Review: ‘Zootopia’ Is a Preachy Comedy, But Not In a Bad Way

zootopia review

Unlike the scores of other animated movies starring talking animals with clothes, Zootopia opens with a lengthy explanation for why the creatures of their world are “evolved” enough to stand upright and build cities. And it’s at this point that the predator vs. prey racial dynamics are introduced, setting the tone for what is mostly a two-note movie about how bigotry and tribalism can manifest when we work to “be anything we want.”

The hero for this adventure is Judy Hopps (voiced perfectly by Ginnifer Goodwin), a small bunny from the boroughs who dares to have a job mostly held by larger mammals and predators (for the sake of keeping things simple, the movie only features mammals).

That job is being a police officer in Zootopia, which is this world’s “big city” filled with hopes and dreams for animals of all shapes and sizes, or so it’s advertised. One of the unique flavors of this animated movie about culture relations is how these animals actually live amongst each other. Each part of the city is geared toward a different environment suited for different species, and we observe the implications of each location throughout the running time.

Often, these shared spaces bring about their own baggage for the creatures of Zootopia, and it’s no different for the first bunny to become a police officer. Judy Hopps passes at the top of her class, yet her family still worries she won’t be able to coexist with predators in such a dangerous environment.

For the first half of Zootopia, subtle details  like Judy’s unwillingness then willingness to carry around fox-repellent to protect herself illuminate some of the subtle prejudice sprinkled throughout. Only to come about in an unexpected twist that says something meaningful about the very tropes Disney has championed for decades.

zootopia review

Much of the movie centers around Judy’s reluctant friendship with a hustling fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) who helps her track down creatures going missing throughout Zootopia. Their teamwork is probably the most genuine chemistry we get in the first half of Zootopia, as their values are mismatched — though not exaggerated — enough to provide some bits for clever comedy. And ultimately, their relationship is what elevates the movie to being a must-see.

That said, the film suffers a few lingering flaws, such as a simplified resolution to the disappearing cases and some worn gags and dialogue that borrow a little too liberally from buddy copy movies, Chinatown, and The Godfather. But for the first time in years, it seems Disney is comfortable creating inside jokes for its movies, poking fun at Frozen on multiple occasions, as well as some of its other movies dressed up as animals.

Further, Zootopia has more of an imagination than any of the other recent Disney computer animated movies, even Big Hero 6. This is one of Disney’s most carefully considered and beautifully detailed worlds ever, as Zootopia itself actually feels like a world designed by animals.

Despite some of its weak points, Zootopia delivers a solid punch in the final act that will resonate with both adults and children. It will undoubtedly start helpful conversations among families concerning the prejudice and bigotry that coincidentally occurs between the police and civilians of America, for instance. But beyond all the messages and preachiness of Zootopia, there’s a sincere cast of characters who make these challenging themes come to life in the best way possible.

Grade: A-


Extra Credits

  • Some of you may be wondering if I now agree with Germain Lussier that Zootopia is the best Disney film in 20 years. I don’t, simply because Mulan is stronger, but I can understand why many people will prefer this to FrozenWreck-It Ralph, and Tangled.
  • And then there are people who say this is the best since Beauty and the Beast. Those people need to calm down.
  • Sitting through the first half of Zootopia is not easy, actually. I thought it dragged quite a bit, and a lot of the jokes didn’t land for me. Things pick up Frozen-style later on, but you’ll still be entertained enough by the amazing visuals to let it slide.
  • What they did with Nick Wilde’s character was genius, restraining from making him yet another “Han Solo” type. Wish they had been kinder to Bogo as a character, though Idris Elba does his best with this annoyingly familiar police chief.
  • I did not care fro the “Shakira Gazelle” thing. It felt more like product placement than a real character existing in an animal city. Weird sentence, I know.
  • I wish I could get into spoilers, because there’s so much to talk about. Needless to say, this is akin to Frozen‘s dismantling of the “strangers falling in love after just meeting” trope, but with some more serious subject material. Disney better not lose John Lasseter. anytime soon.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

12 thoughts on “Review: ‘Zootopia’ Is a Preachy Comedy, But Not In a Bad Way

  1. Considering the fact that predators and prey live in harmony, I would think there are not any predators.

  2. Seriously, Beauty and the Beast? Anything to get on the DVD I guess.

  3. What the heck? Lion King is the best. Duh. Nothing will beat it even something as good as Zootopia seems to be. Going to see it this weekend. Yay!

  4. Okay, I have to say this. Jon, you are VERY biased about Pixar. Yes, I love Pixar, but The Good Dinosaur as #1 best movie of 2015? C’mon. I saw it, it was a decent movie, but there were WAY better movies in 2015. (E.x. Mad Max: FR, Inside Out, The Revenant, Ex Machina, Star Wars: TFA, the list goes on.) but when it comes to a Disney movie, you seem to be a bit more prejudice.

    • Of course I’m biased. That’s what it means to be human. What would be worse is if I was dishonest in order to make it seem like I’m somehow unbiased for the sake of solidarity. To be fair, my personal favorite movie of 2015 was “The Hateful Eight,” though I think “Good Dinosaur” was a near perfect movie in its genre. My reviews get into my reasoning, but they’re not intended to coincide perfectly with consensus. Accusing me of prejudice for having a differing opinion is quite dangerous, actually, as it encourages critics to “get in line” with what everyone likes instead of crafting their own opinions. Besides, I credited Zootopia with the same grade as Inside Out. How is that unfair to Disney?

  5. I mean, what was wrong with Tangled and Big Hero 6? They were excellent movies.

  6. Fair point sir, and you accepting that you are biased earns you alot of respect from me. Most critics would have denied it.

  7. I think Zootopia is the best Disney movie since Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs!!!!!!! That includes every single movie made by Disney, Pixar, Lucas-films, Marvel and everything else Disney owns!

  8. Interesting Fact, Zootopia’s original story starred Nick Wilde instead of Judy Hopps.
    The city was also planned to not be the inclusive and diverse city that we know, but as a dystopia where the prey hated and feared the predators so bad that every single predator was forced to wear ‘tame collars’ that shock them every time they either get too angry or excited.
    Go Figure…

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