Film: Zootopia (2016)
Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, JK Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Shakira
Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Oscar History: 1 nomination/1 win (Best Animated Feature*)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars
(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Judy Hopps (Goodwin), a spunky rabbit who wants to become the first "prey" animal to be a police officer in Zootopia. For you see, this is a world where lamb and wolf, rabbit and fox, gazelle and lion, they all live in harmony without anyone having to worry about being eaten (the film is never quite clear on what it is the predators eat aside from donuts and sugary cereal, but that's a discussion for the inevitable sequel). Judy, though, faces scorn from her fellow cops who view her as a token hire, someone that was brought in to make the police department look more inclusive. As a result, she gets a job as a meter maid, giving out tickets all around town.
By circumstance, she ends up being assigned a task to look for a missing otter, and is joined up (through coercion) by a wily fox who helps her through the seedier parts of the town. As the film progresses, her initial prejudice against the fox (as there is, amongst her rural family, a fear that erupts toward foxes and other predators) turns into friendship, but when it turns out that the predators are "going wild" she spouts off some hateful speech that causes the predators in the community to be unjustly attacked and causes great fear and panic. Even her friendship with Nick the Fox (Bateman) sours, as the film goes on, until (like all good Disney films) we learn that there is a logical explanation for the crime, and predator working with prey, they find out the true culprit just in time for everyone to go to a Shakira concert (she's a gazelle in the film, and is joined by a series of gay, dancing muscular tigers).
The film's politics are not subtle, but this is a children's film so it's not like they should be. It's relatively obvious to draw some of the parallels between the predator community in the film and racial minorities in today's culture, and the way that prejudice hurts society at large when we spread falsehoods that have no substantiation in fact. It seems kind of kismet considering the time that it requires to make an animated film that Disney was able to make this movie happen the same year that a racist zealot is running for president with a frightening amount of success. It's kind of stunning, quite frankly, that I haven't been hearing FOX News reports every night about the liberal dangers of letting your kids watch Zootopia. Perhaps even they see the danger of Trump at this point.
The film functions well outside of just being a morality tale. The world-building is extraordinary, some of the best I've seen in years. Zootopia, clearly a proxy for New York City, is rich in its detail and distinctive sets to the point that if this was a live-action film, we'd have already given the movie the Best Production Design Oscar. The mystery, while eventually it becomes obvious who is behind the crimes, stays an enigma long enough to be lauded for an animated feature. And the vocal cast is uniformly good, even Jason Bateman of whom I have a sharp allergy, partially because the only stunt-casting is Shakira, and she's essentially playing herself as a gazelle.
The movie is not without faults, of course. For a film that tries to defy prejudice, it relies on a few stereotypes to get its point across (slow slothes, procreative bunnies, sneaky weasels), that might deter its message slightly (it shouldn't just be Judy striking out), and there is still the problem with the animal metaphor rather than using actual humans (because unlike the real world, there is still the inherent reality that a real-life rabbit should, in fact, be scared of a real-life fox or wolf), but these are minor quibbles for one of the most surprising efforts to come out of the Mouse House in a long time. Considering Frozen and Zootopia are recent entries there and Pixar seems incapable of making anything but sequels for the next few years, one wonders if John Lasseter has truly accomplished a role reversal? We shall see-Finding Dory and Moana come out later this year.
Until then, share your thoughts on Zootopia, and its proudly political stance. Are you a fan of the movie, or were you turned off by its marketing campaign? What do you think are its Oscar/sequel chances? Share your opinions in the comments!