“Zootopia”: Disney Cop Dramedy Has Vibrant Animation, Mature Theme

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

Zootopia poster
Image from http://movies.disney.com/

There is a stigma around animated movies that they are primarily for children. I completely disagree with this claim, as many animated movies of the past few years have more thought and effort put into them then many of the live-action films I see each year.  Disney especially has stepped up their game in recent years with the quality of its animated films, with Big Hero 6 and Frozen exploring complex themes in a way that animated films of the past never dared to.  The House of Mouse has outdone themselves once again with Zootopia, a funny but somewhat mature cop dramedy with cute-looking animals and a very important message for kids and adults.  Don’t let the cutesy ad campaign fool you, there is much more than meets the eye with this one.

It follows Judy Hops (Voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin of ABC’s Once Upon A Time), a bunny who dreams of being on the police force of “Zootopia”, a city where any animal can be anything they want to be.  Through determination and hard work, Judy is able to earn a spot on the force, as a metermaid, you know, that person who gives you a ticket by the meter even if it is one second late.  Though this is not at all what she want to do, Judy accepts it with gusto, performing her duties as well as she can.  I don’t know how someone can be as happy as she is punching tickets, but this film presents a world where predators and prey no longer fear each other, so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a little higher.

Judy’s luck changes when she stumbles into locating a missing otter, one of 15 missing predator cases. Unfortunately, due to the blatant bias of her police chief, Judy is given only 48 hours to solve the case or give up her badge.  Along the way, she begrudgingly works with a con fox named Nick (Voiced hilariously by Jason Bateman) who helps her along the seedy streets to get to the bottom of things.  What they find will change not only them, but the entire city, forever.

The advertisements for this movie made it look like it would either be extremely good or embarrassingly awful.  If Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin had not been attached, and the 99% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com not occurred, I likely would have waited for Redbox on this one.  However, there are satirical jabs at our society and some surprising adult references that will fly over the heads of children (but put a smile on their parents’ face).  I laughed several times in this movie, but it is not primarily a comedy.  In reality, the film is more of a buddy-ish cop dramedy that just happens to have cute animals in it.  This is one of Disney’s strangest ideas, and, like many of their recent efforts, I was shocked at the directions it went in, but satisfied when it ended.

In terms of the maturity of the film, there are a couple intense chases and some jump scares, as well as some deliberate bullying by children to the main characters that were honestly uncomfortable to watch. The overall themes of the movie (which I will not spoil) are probably the most mature ones I’ve seen in an animated film in quite some time.  It is handled in an adult manner that does not talk down to children, but treats them with respect and dignity.  I would say this is more appropriate for children than Inside Out (which dealt unapologetically with depression), but children will come out of Zootopia having been exposed to some intense themes that one wouldn’t expect given the commercials.

The movie ticks nearly every box I have for animated films. The animation is instantly gorgeous, especially during the scene where Judy rides into the city.  We are as awestruck as she is thanks to some great cinematography and a perfect song choice (sung by Shakira, who voices a pop star in this film).  Nearly all the characters are likable and understandable (even the villain), helping us to relate to them instantly.  Judy is a great example for young girls because she never lets society put her down.  I would go as far to argue that she’s a better role model than Elsa (begin your boos and hisses now), as she doesn’t have any special powers or run away from her problems, but instead uses her instincts and natural talents as a bunny to solve her problems, maintaining a positive outlook throughout.  Nick starts out as a sketchy con artist, but we learn that he has a good (and sad) reason for doing so, and changes to a good person throughout the film.  Bateman’s voice suits the character perfectly, and I can tell he is having loads of fun.  Goodwin also brings her charm to the role, never going unrealistically over-the-top with her cheeriness, but always looking at the glass as half full.  We need more characters like her in children’s films: strong women who will accept the help of others when needed, but don’t need to fall in love with a man to complete them.

That is probably one of the best things about the movie: It does not follow down the beaten path, but makes a new one for itself. Whenever you think you’ve got the movie figured out, it will throw something new and unexpected at you and continue on, all the way to its heartfelt conclusion.  On a smaller note, I adore the fact that Nick and Judy do not end up together at the end.  I will not tell you what happens, but I will say that they do not have a romantic relationship, but remain friends throughout their journey.  I kept waiting for that forced moment where they would “fall for” each other, but, to my immense delight, it never came.  I applaud Disney for finally showing children that a man and woman can meet each other and not fall in love after a week.  It took a while, but they finally did it.  Good Job.

All things considered, Zootopia is one of Disney’s best, maintaining the classic feel of its old material while injecting modern sensibility into the mix. Frozen has had its time in the spotlight, but now it is time for Zootopia to take the world by storm.  I find it to be a better film in nearly every way, and it should get the credit it deserves.  I’m not saying Frozen was bad, but am I the only one who will bang my head on my laptop if I hear “Let it Go” one more time?  They should take their own advice with that song.

Rated PG for Thematic Elements (seriously, they are there), Mild Action, and Rude Humor

 

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