Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore
Written by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston
Disney’s success seems to always be cyclical, for whatever reason, seeing golden eras, then slumps, only to be revived by more golden eras. It could be argued that Disney Animation Studios, after seeing a once such Golden Era in the early 90s with such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, saw itself on the decline in the age of Pixar. However, I believe Disney is in the heart of a comeback after producing wonderful animated films like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6. Even Bolt and Tangled, films which were co-directed by Zootopia‘s co-dirctor, Byron Howard, are worthy of mentioning. There is something to be said in an age where so many animated films are produced each year, watering down the market from years past, for films that are smart, beautiful, entertaining, and deliver a good message for kids. Zootopia is one of those movies.
At the center of the message is Judy Hopps, who has spent her youth growing up on a carrot farm in the rural areas surrounding Zootopia, a bustling metropolis where animals have come together to live peacefully, predator and prey alike. Judy has long dreamed of living in the big city and becoming the first bunny to don the badge of the ZPD, Zootopia Police Department. When she finally gets the chance, however, her buffalo chief, Bogo relegates her to parking duty. Meanwhile, there have been fourteen mysterious animal disappearances. Determined to prove herself, Judy strikes an unlikely partnership with a sly fox named Nick Wilde and the two begin to follow the trail to unravel the mystery of these disappearing animals, starting with the innocent florist otter, Mr. Otterton.
There are countless elements to this film which make it not only noteworthy, but an entertaining ride through the jungle of creatures that grace the streets of the wondrously imagined Zootopia. So I suppose we’ll start there. The team of animators shows great imagination is rendering the concept of a metropolis which is home to thousands of very different animals. The city, split into different sections, like the Tundra, Rainforest and Sahara, place an interesting ecosystem on display. It works as a marvelous backdrop for the quite good mystery that unfolds. The mystery really is nothing that new to the genre, but is a fantastic introduction to the type of story being told to the many kids that will undoubtedly be take on the journey of this film. Zootopia can easily become a gateway to finding more titles that play on solving mysteries. The film manages to balance the mystery and buddy cop movie for enough laughs and levity to avoid the serious nature of its mystery.
I was, however, slightly surprised at how mature some of the content could be given the setup of the mystery (apologies for continually being vague as I attempt to avoid spoilers), especially for a Disney movie. But ultimately, the message being communicated is a good one, as we see Judy live out her dream in the face of adversity and being scrutinized by her peers for having chosen a career so far away from the normal conventions of bunnies and cops. Zootopia shows us what hard work and determination can do when pursuing your dream, even after having been denied or had barriers placed in your way. Lastly, the main song in the film, “Try Everything” by Shakira, who plays an animal pop star named Gazelle, is endlessly catchy and helps to convey the films central message. It may not be “Let It Go”, but it is certainly a worthy Disney anthem.
The arc of Judy is a great parable for youngsters hoping to dream big, but even some of the other characters in the film, most notably Nick Wilde, help to show the potential of a dream pursued. By balancing the success of Judy by showing the perceived failure of Nick to fulfill his dream, instead resorting back to the conventions of what the community thinks a fox does, the filmmakers show us another strong argument for looking beyond the surface and respecting one another at a deeper level, as we all are simply creatures striving to live out our dream, no matter how big, small, or far away from what we might be used to. I’m not sure I could make the argument that this film is better than the beloved Frozen, but I have no problem asserting that this belongs within this rejuvenated era of Disney animation because it is an entertaining, fun, smart, and inspiring film.