“Zootopia” is a pretty chill movie, mostly because its central message of acceptance and tolerance is most welcome in this divisive “us versus them” climate currently being stoked in the mainstream media and out on the streets. Fear Of The Other is a very real and palpable thing and there is no shortage of folks who make it their mission to use it to drive as many wedges as possible between communities via propaganda and campaigns of hate, which means now is a great time for a big commercial piece of art to come out and literally say out loud “hey, stop judging each other and start being cool because we’re all in this together and it is our differences which bring us together and complete us and allow us to function together brilliantly.” Is it a daring message? No. Is it important? Absolutely.
Also, is “Zootopia” Disney’s first animated mismatched buddy cop comedy? The story starts with a bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who declares at a young age that she wants to be a police officer, and when she is told by everyone that bunnies can’t be cops, she’s all like, “I’ll be what I want!” and she becomes a police officer in the city of Zootopia, a huge metropolis inhabited solely by anthropomorphic mammals (as is the rest of the world, I presume). But in order to prove herself as a “real” cop to her new coworkers, she has to solve a missing person’s case within 48 hours (which I think MUST be a reference to mismatched buddy cop comedy action film “48 Hrs.,” am I right?), a case which has been linked to a larger mystery in which predator-citizens like otters and panthers suddenly “go savage” and lash out at those around them, leading to a panic among the mostly prey-based society at large. And early on, Judy essentially blackmails a shifty and sly fox named Nick (Jason Bateman, doing his Jason Bateman thing even in just voice form) in to helping her, and wouldn’t you know it these two characters start out not really liking each other and by the end…well…you know.
While the mystery of why the animals are “going savage” drives the plot, the story is really about the perceived differences between the varied species of animals living together and how they treat each other based on these perceptions. Judy spends the entire movie trying to prove that a rabbit can be a cop in this world in which the cops all seem to be huge animals like oxen and elephants, and Nick is a fox who has given in to his society’s preconceived notion that all foxes are slick and sly thieves, and instead of trying to change that he just plays into it because its much easier, especially having his dream beaten out of him by bullies at a younger age who put him down for daring to try to be different than what society said he had to be. It is an obvious allegory to our real world racism and bigotry, which plays out on both macro and micro levels. There are both overt “racist” things that happen (I guess speciesist?) and subtle things, and the behavior on display is a reflection of the way we act in the real world, with the idea being that if some of us see this behavior reflected back to us, then maybe we’ll change how we see each other.
Though really this message is all for the kids, it is the kind of youth-first indoctrination I can get behind because the essential message is good, which is basically some golden rule shit, just treat each other cool, and you’ll be treated cool, and everything will be awesome because we’re working on this shit together. The sooner the youth of today learns this, the better chance the citizens of tomorrow have of living in some sort of peace driven by mutual respect and honest appreciation for all our little differences as well as our similarities. It helps that this message is told through a story that is on the surface still an interesting mystery, and along with a lot of solid humor that works, it all makes for an entertaining movie. It would be one thing if “Zootopia” was a pandering piece of crap that was more concerned with “the message” than with entertaining the audience, but that is not the case here, this is a good movie that is easy to recommend because it is indeed a fun watch. Is it a new Disney classic? Let’s not get carried away there. But it is definitely better than the lowest common denominator, pop culture reference laden claptrap that often gets passed off for family entertainment these days.
No, instead “Zootopia” is the best kind of family movie, one that the adults can appreciate just as well as the younger members of the family, and the whole thing has a clear and cool message to boot, so as a family you now also have something to talk about on the way home with your kids, cause family is important, ya feel?