Have we reached another Disney Golden Age? If you remember the 90s—cause you’re cool—you might remember Disney’s impressive string of hit films. There was; The Little Mermaid (technically 1989), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King to name a few. Flash forward to the 2010s and there’s been films like; Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and most recently Zootopia. Though nothing will ever match the timeless feel of those 90s Disney films with their Broadway song and dance numbers and hand drawn animation, I think the 2010s come close and Zootopia is its best offering yet.
On the outside it may not look like much, a film about animal people with jokes about how they are in fact animal people. The archetypes are predictable; the unflinchingly righteous hero, the wisecracking sidekick, the no nonsense chief, but the character building doesn’t end there. These characters have arcs and epiphanies and grow out of their animal cracker molds. Combine this with an intricately weaved detective story and a fully realized world and you have a children’s classic. Whether you’re an actual child or a cynical grown ass man with a little child buried deep inside. That sounds way more disturbing typed out than it did in my head.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from a small town with big city dreams. She wants to be a cop in Zootopia, despite the fact there’s never been a rabbit cop before. In this world, being a cop is a job for a predator, not prey, a recurring theme and a clever allegory. Though with Judy’s determination and spunk, she quickly rises through the ranks at her training academy and joins the force in Zootopia. There, under the command of cape buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) Judy is ready to take on her first assignment… as a meter maid.
Regardless of the work, Judy performs to the highest of her ability and soon crosses paths with a thieving con man… Con fox? Con fox-man? Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). The scheme in question revolves around taking literal elephant-sized popsicles and melting them down into smaller popsicles. Nick sells the smaller popsicles to hamster things, collects the sticks and sells the wood to rodents as a cheap source of a lumber. It’s an amusing series of events and a prime example of Zootopia’s airtight story structure.
While these sheep-nanigans are taking place—see what I did there?—there’s also been a string of kidnappings in Zootopia. Predators are going missing without a trace. Judy begs the chief to give her a shot at tracking down a missing otter, despite a reckless chase through a miniature rodent city—and she’s given 48 hours to solve the case. The plot thickens. With little to work off of, Judy gets Nick and his street smarts to help her crack his case by threatening to arrest him for years of tax evasion. This may be the first Disney film to have its plot set into motion by tax evasion. Though I can’t be sure, I’ve never seen Oliver & Company.
Usually these kinds of movies are enjoyable for their songs or animation, but Zootopia is different. Don’t get me wrong the animation is gorgeous. A single giraffe in the movie has more individual hairs on it than every single character in the last three CGI Disney films. Now that’s attention to detail! But what’s special about Zootopia is the best aspect of the film is the story. Judy, observes her surroundings, she collects clues, she interviews hippie yaks and panther limo drivers and all of this progresses the story in a believable and compelling way. It’s one of the best mystery/thrillers I’ve seen in theaters in awhile. This would have been enough to satisfy me, but then it ups the ante by pointing the microscope at us. Yes, the audience. Cause like um, “Who are the real animals?”
The population of Zootopia is stated in the film as 90% prey and 10% predator, which provides for a unique plot device when the tables turn on the predators. The predators have sharp teeth, they used to hunt the prey, they must be bad. Maybe it’s not a very subtle jab at how some of us in the real word judge others based on appearance or race or background, but it’s nonetheless effective. Not to mention this is a Disney movie! A Disney movie with something to say! That’s quite an achievement and yet doesn’t take away from the humor for one second.
With the exception of the Broadway tunes (thank god), this film has just about anything you could want in a Disney animated classic. The animation is beautiful, the jokes are good, the story is good, and it has Tommy Chong as a stoned Yak guru. Maybe if Disney employed these kinds of ideas they wouldn’t have through so many years of suck. I’m looking at you Home on the Range. Except I’m not, because I never saw it. But I’d see this and you should too! Otteni out.