Conveying social themes through animals is not a new concept. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one of the most famed novels in modern history, uses talking farm animals taking control of a farm as symbolism for the events that led up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, it’s been quite a long time since we’ve had an animated film aimed towards family that has attempted to tackle any relevant issues that plague our society. So it makes sense that the latest film to take this approach would be Disney’s first film since the subpar Chicken Little to feature exclusively anthropomorphic characters. Zootopia’s biggest strength is this social commentary, and the ability to keep it from being overbearing and preachy. The way the film uses the differences between the many species that live in Zootopia, predator and prey, as symbolism for different races is commendable in its execution. When it’s found that mostly predators that are reverting back to their carnivorous tendencies, all predators are suddenly treated as threats to society and prejudiced against by the prey, even when innocent. Even our protagonists aren’t immune from this prejudice, as Judy Hopps grew up in a rural area where her fellow rabbits to fear foxes and see them as nothing but threats, which ends up causing issues within Hopps’ and Nick Wildes’ friendship. The world in which our heroes live in is deeply flawed, and the directors aren’t afraid to shine a spotlight on that fact.
With the huge advantage of being made by one of the biggest animation studios in the world, which is in itself owned by one of the biggest corporations in the world, there were quite a few positives that were almost guaranteed for Zootopia. The animation is of the quality expected from the studio that brought us visual spectacles such as Tangled and Frozen. For this specific film, the flourish in found in the breathtaking backgrounds and the overall world that Zootopia builds. Everything is so fleshed out in the city. There a tons of cases of great detail being put into how to accommodate to the wide range of sizes the animals that populate Zootopia; the small tubes and attractions used by the hamsters of the city is one of the more clever/cute things to come out of the film.
Zootopia may be Disney’s most conscious animated film in a while, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire 108 minutes of it is played with a straight face. Throughout the entire film, you won’t be left hanging for any laugh-worthy moments for that long, as they come quite consistently. While not every joke hits as hard as the others, certain gags make up for those faults. A prime example of this is the scene featuring a sloth-run DMV, where the jokes basically write themselves. The scene may have been previously released as a trailer, but the magic still isn’t lost and is a highlight of the film comedy-wise. Zootopia is also able to pull off more dramatic, darker when it needs to. When Hopps and Wilde have to sneak through an asylum full of caged, savage animals, the tension is incredibly heavy for a film of this nature. When the film isn’t trying to blow the audience away with its humor or drama, the two main leads of the film carry the film well with likeable personalities and overall great chemistry between the two. Jason Bateman is great as the con-man fox Nick Wilde, coming across as smooth-talking and clever, yet has a more considerate side to him. This personality works well off of Hopps’ confident, optimistic demeanor, the former of the two qualities biting her in the tail when exposed to the harsh realities of city life. There’s some depth to the character, and that’s all a film fan could ask for. Though this quality hits a bump in the road at the end of the second half of the film. Near the end, the film begins to dip into clichés. The biggest offense is the tired plot device of the two main characters having a falling out where all the development of their relationship is thrown out the window, only for them to make up 5-10 minutes later. If you removed this section from the film that would actually make sense, the story would end identically. The movie does end up ending on a high note with an exciting action scene and a happy ending.
Zootopia isn’t the most original film out there, or even in Disney’s repertoire. The ending to the film is on the more predictable side of the spectrum and, as mentioned before, using animals as symbolism for our world isn’t exactly a fresh idea. However, it is one of the more important films to come from the production company in a while. Explaining the struggle that our country is going through with our treatment of people considered “predators” on sight to children is like walking on eggshells. If they get the wrong ideas the explanation their given, it could change their outlook on minorities for the rest of their lives. So when a film that will no doubt been seen by millions of children worldwide is touching upon these topics with such grace, they’ll probably at least get a good idea on what to think. If not, it will at least convince them to ask questions, and start a conversation between parent and child: a sign that a film is tackling the right morals in the right way.