But with “Zootopia”, a thoroughly engaging new film from Walt Disney Animation – a studio that knows a thing or two about cuddly, anthropomorphic critters – this familiar narrative approach gets a jolt of new, culturally relevant life.
In the city of Zootopia, predators and prey recall that in the dark ages they were wild and hunted each other, but in modern, civilized times, they live side by side. The animals (or characters) are thoroughbred professionals, running a full fledged city life: to name a few, Gazelle is Zootopia’s biggest popstar, who gets her voice from Shakira, and Mayor Lionheart is a character inspired by Mufasa of Lion King. Once on the force, though, she discovers she’s only a token officer, given the job for diversity’s sake.
In short, “Zootopia” is the best animated film of the year, as well as one that conveys a message rarely heard in movies for children: Getting exactly what you hoped for isn’t the end of the journey. Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. She is, after all, only a meter maid and seemingly way out of her depth. Her trust issues come to a head when a smooth-talking con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) becomes involved in a kidnapping investigation that could make or break Judy’s career. He’s arch and worldly.
In December, Inverse shared that the film “suspiciously catered toward Furries“, by using “shapely animals with gender signifiers like eyelashes and hips”, sensually voiced actors like Shakira portraying them and the fact that the main character in the film is a fox – “arguably the most popular “fursona” cited by Furries”. A doughnut-loving chubby cheetah desk cop (Nate Torrence) is a bundle of ebullience and, later, affecting poignancy. “Judy and Nick-a rabbit and a fox-are natural enemies by definition”. But the comic highlight of the film is an extended comic sequence poking fun of the Department of Motor Vehicles, which in the “Zootopia” world is staffed by sloths.
But there’s seriousness here also.
Adults and older kids will enjoy the story and the little ones will love the cute animated animals scurrying across the screen, especially Judy Hopps, the star of the film (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin). Directors Byron Howard (“Tangled’), Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) and Jared Bush put a sensitive focus on Judy’s struggles to overcome the low expectations of her boss, and her own parents, that a bunny can’t rise and thrive in the big complicated world out there”. The self congratulations are earned.