Movie Review: “Zootopia” is a kids movie that touches on controversial issues such as racism, sexism
You can’t fault a movie for trying to say something positive. Even if that something is conveyed in a heavy-handed or muddled way. You just want to pull that movie closer, kiss it gently on the forehead and just before you tap your index finger against your pursed lips to let it know it’s said more than enough, you softly whisper, “Thank you. You tried and I love you.” “Zootopia” is that kind of movie.
“Zootopia” has a lot of things to say. Some of those things are bold for a children’s film, while others aren’t that different from the messages found in millions of other children’s movies. In essence, this is a film with a point and after a while, like any film with a point, you can’t help but roll your eyes and mumble “I get it” to no one in particular. Basically if “Crash” was less aggravating and had several scenes of a cartoon shrew doing an impression of Marlon Brando as The Godfather, it would be “Zootopia.” And if you’re not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, understand that I’m not too sure either.
In “Zootopia” all mammals have evolved into civilized beings with fully functioning brains, chatty mouths and the shame to cover their furry genitalia with various kinds of pants. “Big Love’s” Ginnifer Goodwin (seemingly instructed to Amy Poehler-up her character as best as she can) plays Judy Hopps, a chipper young lady rabbit who dreams of becoming a police officer even as the world around her constantly reminds her that her dreams are, at best, irrational and stupid.
Nonetheless, Judy momentarily silences her doubters when she graduates at the top of her class at the police academy and manages to get herself assigned to a precinct in Zootopia – a bustling Metropolis with climate-based boroughs (which, incidentally is never very believable as a city mainly because it looks and functions as a discarded theme park idea that Disney didn’t want to fully throw away). Of course, at the precinct, Judy is condescended and marginalized as she’s forced to waste her talents as a meter maid. But even as a lowly meter maid, Judy forges an uneasy alliance with a snarky con-fox named Nicholas Wilde (Jason Bateman doing his snarky asshole thing) and manages to get mixed up in a conspiracy involving a small group of respected animal citizens who’ve all been reduced to a dangerous feral state.
First things first, “Zootopia” deserves credit for taking on difficult subject matter like racism and sexism. It also deserves credit for the moments in which these themes aren’t brutally hammered into your forehead (such as the fact that Judy is seemingly the only female police officer or when Judy gently rebuffs an oblivious cheetah by saying that ‘only a bunny can call another bunny cute’). “Zootopia” is also the first kids’ film to flesh out that tired ‘believe in yourself’ trope by adding ‘you can believe in yourself all you want, but many others won’t and they’ll do whatever they can to make you stop’.
Sadly, these smarter and more pessimistic elements are undermined by a story that is badly photocopied from the “Lethal Weapon”/buddy cop play book, an irritating level of animal-based puns (Duh-Hoyyee! Here comes Wreck-It Rhino! Is that the investment firm known as The Lemming Brothers? Let’s buy furry genital shamepants at Targoat!) and comedic moments that undermine the film’s “stereotyping is bad” message. “Zootopia” practically begs us not to judge a book by its cover even as it repeatedly judges various books on the basis of their covers. Sloths are slow and useless, wolves have an uncontrollable need to howl, even Nick, who as the film reveals, was a victim of prejudice, is compelled to crack jokes that would be considered racist – er, specie-ist(?) – in the world of “Zootopia”.
Obviously, in spite of its faults, “Zootopia” is a very noble film. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of a joyless film. As I noted earlier, Disney deserves an amazing amount of credit for tackling such difficult subject matter but sitting through “Zootopia” only managed to remind me that I haven’t seen “Wreck-It Ralph” in quite a while.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Octavia Spencer, Shakira, Tommy Chong
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Weekender Rating: WW
Length: 108 minutes