When it comes to animated films, it seems like the past decade has had it’s fill of animal characters. From cuddly hamsters to smart alecky birds, there has been no shortage of these family films that seem to pander more to the children than adults. Many moviegoers could argue that Hollywood has run out of ideas and started recycling the formula to fill seats at movie theaters. After all, they are big business and fulfill a need for more family entertainment. Just when the formula had gotten stale, Disney takes a non-human cast and puts them in a film that’s both relevant and original.
Populated with a cast of lions, sheep, rabbits, hamsters, bears and a very clever fox, Zootopia is a mammal-centric metropolis where predator and prey live together in harmony. As a society, they stay away from bloodlust to lift everyone up in the city. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join Zootopia’s police force, and quickly learns how tough it is for a rabbit to become a police officer.
After impulsively chasing Duke Weasleton (Alan Tudyk) after a robbery, Judy is reprimanded by Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) for stepping outside her duties of parking patrol and potentially endangering the inhabitants of Little Rodentia. During this time, a distraught Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) pleads with Chief Bogo for help finding her missing husband, one of many recent disappearances in Zootopia. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve the mysterious case, with the caveat that if she doesn’t solve the case within 48 hours, she will resign. To help solve the mystery, she gets the assistance of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a small-time con artist fox who is coerced into cooperating with her lest he be charged with tax evasion.
The investigation takes them into treacherous areas of Zootopia, which include snowy Tundratown, and the lush, tree-intensive Rain Forest District. During this time, Judy and Nick uncover a sinister plot engineered by a mysterious villain to return predators to their once-savage, uncivilized nature and thus endangering the rest of Zootopia’s inhabitants.
What begins as a buddy picture between a rabbit and a fox morphs into a cautionary tale that explores themes of stereotyping. The nature of predator and prey is cleverly played and weaved throughout the film, but its use to drive the plot forward gives viewers an opportunity to look at contemporary issues. The perceived issue of safety to the majority of Zootopia’s citizens from a smaller population that could potentially hurt them delivers its message about the dangers of stereotyping. This draws parallels with instances of everyday racial prejudice among humans, and is used effectively to tell the story but never becomes preachy.
Film aficionados will appreciate some of the references to live action films, such as crime boss Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) being modeled after Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Some of the art direction and camera angles take its cue from film noir of the 1940s, like brooding lights and shadows being used in the Rain Forest District to give the scenery a sense of danger. Viewers may also see similarities of the character designs with Robin Hood and The Jungle Book, rather than with more recent films like Chicken Little. The squash and stretch of the character animation is done quite beautifully, something that CG is now able to do more effectively like traditional animation.
Peppered with visual humor that will delight the younger set but enough references that will have adults laughing, Zootopia – along with its solid plot – is a very satisfying experience. The well-intended message of being true to oneself and living with others who come from different backgrounds may create meaningful conversations after the final credits roll.
The voice cast also includes Shakira, Kristen Bell, John DiMaggio, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, Nate Torrance and J.K. Simmons.
Zootopia was released on February 10, 2016 in Belgium, on February 12, 2016 in Spain, and on February 18, 2016 in Italy. The United States will see its release date on March 4, 2016. The film’s European title, Zootropolis, will be released across the European countries other than Belgium on March 25, 2016; six weeks after the initial theatrical release in Belgium.
The film was directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush; produced by Clark Spencer; screenplay by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston; story by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush; music by Michael Giacchino. Running time is 108 minutes.
Follow Disney Zootopia’s official Twitter account @DisneyZootopia for updates and photos from the film!