By Blake Nelson
After a string of slightly above-average films coming out of Walt Disney Animation Studios, including “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6,” the new “Zootopia” shines as either a new page for the studio, or as an aberration from midgrade animated films it usually produces.
Time will only tell which one of the two Disney Animation Studios allows the film to be, but the quality of the studio aside, “Zootopia” is easily the best thing the studio has released to date.
Through the opening scenes, it seems that the film is going to be a movie about an upwardly mobile character that overcomes great challenges to be who they want to be — tried and tired story arc that was (thankfully) heavily tweaked in this film.
A brilliantly animated opening scene sets up the rest of the movie — an underdog story for the lovable, but don’t call her cute, Judy Hopps.
Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, is the first rabbit cop in a world of varied species in the predator and prey classification, who have evolved past their differences and live side by side. This difference between the species leads to one of the biggest themes in the film — prejudice.
Through the arc of an underdog, the film surprisingly tackles topics of racism and other biases in a society of varied individuals. Remarks like touching another animal’s fur and calling a rabbit cute, act as analogies for stereotypes in today’s society.
The main conflict that deals with stereotypes comes from the relationship between Hopps and Nick Wilde, a fox voiced by Jason Bateman. Foxes, in the fictional world of “Zootopia,” are a discriminated group. As a result of societal misconceptions, Hopps brings biases into the relationship.
Beyond the very weighty topics that are pervasive throughout, it is still a funny movie that will keep an audience intrigued.
Hopps and Wilde partner up for a twisting case that is meant to prove Hopps’ competence in law enforcement. Goodwin and Bateman put in great voice acting during all of this, especially in scenes that are more sentimentally driven.
One of the detractors of the film are various instances of the anthropomorphic animals being sexualized, I would guess, to help appeal to adult audiences. A prime example is the closing musical scene that features an overly sexualized pop star named Gazelle, voiced by Shakira.
Also, some jokes were made at the expense of the anti-bias message the film was going for. Wolves in the film stereotypically howl, and later a pack of wolves cannot keep from howling. Although this scene was very funny, it lends itself to perpetuating biases.
Besides the aspect of sex in a children’s movie and a confused message at times, “Zootopia” stands alongside, arguably the best animation studio in America, Pixar, as an achievement in animation and storytelling. Disney Animation Studios finally stepped out of the eponymous Disney umbrella of production that routinely favors profit over artistic achievement, and in doing so, came out with a really well-done film that can be appreciated on multiple levels.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.