Zootopia is an Orwellian Allegory in a Disney Package

It’s not easy to stand out when you’re less than a foot tall and you’re one of 275 siblings… But baby bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is determined to be different.

Different isn’t always good – young Judy is bullied for wanting to be a cop by a bratty fox called Gideon Grey (Phil Johnston). He’s the playground punk who likes to push all the prey animals around and steal their treasures. Judy pulls one over on him, but that’s not the end of her trials. She fights hard to get accepted into the police academy. Her parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) are humble carrot farmers, and while they don’t necessarily understand their daughter’s ambition, they do support her and give her fox-repellent as a going-away present when she finally flees the hutch.


2016, PG

When Judy is all grown up and a bona fide police academy graduate, she moves to the big city: Zootopia. Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where predators and prey live in harmony… albeit in segregated accord. Each faction keeps to themselves, but Judy breaks a glass ceiling when she is chosen to join a mixed police force. Well, OK, she cracks the glass ceiling. Chief Bogo the buffalo (Idris Elba) puts her on lowly meter-maid duty, even though there’s a rash of mysterious crimes bursting throughout the city and every uniformed officer is needed on the mean streets. As the plot thickens, so too do the classic noir nods: The Godfather, 48 Hrs., Chinatown and L.A. Confidential are all sent up.

Judy dives into her assigned duty with vigor – when Chief Bogo tells her to write 100 tickets a day, she vows to write 200 – but she can’t quite keep her paws off the coveted assignment that’s being withheld from her. “I’m not just a token bunny,” she insists. With her little pink nose and twitching whiskers, Officer Hopps hops headlong into the beat when she collars a quick-witted, scamming con-fox called Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and gets him to give up some underworld names. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as Wilde’s intel leads the plucky rabbit into Zootopia’s dangerous underworld.

There’s suspense and mystery, but hilarity does ensue now and again – there’s an instant-classic scenario in which Judy and Wilde must go to the DMV to have the plates on a getaway car identified… wouldn’t you know it? The employees are… all… sloths. The comedy is truly golden here. There’s also an amusing tête-à-tête going on between the straight-arrow bunny and the wily fox throughout, all of which leads to a great payoff in the end.

When it comes to the visuals, they are not – as some of the plotting might suggest – dark and noir-shadowy. The look of the world is contemporary, bright, and varied – a high-speed train ride through Zootopia shows off the city's different terrains, including a frozen tundra, foggy rainforests, mountains with precarious trams leading to their tops, and a bustling big city crammed with habitrails, high-rises, homes, shops, and government buildings. The lighting and composition used to depict the dreamt-up locations and sets is impeccable.

The anthropomorphic animals are adorable, as to be expected. Judy is especially cute (though she doesn’t like to be called that) with her downy gray fur, lavender eyes, and long ears which threaten to flop out of her cop-cap at any given moment. What’s more, each of the animal characters truly comes alive and sparkles with soul and personality. The voice cast couldn’t be better. In addition to Goodwin and Bateman we are treated to the vocal talents of J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Tommy Chong, Alan Tudyk and Shakira. Every actor is perfectly matched to his or her character, including mannerisms and physicality.

The scarier scenes, in which some predators drop their guise of gentility and go totally wild – all blazing eyes, snarls and claws – are so convincingly wrought that they might be a bit scary for the wee ones. But those scenes are there for a reason and they don’t last too long. (There’s only one ouchy-looking injury; a character’s face gets clawed.)

This is one of those Disney delights that’s equally as enjoyable to adults as it is to its target audience. It’s blissfully (almost) free of musical montages, and its dialogue is just grownup enough. Zootopia isn’t crass, and it never scrapes the bottom of the scatological humor barrel. What’s more, it’s a solid detective story/buddy cop movie.

Zootopia takes chances and it’s got attitude (couched in comedy), thanks to its tough, slightly subversive, take on racism and gender bias. That might seem heavy-handed – and I’ll admit, its points are made more than once – but it’s such a fun, fast-paced adventure it’s like medicine with the proverbial spoonful of sugar. When the story illustrates the differences between predators and prey, there’s a good opportunity offered for kids and parents to talk about nature versus nurture and how biases can be turned around.

Zootopia is on Netflix – so set aside some quality time for you and the kiddos ASAP.

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Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

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