It’s so refreshing to see a children’s film that has so much going for it. Zootopia’s palette and visual effects are beautifully dimensional and the picture contains endearing and diverse animal characters that behave so human, some really fine observations about our own species can be drawn from them in terms that children can easily grasp. The basic point is that viewing and treating others as stereotypes can be misguided and even dangerous, especially when simplistic explanations are used to “understand” them. Or assumptions are made such as “we may have evolved, but deep down we’re still animals that can go savage.” On the other hand, it’s demonstrated that kindness and genuine charm can be supremely effective in winning cooperation from others.
Judy Hopps (Goodwin) is a perky rabbit determined to become a police officer despite everyone from her family to her friends and co-workers openly discouraging her from the notion. But she is determined (“I don’t know when to quit”), and is “quick as a bunny” and smart as a whip. She graduates from training first in her class, bids goodbye to Bunny Burrow, and boards the train for Zootopia (which, of course, she regards as utopian). Her goals have the same utopian quality; she plans to unite the “vicious predator with the meek prey” so that everyone can live in harmony.
But her anticipations are not met, and sure enough others refer to her as a “stupid carrot farming dumb bunny”, even the police chief, who assigns her to be a meter maid. She provides valuable modeling for children in coping with such a job situation. That is, instead of 100 tickets she is supposed to issue, she will issue 200; but, in addition, she keeps her eyes and ears open, and soon sees an opportunity for real police work that she hopes will allow her to “make the world a better place.”
Judy’s parents have warned her about foxes, and she soon encounters a wily one by the name of Nick Wilde (Bateman). (All the names of characters relate to the metaphors used in the film’s story.) They have a contentious, bargaining relationship at first; she is wary and he is cynical, and each has to earn the other’s respect. It’s rewarding to see their friendship develop across time into a trusting, collaborative partnership.
The filmmakers include major intrigues to heighten interest and excitement and lend a bit of scariness to the plot; namely that of a serious problem of mammals disappearing. It will take Judy and Nick some time to figure out what is going on, amidst some misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and mistakes in interpreting the data. Both will develop valuable insights into themselves and their friendship in the process.
For fun, the film has clever little jokes sprinkled throughout, such as Lucky Charms cereal labeled “Lucky Chomps” and all the workers in the DMV being sloths maddeningly slow and methodical in their responses. And it has helpful maxims: “If the ones in power can make the prey fear the predator, their power is assured.
Walt Disney Studios and Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moony and Jared Bush have created a highly entertaining but substantive picture that can be enjoyed by all ages of viewers.
Striving for a utopian society by a most unlikely pair.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland