One of the most heartwarming film stories in recent years has been the resurgence of Walt Disney Animation. Having loved the studio’s classic cartoons as a child, their nearly two decade-long creative lull following The Lion King saddened me. However, with Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013) and Big Hero 6 (2014), Disney rediscovered the mysterious, beloved sorcery associated with their name. The magic was back, as was the box-office, as was the acclaim. The studio’s newest release, Zootopia, continues the winning streak with panache.
Zootopia, as seen through the eyes of rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), is a wondrous city where the two major animal groups (predator and prey) live in harmony. In this magical metropolis, anyone can be anything. The Zootopian dream inspires young Judy to leave behind the rural serenity of Bunnyburrow and embark on a quest to become a police officer in Zootopia. If she succeeds, she will be the first bunny officer in the city’s history. She departs for the city bursting with enthusiasm and idealism, but also with a worried warning from her parents to watch out for the predators. Even though predators and prey have been living together peacefully for hundreds of years, one can never be too careful. “We’re not speciest or anything, but it’s best not to trust foxes…”
You’ve seen your share of animated movies, and you’ve heard your share of small-town-kid-moves-to-the-big-city stories. You know how this film is going to play out, but I won’t spoil the specifics. Our bunny encounters doubt and discouragement in the pursuit of her dream. Zootopia isn’t quite as rosy as it appears to be. Illusions are dispelled, obstacles are encountered, unlikely friendships are formed and lessons are learned by one and all.
Although the checklist of tropes is neatly ticked off, there is so much freshness in this film that it never ceases to be a delight. Animation in big-budget movies has been growing steadily sleeker, and Zootopia dazzles in this department. The city of Zootopia consists of several distinct ecosystems (Sahara Square, Rainforest District, Tundratown etc.) and each of these is fully and beautifully realized. Watch out for the chase sequence through Little Rodentia, an eye-popping highlight of the film. Amusing cinematic references, inspired moments of comedy, excellent voice acting and a vibrant soundtrack also combine to make the movie a winner. It is early in the year, but this is already the film to beat for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next year.
Finally, the fox in the room must be acknowledged. One of the central events of the movie is the panic that strikes the animal city when it appears that some predators have abandoned their long-peaceful ways and ‘gone savage’. Although prey outnumber predators ten to one, irrational alarm and mistrust spread among the prey, and ugly prejudices surface. Will this fear become the currency of politics in the city of Zootopia? Google tells me that the film began development sometime in 2013, but with remarkable prescience, it has anticipated the events of 2016. Tell your friends to watch Zootopia, tell them to tell their friends, and so on. Maybe if word gets around, those who need to learn the most from this film will take a break from the campaigning and go watch it.