There seems to be a major disconnect between the makers of Zootopia and Walt Disney’s PR team. The trailers and commercials make the film out to be some sort of light-hearted buddy comedy. The film, however, begins with a bunny rabbit desperately running for its life before being attacked by a veracious tiger in the jungle. Zootopia may be the most adult children’s film to come out of the Mouse House since Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
In a world where animals have evolved to not only coexist, but to create technology and a society that equals ours, a spritely young rabbit named Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time), the daughter of carrot farmers ingeniously voiced by Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake, becomes the first of her species to graduate to the Zootopia Police Force. At this point, the film could be any one of several late-period Jennifer Lopez movies; a young female officer fighting prejudice in an all male (in this film, largely mammal) police squad.
Then, Officer Hopps finds her way into a missing person (sorry, mammal) conspiracy. That’s when the film starts getting really dark. Carnivores turn savage and then go missing. There’s secret security squads similar to Haliburton. And, everything leads back to the mayor’s office.
Yes, the film is original and colorfully animated with fun, likable characters that are soon to be owned in plush form by our children. And, if you’ve been jonesing for pop culture references in a kid’s movie since Dreamworks stopped making Shrek movies, you’ll get your fill here. Also, if you’ve been waiting for an animated film to make a joke using the N-word, this is definitely the film for you. No, they don’t actually use the N-word (it’s not Song of the South) but, apparently, “cute” is a word that is offensive to rabbits unless it’s said by other rabbits. Yeah, not so subtle.
As with many latter day Disney computer animated films (including the ridiculously popular Oscar winning Frozen), it feels necessary to state that this is not a Pixar film, though John Lasseter’s temperament and storytelling can be felt throughout. It’s rather clever and efficient to explain the topographical setting of Zootopia as Judy goes through basic training. It, also, leads to a rather cheap yet very funny bathroom joke. The rest of Zootopia’s districts are later shown through Judy’s train ride into town.
The filmmakers are definitely upfront about setting the tone of the film early on. There is a rather awkward scene, when Officer Hopps first gets on the case of the missing Emmitt Otterton, (yes, Jim Henson fans will get a brief laugh) when she walks into a “spa” that caters to animals returning to their basic instincts. That’s kind of the middle finger to the audience. Yes, it’s a film where all animals walk around on their hind legs and wear clothes and speak and all that anthropomorphic jazz. Then, there’s Tommy Chong’s Yak showing everyone how happy every animal would be if they didn’t have to act like people, just walking around on all fours and licking themselves. They (the filmmakers- Zootopia was directed by Tangled‘s Byron Howard, Wreck-It-Ralph‘s Rich Moore and Big Hero 6 alum Jared Bush) kind of just shove it in our face, how ridiculous this is, and still get us to laugh at it.
However, Zootopia basically follows the same process of any current CBS crime procedural. The only difference is that the good guys are a talking rabbit and fox (rather cleverly voiced by Jason Bateman and stylistically based off of Disney’s own version of Robin Hood) and the bad guys are (well, if you couldn’t figure that out, I’m not going to ruin that for you).
Verdict: 3 out 5 stars
Everything is here for what you want. No matter what it is that you want. The pathos, the camaraderie, the suspense, the wit and humor, everything is thrown at you (including the big-name voice cast, which also includes J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba and Jenny Slate). Zootopia just walks the line a little too hard between all of these to really feel whole. It’s a film that wants to be everything to everyone. The clip that, perhaps, got everyone’s attention for this film is when the rabbit and fox go to the DMV to track a license plate number and discover that the department is ran by sloths. Yes, it’s funny and clever but it doesn’t build on anything else. That clip could’ve been the whole film. (Yes, there is a pretty witty throwback to that at the end of the film). The makers of this film couldn’t seem happy enough to simply do a satire in that vein. Though there are other scenes similar to it, they felt it necessary to throw on this whole conspiracy story on top of what could’ve been a rather clever Larry David-esque kid’s flick.