Zootopia Proves Adult-Friendly

I hesitate to say the most recent effort from the Disney animation department, Zootopia, is a “message movie.” That connotation seems to conjure afterschool specials and Aesop fable style films, which try to boil down complex issues into easy child-size bites. Zootopia has a lot more to offer, than just a moral tale. It is wonderfully imaginative, beautifully animated, funny for children and adults, and filled with enthralling action and moments of genuine emotion. In the midst of all of this, it still is able to subtly present surprisingly prescient and mature subjects to its audience.
Zootopia begins with Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin of TV’s Once Upon a Time, who is a bunny that has always wanted to be a police officer. After a scene of her as a child, she presents some exposition about the world of Zootopia. Judy explains that Zootopia is a city where predators and prey live and work together in peace. She tells her terrified, carrot farming parents that she wants to be Zootopia’s first bunny police officer. After a lot of hard work, played out in a training montage, she graduates the academy top of her class. As she is given her badge we find out that her acceptance was part of the “Mammal-Inclusion Initiative.” Adults in attendance will most likely understand this as the film’s version of Affirmative Action. Here is the first instance of the film venturing into real world affairs. The point is driven home soon after when one of the officers that Judy will be working with says she is “such a cute bunny,” and she responds by shyly explaining that bunnies can call each other cute, but it’s not really appropriate for others to say it.
The film doesn’t linger on it, instead it charges on to Judy’s first case assignment as a meter maid. Judy, slightly dismayed but undeterred, decides to be the best damn meter maid she can be. While giving out tickets she runs across a fox named Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman, who perfectly embodies his character’s balance of cocky con-man and emotionally withdrawn victim of the system. The two’s chance encounter becomes Judy’s only lead as she is given a seemingly impossible task of solving a missing person’s case in 48 hours by her dismissive Sergeant, voiced by Idris Elba. Judy and Nick reluctantly team up to solve the case.
One surprising aspect of Zootopia is that solving this case only makes up the first two thirds of the film. Avoiding spoilers, after the investigation wraps up the movie looks at the implications of Judy’s discovery. This is when the film probes deeper into subjects that are usually the fodder of hard-nose dramas. In this film populated with anthropomorphic mammals, weighty subjects like race relations, hate crimes, paranoia of a citizenship, and the prejudice of officers towards the people they are sworn to protect, are broached. At a late stage, Judy tries to explain her actions to Nick saying, “You’re not like them,” meaning a savage predator. To which Nick asks, “There’s a them, now?” And a politician character explains that their plan will work because, “Fear always works.”
However, like it says at the top, don’t go into this film thinking all it’s all about the message. Zootopia doesn’t stand on a soap box and expound on its beliefs. The film is full of bright, fluid, and exciting animation. The city of Zootopia, with its desert, tundra, rain forest, and cityscape, is ripe to be made into a roller coaster at a Disney theme park. One of the most striking things is the tiny character gestures, the way Judy’s foot thumps the ground when she’s excited, the calm, cool, smugness of Nick’s smirk. Each character seems to have a particular way about them that is all their own even as they stand still.
It seems with Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now Zootopia, Disney Animation is interested in giving the emotion and spectacle of their glory days, mixed with modern sensibilities. Frozen played with the tropes of princess movies that Disney made a name on. Big Hero 6 brought the classic boy’s hero movie into the current generation. Now Zootopia is looking at the realities of a world filled with anthropomorphic animals. The result is a film that’s cute and emotional, and doesn’t pander to children in the audience.

1 Comment

  1. Kypho

    August 28, 2016 at 1:49 AM

    For the very first time, I had watched a film in theater twice. It’s really funny with brilliantly script, also a surprised twist. Kids, teenagers and even adults would definitely love this film, because this contains some “only-adult” moments. A big step for Disney and i’m sure it has entered the Oscar race next year.

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