In Zootopia, Disney have envisioned an evolved world without humans, where predator and prey can coexist harmoniously, with their biological differences a thing of the past. It’s the same kind of “It’s a Small World” utopianism that the company have become synonymous with for nearly a century. But don’t let their stunning animations and spectacular world building distract you from the importance of their message. The best children’s entertainment should always find unique ways to educate our young about the realities of our world, and this film is yet another successful continuation of this mission and methodology. Underneath all the wonder, cuteness, colour and Breaking Bad references, Zootopia is a (not so subtle) allegory for gender equality, xenophobia and racial intolerance. It’s timely, politically charged storytelling, that the world needs to see and hear. Some might say, now more than ever.
The story centres around a zesty country bunny named Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin). She’s an optimist and a pipe-dreamer, who’s also the first of her species to graduate from the police academy. Her goal: move to Zootopia and continue to help make the world a better place.
As you’d expect, everything on the surface of Zootopia is all peaches and cream. The sprawling metropolis is a gorgeously populated wonderland filled with 64 different species of animal. Animators worked with approximately 80,000 different animal models to help bring this bustling city and its five climate-zoned districts to life. Judy’s first wide-eyed train ride into Zootopia evokes the same kind of environmental awe and wonderment that many of us would have felt the first time we set eyes on Pandora back in 2009 (see: Avatar).
But of course, Zootopia isn’t the haven of harmony and equality that Judy was lead to believe. Her law-enforcement colleagues are all larger, more dangerous (and very much male) mammals and each of them dismiss her and the legitimacy of her position as an officer.
When a dozen predators go missing, our fluffy protagonist takes it upon herself to solve the case and prove her contemporaries and their outdated, backwards thinking, wrong. She does this with the help of a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is keen to shed the negative stereotypes that have been attached to him his entire life too. Together they’re an impressive, progressive odd couple who audiences are going to fall in love with.
In fact, the entire voice cast are all excellently on point, but it’s Goodwin and Bateman who each do a stellar job of breathing relatable likability into their characters, with just enough charm and pathos to make them believable.
This is Disney of a different kind. All of their signature trademarks are on display, but this is a different beast. Zootopia is a thought provoking, singular experience that disarms audiences with how far it’s willing to push its symbolism.
Take any fear-mongering headline from today’s news and replace the word minority with predator and you may get a sense for what Disney is trying to say and do here. Kids may only decode this message as anti-bullying, but adults will be forced to deliberate this metaphor on a much deeper level. Zootopia can only exist and function when the masses conform to an agreed set of systems and rules. But the film does a thoughtful job of presenting how these systems can be exploited to promote fear and prejudice of the unknown.
While the dark themes and imagery, may prove unfitting for some smaller children, Zootopia is still a beautifully animated, imaginatively written and highly entertaining film that is perfect viewing for the entire family. That sloth scene from the commercials is even funnier in context and in its entirety, and we have to give the filmmakers props for taking pot shots at their own properties (Frozen cops it a few times) along the way.
This is as delightful as it is significant for the world we live in and the world we hope to create.