Zootopia is the perfect animated film; funny, smart, gorgeous, full of likable characters and containing a clever message about prejudice and stereotyping that makes it a film for children and adults alike. The story begins with Judy Hopps, possibly a contender for world’s most adorable bunny (and new queen of the furries, but that’s something I try not to think about). She is determined to overcome the stereotype of ‘dumb bunny’ and become the first rabbit officer in Zootopia, a place where any animal can be anything they want to be. Or so she was brought up to believe.
Of course, life isn’t that simple and although the Mayor was delighted to welcome her as proof that his ‘new equal opportunity initiative’ is a success, she learns that Zootopia isn’t quite the utopia of equal opportunity it had been made out to be. She may be an officer, but Police Chief Bogo is skeptical of her abilities and relegates her talents to the most menial roles on the force; and it’s not just Judy who has to deal with this type of thing. It’s something the assistant mayor has to deal with as well:
Our determined long-eared protagonist finds herself in charge of a missing otter case, with the agreement that if she fails to solve it within 48 hours, Police Chief Bogo will force her to hand in her badge. She then teams up with streetwise sly fox Nick Wilde to find the perpetrator in what becomes a buddy cop movie with a twist that reveals nothing is what it seems and that prejudice lurks in us all- even those with the best intentions.
The film is not just an enjoyable buddy cop film (with a platonic male/ female friendship – a rare and wonderful thing in any media), though it is definitely that. This film is an intelligent and insightful look at prejudice. Smaller prey animals face a lot of stereotypes and are only given token roles of authority with no real power, so everyone can pretend prejudice isn’t a problem.
Meanwhile , although predators are only 10 percent of the population and yet the most powerful group, this only really applies to big predators like lions, leopards and wolves; smaller ones like otters and foxes often tend to be poorer and deemed untrustworthy. In one brilliantly subtle scene, the whole police department rushes to find the missing 14 predators which are beasts like tigers and polar bears. Yet, when it comes to the missing Otter, the otter’s wife has to constantly beg the police chief to actually do anything. The wife claims that he’s a devoted father and has never anything like this before, implying that the police might normally have written him off because he’s a small predator animal and they always get up to no good, therefore his disappearance isn’t anything of note. Sound familiar? This is a quite clear analogy to how the disappearance of poor black men are treated in comparison to say, a beautiful middle class white girl. It is so rare for a film to tackle modern day prejudice (as opposed to over the top historical prejudice which makes us pat ourselves on the back and say ‘I’m glad we’re no longer like that’), let alone in a kid’s film.
Another great thing about this film is that it’s not a case of ‘evil, evil oppressors’ vs downtrodden, heroic oppressed’; all the characters are very, er, animal. The mayor and the police chief aren’t evil; their problem is that they’re totally blinded by their prejudice. Even Judy Hopps, who is a well meaning and a reasonably metropolitan minded young bunny, is still influenced by the prejudices she grew up with as evidenced by her bringing the fox repellent with her everywhere. In the end, it’s her unthinking prejudices, which she grew up taking for granted as fact, that ends up causing unspeakable damage and almost destroys her friendship with Nick Wilde.
The whole film is so, so good, and it’s not just clever: it is really, really funny. It begins with a young Judy pretending to die in an over the top way with her parents looking on in mortification. The whole thing was really, really funny and when I was in the cinema, the loudest screams of laughter came from the parents. Not to mention all the funny little references to films like Frozen:
Chief Bogo: Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.
We also have Judy thumping her foot like Thumper, and numerous other Easter Eggs (including a pair of elephants dressed like Elsa and Anna). It also manages to include a pop star cameo (Shakira’s Gazelle) which is tastefully done and adds to the film rather than feeling ham fisted.
VERDICT: Funny, intelligent, with lovable characters and an insightful look at prejudice, this is Disney animation’s most entertaining film since Wreck-It-Ralph
RATING: 5 adorable animals/ 5