by Hope Madden
By approaching the love relationship central to Frozen as one between sisters, Disney made some strides toward rectifying the beauty-wealth-marriage focus of its long history of princess movies. Sure, they were still princesses, still impossibly beautiful, thin, wealthy, and white. But, you know, why rock the boat too hard?
Well, with Zootopia, Disney – not Pixar, not Dreamworks, but Disney proper – spins an amazingly relevant and of-the-moment political tale with real merit, and they do it with a frenetically paced, visually dazzling, perfectly cast movie.
When small town idealist Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first bunny cop in the big city of Zootopia, she finds the “you can be anything you want to be” motto a bit tough to realize. Her Chief, an imposing buffalo voiced to gruff perfection by Idris Elba, balks at this token recruit, assigning her to meter maid duties. But Hopps is determined to crack the case of the missing predators, even if it means compelling the reluctant assistance of wily con man fox Nick Wild (Jason Bateman – outstanding).
The casting is downright dreamy. Goodwin and Bateman have chemistry to spare, but every character is cast impeccably, boasting the spot-on talent of JK Simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, and Shakira, among others.
In this astoundingly detailed, brilliantly conceived, and visually glorious urban mecca, prey and predator have long since given up their archaic, bloodthirsty ways in favor of peaceful coexistence. And while the adventure that follows is a vibrantly animated buddy cop mystery – smartly told and filled with laughs – the boldly expressed themes of diversity, prejudice, and empowerment are even more jaw dropping than the spectacular set pieces.
Co-directors Byron Howard (Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), and Jared Bush, working with a team of writers, pull of a truly amazing caper of their own. Are you looking for adorable anthropomorphic friends?
Zootopia is teeming with them.
Stunning 3D animation? Yep!
Characters with actual arcs, voiced by genuine talent? Oh my, yes.
Smart – like really, really, smart – writing that shares as many emotional moments as true laughs? Also yes.
What about a story that vividly articulates our own personal biases, those we may not realize we have until confronted with them? How about a story where the bad guys (Breaking Bad fans rejoice, by the way) are using the media to create a culture of fear specifically to oppress a minority population so they can remain comfortably on top?
Is this Disney, or a Republican primary?
If you worry that Zootopia is a preachy liberal finger-wagger, fear not. It is simply the most relevant Disney film to come along in at least a generation.