Prejudice 101 — for kids of all ages.
Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of making a difference, so she becomes a police officer in the big city. One problem: Judy is a bunny, and Zootopia is a metropolis fully stocked with predators and prey living life together in perfect harmony…but is everything as peaceful as it seems? Relegated to meter-maid duty because of her size and species, Judy seizes an opportunity to investigate a missing persons case to prove her worth, but her bid for success comes with a price if she fails to deliver. With the clock ticking, our hero enlists (read: hustles) the services of a grifter fox named Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman) to guide her through Zootopia’s seedy underbelly, but the truth she discovers is darker than anything a happy, hopeful little bunny could have ever imagined.
This is how smart people tell stories that matter: disguising it as escapism. While reportedly just an idea about anthropomorphic animals living together in a concrete jungle, the clever visual commentary on current society is a feast for the eyes, poking fun at everything from social media to pop culture. But tucked inside all the happy bunny and sly fox antics is a very real problem: how preconceptions and prejudice can lead to racism and genocide — not exactly Saturday morning topics of discussion. Zootopia manages an incredible balancing act having fun with their high concept while taking nothing away from the seriousness of their story, and that’s no small thing.
Discerning viewers will notice how quickly tropes come up and are quickly turned on their head; even the plot doesn’t follow the usual conventions. Equal parts police procedural and buddy movie, Zootopia‘s secret weapon is that no one is entirely what they seem. The plucky bunny isn’t foolish or clueless; the sneaky fox isn’t honorless or just out for himself. By twisting expectations over and over, the film transcends from merely surprising to showing real intelligence. Ginnifer Goodwin gives Officer Judy plenty of dimension from hopeful to heartbroken through her character arc; Jason Bateman lends the same charismatic matter-of-fact vocal smarm to Nick Wilde that he’s honed since television’s “It’s Your Move.”
It’s tough when you’re simultaneously told “you can be anything” but find yourself boxed in by stereotypes. Also: kids can be (gasp!) cruel. With all the earmarks of a summer blockbuster, Zootopia sneaks in under the radar early in the year and has set a high benchmark for what an animated family film can be. All of this begs the question: why was The Good Dinosaur so dull and boring, Disney?
(a four skull recommendation out of four)