“Zootopia” takes place in world very much like ours, except that it’s populated entirely by non-human mammals. They’ve been living in harmony for centuries, meaning that they’ve mostly moved past the whole “eating each other” thing. They talk like humans, they wear clothes like humans, and unfortunately they have prejudices like humans. These prejudices are based not so much on race or gender, but species.
Take our main character, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin). Characters insist that because she’s a rabbit, she’s cute and harmless (never mind that I’ve seen some downright vicious rabbits in our world). She doesn’t seem like a good fit for a police force headed by a buffalo (Idris Elba) and consisting of big meaty animals like rhinos, hippos, and elephants. But she perseveres, using her speed, hearing, and even her size to her advantage. All she gets to do is write parking tickets, but she could see real action any day now. Also worth considering is Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox thought by other characters to be sly and sneaky. In this case, they’re right. But does the fact that he fits the stereotype make it okay for others to judge him at first sight? The film raises lots of questions like that, and as in life, the answers aren’t always simple.
Story-wise, the film follows the determined Hopps and uncooperative witness Wilde as they investigate a string of disappearances involving predators. They don’t like each other at first because Hopps fell for a legal con by Wilde, but then he made the mistake of bragging about a crime he committed so she’s blackmailing him for assistance. They hit obstacles and overcome them, think they’ve solved the case and then find another layer, and develop a friendship that falls apart only to be rebuilt. The children of the film’s target audience are probably not sick of this formula, but adults may finding themselves gritting their teeth as the story goes through its predictable beats.
Then again, this movie isn’t really about the mystery or any specific character. The star of the show here is Zootopia itself. It’s a place where critters go about humanistic business in animalistic ways. Rodents, for example, wear suits and move between buildings in those plastic tubes that you always wanted to expand into a house-wide system.
I know certain residents of Zootopia would hold it against me, but I’ll say it anyway, it’s all so adorable. And of course, animal jokes abound. I know there’s commentary going on about whether or not it’s okay to label the sloths working at the DMV as slow, but those jokes are just fine at face value.
“Zootopia” is from the same non-Pixar Disney division that brought us “Wreck- It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Frozen.” In case there was any doubt about the “Frozen” connection, there are at least three references to it within this film (I found one to be clever, one to be a groaner, and one went by too quickly to absorb). Actually, there are a lot of Disney references in “Zootopia,” as the company is clearly welcoming it with open arms into its canon. In the short term, I’m expecting this film to sell a lot of tickets and merchandise. In the long term, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film has a significant impact on Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. I could even see Zootopia as its own section within the park, “Frozen” set the bar very high for movies like “Zootopia,” but by being funny, thoughtful, and admittedly marketable, the film hops over that bar with the ease of a rabbit.
Three Stars out of Five
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.