Disney’s Zootopia is beautiful and entertaining, pulling you into the rich world populated by every kind of mammalian animal imaginable. When a rabbit named Judy Hopps arrives to follow her dream of becoming a cop, age old prejudices surface and show that things aren’t as perfect as they seem. Welcome to Zootopia.
The film opens with Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny from a farming village who dreams of moving to the big city of Zootopia to chase her dreams and make the world a better place. Her parents try to give her a more “reasonable” goal of becoming a carrot farmer like her hundreds of siblings, but Judy is different and she is determined. As a childhood tormentor says, she “doesn’t know when to quit.”
Fast forward fifteen years, and Judy has graduated at the top of her class to become a police officer and join the Zootopia Police Department as the first bunny cop. She encounters casual (and not so casual) prejudice on her first day and, much to her frustration, she winds up on parking meter duty. Desperate for a chance, Judy tries again and again to make the world better by helping people, and along the way she meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox con artist who quickly swindles her, adding to the heaping dose of reality she’s got to face in the big city.
Being an optimist (and still determined to prove herself), Judy takes on a case that the police captain, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn’t want to handle– finding a missing otter. She is given two days (and threatened with losing her job if she fails) to crack the case. Her only clue leads her back to Nick the fox, and the duo wind up following a trail through the whole of Zootopia to get to the bottom of things.
Nick and Judy’s relationship is entertaining and endearing, as they go from distrustful partners of circumstance to true friends over the course of the investigation. Nick may act like he’s a all snark, but he also treats Judy with respect as she earns it. Judy learns that there’s a lot more simmering under Nick’s surface than the sure face he presents.
And then things take a shift. Judy and Nick find the missing otter, but the mystery is far deeper than they first realized. There is something happening to Zooptopia’s predator population that can’t be explained, but plays into fears and discrimination that never really went away, despite the seemingly idealistic city where everyone appears to live in harmony. Judy is swayed by her own biases and finds herself in the middle of a quickly escalating situation.
I will say no more to avoid spoiling the plot, but I will say that this film, with its adorable, fur-covered characters, is a modern fable, an allegory for the biases and prejudices that we all have, whether we are aware of it or not. Some critics might say the conflict is a little too on the nose, but I appreciated that it played out in both directions, and showed that anyone can react to things because of their own biases. Besides that, I found it to be an interesting enough plot to carry the not-so-subtle subtext, and far more deft than Happy Feet (2006), which also used animals to convey a message, but in a way that felt jarring in the course of the overall story, at least to me. Instead the seeds of where the plot is headed are there in Zootopia from the very beginning.
I want to take a minute to talk about Zootopia, the place. The world-building in this film is so, so good, with each district of the city having its own climate and population of animals suited to that environment, easy transportation between the two, and plenty of fun references to boot. Little Rodentia was one of my favorite areas, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the shrews and voles and mice. I very much liked that we got to spend a little time in each of the districts over the course of Judy and Nick’s investigation, and everything from the different styles of houses to the huge range in available sizes for everything from cups to cars shows incredible attention to detail. This is a beautiful film, and worth a second watching just for all the little nods to modern culture if nothing else.
The filmmakers also let themselves poke a little fun at their own company, and the blatant Disney references (particularly to Frozen) were unexpected but enjoyable. One of the bit characters in particular surprised me in that regard; I will let you find him for yourself.
All in all, this is a fun buddy cop film with a deeper thread running through it, intending to make its audience think a little bit more about their own viewpoints. It’s light enough for kids but well-crafted enough for adults, and I recommend seeing it on the big screen to get a full sense of the scope of the world.
Note: there is no after-credits scene for this film.