3.5 out of 4 stars
Zootopia shows how much Disney has evolved — and we’re not talking about a movie in which animals live like people in a mammal metropolis where humans don’t exist.
Disney’s 55th animated film isn’t as much a cartoon as it the company’s most powerful message on social commentary it has ever delivered.
Beyond cuddly creatures, humor and fascinating animation, Zootopia will long be remembered for its portrayal of race relations, specifically racial profiling and how quickly seemingly good people — or in this case animals — can turn to mean, stereotyping bullies when threatened.
The story revolves around two characters from the opposite side of the spectrum: Judy Hopps, a cherubic rabbit voiced by Gennifer Goodwin, and Nick Wilde, a conniving fox con artist voiced by Jason Bateman.
Hopps is prey, while Wilde is a predator. But that doesn’t stop Hopps from becoming the first bunny cop in Zootopia, a city broken into 12 neighborhoods that mirror American cities. In our world, people of similar ethnicities tend to live together, like China Town, Little Italy, and Greek Town. It’s no different in Zootopia: polar bears live in Tundra Town; camels reside in Sahara Square; wolves dominate Cliffside; and mice live in the rodent-sized buildings of Rodentia. You get the point.
All the while, the city’s power figures are all predators, including Mayor Lionheart (voiced by J.K. Simmons) and Police Chief Bogo (a buffalo voiced by Idris Elba), who commands a force made up of rhinos, elephants and other jungle beasts.
Hopps said she’s out to prove she isn’t a “token” police officer who got her badge because of the city’s initiative to include more “prey-type” animals to the city predator-dominated criminal justice system.
Let’s call it what it is: Disney just played the affirmative action card.
When Hopps tells another officer that only bunnies can call other bunnies “cute” without being offended, can you think of a word that African-Americans can use more frequently than Caucasians? Yes, Disney went there.
Ever been upset by slow service at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Guess who works there in Zootopia? Sloths.
Directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-it Ralph) and co-director Jared Bush push Disney to a place it’s never been before on the big screen.
It’s easy to love Hopps. She’s optimistic and tries to see the best in everyone. Wilds, who Bateman brings to life with his deadpan and sarcastic humor, complements Hopps, who basically blackmails him into helping her solve a string of kidnappings.
It’s the kidnappings — and the motive behind them — that makes Zootopia magical. In an instant, a public scare gives way to predators and prey adopting an us against them mentality because the prey’s sudden fear of what predators could do makes the prey look down on them like they are second-class citizens instead of equals.
Zootopia’s ability to deliver adult-themed messages to children in a subtle way throughout the PG-rated film could signify a new chapter for Disney, which has finally taken a step outside the Magic Kingdom and into the real world.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.