator as well as her species’ natural enemy, but Judy herself is unfortunately not bias-free. Nurture and personal experience teach her to be wary of foxes, which prompts her to tail the first red fox she spots in the city. To her defense, Nicholas “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman) is indeed a shifty swindler, who also turns out to be the lead in the case she’s investigating. What do you say about a token bunny outwitting a wily fox? So the hustler is hustled into helping cottontail police officer track down Mr. Otterton, which goes from simple disappearance to possible kidnapping escalating into tortuous conspiracy.
These are only a few issues raised and tackled here. There are a lot more, but listing them all will give away the fable’s subtexts and messages. The ones that hit home the most are probably the time Nick says he lives up to ‘expectation’ because nobody gives him the benefit of the doubt anyway and when Dawn Bellweather (Jenny Slate) sheepishly refers to her assistant mayor role as “glorified secretary” who’s underutilized, under-appreciated, and scouted only for the sheep votes (the mayor is a lion, and predators are the minority in Zootopia). Albeit mentioned as a passing thought, the nuance is deeply felt. Luckily, these complex and ugly subjects do not weigh down the mood or tone as they are deftly worked into the scene and/or dialogue, none feels jarring or preachy. The only downtime in the swift-paced sequence is when the duo pay a brief visit to the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) manned by hilariously-yet-maddeningly slow-moving sloths. I also spot a few allusions to other features; at least, the cheetah dispatcher brings to mind the Cheshire Cat, and the weasel thief that sneaky Scrat of Ice Age.
In the end, what i like best isn’t the dry humor or gripping adventure but the compelling characters and life lessons. It may not be as dramatic as Big Hero 6 or as nostalgic as Wreck-It Ralph, but i daresay Zootopia has more heart and profound messages, not to mention stunning graphics, than its predecessors. Even as i was staying in to watch the closing credits and listen to Try Everything in full, i was already replaying certain scenes and thinking of its main takeaways: of dreaming big and doing something to make it happen; of not letting others define you and prevent you from realizing your true potential; of not letting public opinion or instilled fear dictate how you behave or view others. One doesn’t have to be the richest or most powerful person to make a difference, because change starts with you.
Zootopia is the first movie i see this year, but i’m confident it will be one of the best.
[eager bunny + wry fox for the win!]
Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Production: Walt Disney Pictures, Motion Pictures, 2016
Cast/Voice talents: Ginnifer Goodwin (as Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), J.K. Simmons (Mayor Leodore Lionheart), Jenny Slate (Dawn Bellweather), Nate Torrence (Officer Benjamin Clawhauser)
Genre: Action comedy, Animation, CGI