Zootopia is a Children's Movie for Adults.2016-03-07 09:49:01Share:
The latest colorful flick to hop out of Walt Disney Animation Studios is packed with themes of social justice and activism, each about as subtle as a neon billboard. You can practically see Fox News pundits wringing their hands over it. And 'Zootopia' is Disney animation's biggest debut ever In China.
This film tasks itself with teaching kids early on about the harm of stereotypes and prejudice, using animals (prey vs. predators) as a stand-in for all sorts of bias. Though kids probably won't grasp its real-life influences, they'll get the gist.
It's also a movie about perseverance. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is basically the Leslie Knope of bunnies, determined to be the first police officer of her kind. She strides against the norm, even when it's her parents doing the naysaying, to achieve her goals.
The film starts off with young Judy in Bunny Burrow, a small town where all the bunnies are carrot farmers. All her life, she's dreamed of being a police officer and eventually sets off to Zootopia, a beautiful sprawling city that's like New York meets Abu Dhabi. It's a place where, according to her understanding, "anyone can be anything."
Well, except the world doesn't quite believe in her yet. Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) puts her on parking duty.
"Sir, I'm not just some token bunny," she responds indignantly ... which should give you an idea of how overtly political this movie is. Animals are a stand-in for underrepresented people everywhere. There's even a scene where a character clumsily calls Judy "cute," which she explains is not okay, because only bunnies can call other bunnies "cute."
Only. Bunnies. Can. Call. Other. Bunnies. "Cute."
While on duty, she follows a sly-looking fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), into an ice cream parlor. However, the store's owners are prejudiced jerks who try to kick Nick out because he's a fox, ergo not to be trusted. This is just one example of the movie's heavy-handed approach to symbolism, hitting viewers with "we don't serve your kind around here" scenes. Foxes are treated like second-class citizens and everyone succumbs to stereotyping them.
Anyway, Judy and Nick partner up (we'll keep the plot details vague here) to solve the case of a missing otter, who's disappeared along with 13 other mammals.
Zootopia is overall a total blast, full of humor and plot twists 'til the end. It's a crime thriller (okay, a children's thriller, but still) and finds a way to keep both adults and kids deeply invested.
There are also brilliant pop cultural references to things like theGodfather and Breaking Bad, just one of the ways it reminds you it's secretly made for parents, too. There are a few scenes that might be a touch scary for little kids (confirmed by the sound of a little kid in the theater next to me tugging his parents and whispering "This is scary"), but it's not anything they can't handle.
In addition, Judy is also a wonderful feminist character, an aspirational hard worker who is extremely talented, but also has flaws to overcome. She really evolves over time, and Ginnifer Goodwin does a delightful voice acting job in this role.
The only true gripe with this film is the lack of diversity within its voice acting roles and behind-the-scenes roles. It's kind of surprising, considering its political message and obsession with inclusion. Save for Idris Elba as Chief Bogo and Octavia Butler's teeny role as Mrs. Otterton, most of the voice actors are white. Additionally, the film's three directors, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, are white males, as are its screenwriters.
Zootopia isn't unique in this respect — animated features, though better than their live-action counterparts, have mostly white casts and behind-the-scenes creators. To its credit, the movie does deliver a clear and powerful message: prejudice, in any form, is a terrible thing. But if it's going to take that much care to focus on the importance of diversity and acceptance, it should embrace it on all fronts.
Practice what you preach, you know?
Despite that, Zootopia is a great piece of work with important life lessons, and parents everywhere can use it a springboard for difficult conversations down the line. And 'Zootopia' is Disney animation's biggest debut ever In China.
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