A smart, energetic animated romp preaching a message of diversity and acceptance.
March 17, 2016
What can a bunny police officer and fox con artist teach humans about equality, diversity, fairness and keeping an open mind? In Zootopia, quite a lot. Yes, audiences are supposed to get a few giggles out of a cute, fluffy rabbit trying to enforce law and order, and nod knowingly when they see a sly predator pulling street-wise scams. But they're supposed to interrogate their initial reactions to these animal stereotypes as well.
Breaking down preconceptions and teaching viewers not to form opinions based on appearances is the animated effort's main intention — quite complex material for young viewers to process. Thankfully, the feature's main message comes wrapped in a cop and crime caper that's as smart and weighty as it is colourful and amusing. When a movie combines anthropomorphic critters, bright imagery, references to Chinatown and The Godfather, and a first-rate Breaking Bad gag, the phrase "fun for all ages" really does apply.
Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) are the respective big-eared and quick-witted creatures riding Zootopia's wave of thoughtful, frenetic entertainment, with the two crossing paths on Judy's first day on the force. When Nick pulls the wool over the newbie cop's eyes, it just adds to her woes (instead of catching bad guys, she's writing parking tickets). Of course, you can't keep an eager bunny down, particularly when the city is overrun with missing person cases. Quicker than you can say "odd couple", Judy and Nick have reluctantly teamed up to locate an absent otter, prove Judy's police prowess, and help Nick find his true calling.
From there we go zipping around Zootopia's imaginative setting, segueing between observational jokes and sight gags, and listening to a stellar voice cast that includes Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, JK Simmons and Octavia Spencer. Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and co-director Jared Bush handle the balance of laughs and drama with the energy and emotion needed — but given that the trio boasts the likes of Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 on their resumes, that's hardly a surprise.
Indeed, when Zootopia is firing on all cylinders, it hits the majority of the targets it aims for. In the same way that animated films about people can get to the core of common issues and emotions in a way that live-action efforts can't always manage, there's something both perceptive and powerful about seeing common prejudices and problems played out by animals. The movie may tread a fine line between calling out stereotypes and reinforcing them in some parts — such as a scene set in a sloth-filled car registration department — but it mostly falls on the right side of the equation. And crucially, while Zootopia doesn't shy away from its important underlying statement, the upbeat, insightful offering doesn't overplay its hand or overstay its welcome, either.