My partner and I decided to see Zootopia, mostly because it had astronomically high good ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and its trailer revealed an possibly cute story about an animal world that struggles with discrimination. Most of the marketing made it seem like a B-Disney movie.
What we discovered instead was an incredibly deep story that examined discrimination, race relations, stereotypes, and diversity. The graphics were top notch, the story wonderfully written, great dialogue, and probably one of the best Disney movies of this decade. Not a B-movie at all. The following review contains no spoilers.
The movie starts with young Judy Hopps relating the tale of how the animals — both prey and predator — overcame their primal urges and evolved into sentient people, who created the wonderfully diverse city of Zootopia. The play ends with her proclamation that now all animals can become whoever and whatever they want. Her dream? To be a police officer in Zootopia. However, she’s a tiny rabbit, and so discrimination based on her small size stands in her way. She fights through it, determined even when she fails at first in training, but she doesn’t give up. Then when she finally gets her job, she’s not taken seriously by anyone on the force, and most assume she’s there due to the mammal inclusion.
That first day in the office, the plot of the movie is revealed: predators are missing throughout the city, and the police is spread thin with investigating the incidents. Each of the seasoned officers is given a case as a team, but not Judy. She’s relegated to parking duty, giving out tickets. There, by the ice cream parlor, she meets Nick Wilde, who is is trying to get a giant Popsicle for his “kid.” Judy helps them out as the ice cream parlor was refusing service to Nick on the basis of him being a fox. However, upon further investigation, she learns he’s not what he seems at all. A weasel stealing from a store cuts her investigation on Nick short, and after a furious chase she nabs the weasel, only to find herself under the ire of her police chief.
Things look bleak for Judy’s career until Mrs. Otter bursts into the police chief’s office in tears. Mr. Otter, one of the missing, is her husband, and Judy, hearing her story, offers to crack the case herself. The police chief is furious as Judy did not consult him, so offers her a deal: find Mr. Otter in 48 hours or resign from the force. So Judy’s epic journey starts here. But it’s a tough place to be. She’s locked out of resources, on her own, and with two days to crack the hardest case on the roster. So who does she go to? Nick Wilde, hustler extraordinaire, and cons him into helping her.
Together the pair uncover a conspiracy that has deep roots within Zootopia. The stakes are high — predators are being targeted viciously, but the deeper the two go, the more disturbing the truth becomes. Mistakes are made, lessons learned, and friendships cemented. But the question looms big — can Nick and Judy figure out who is targeting predators before panic and fear tears the city apart?
Throughout the film, stereotypes are examined and busted through a nice collection of jokes and serious dialogue. We explore how painful and dangerous stereotyping can be, and at the same time, the film celebrates diversity — showing how diverse group of people all bring their own talents and perspectives to make a more cohesive, hopeful, and peaceful world. It also can serve as a good analogy to race relations within our own country. People of color are often typecast with loaded stereotypes as being more “dangerous” or “less intelligent.” This is prevalent within the policies governing these communities as well as in how people interact with one another, and these stereotypes have destroyed families and the lives of many. The film explores this through the relation between prey and predator and shows how these loaded and dangerous stereotypes are rooted in misunderstandings, fear, and deeply held prejudices instilled in us by family, peers, and society at large. Through Judy’s interactions, the movie also explored the layers of privilege — how you can be discriminated against in one arena of life (her as a rabbit) but privileged in another (her as part of the prey majority). It takes effort to overcome our own prejudices, to fight against racist policies and practices, and to create a more just and accepting world. But as Judy Hopps discovers, this journey starts with yourself.
I feel like I could spend days unpacking all the delicious details and end up with pages of commentary on how well this film explores the topic of race relations, but I may save that for a different day since I’m avoiding spoilers in this review. Suffice to say, this film is jam-packed with tight storytelling, memorable characters, fascinating analogies, and great comedy. It’s worth the watch. Go and catch it in the theater before it’s gone or rent it as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.