It's not about how badly you WANT something. It's about what you are capable of!

It’s not about how badly you WANT something. It’s about what you are capable of!

 

Now and then one might look at a film with a message and wonder why it is that message is still being emphasized. Shouldn’t these ideas be commonplace by now? Shouldn’t they be the accepted norm? The sad thing is, we end up looking around and realizing that no – they are not commonplace, they are not the norm. We were all well on our way to a better understanding of the world when a few loud and selfish sections of the population took us back a few steps.

So now and then, we need to be reminded. Enter a film like ZOOTOPIA.

We begin by meeting Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny living outside the thriving metropolis of Zootopia. A a young’n, Judy spreads the word that no species of animal are bound anymore by their role on the food chain. Evolution has made it so that whether one is herbivore or carnivore, predator or prey, every animal can now co-exist and aspire to be whatever they want in life. Her farmer parents disagree somewhat, but it is with pride that they watch Hopps become the first bunny to graduate from the Zootopia Police Academy.

At first, Hopps’ days are filled with handing out parking tickets, but she soon finds herself drawn into a case of a missing otter. When she looks at the last known photo of the otter, she sees a familiar face – Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a conniving fox she reprimanded earlier that same day for conning local businesses.

Hopps reaches out to Wilde and convinces him to assist her in tracking down the missing otter – a case that will take her deep into the underbelly of Zootopia and unveil much of the corruption and contradiction hidden in the fuzz society. Before their investigation is through they will encounter vicious arctic shrews, chemically skilled sheep, and seemingly benign critters in Zootopia’s halls of power that are deeply duplicitous.

Suddenly “survival of the fittest” has a whole new spin…

 

Hops, Wilde, and Flash the Sloth

 

For a moment, it will feel as if Walt Disney Studios have told this story before. The notion that we can be whatever we want to be and are not confined by our station seems like something The House of Mouse talked about just five years ago in WRECK-IT RALPH. What’s more, the film feels as though it comes without the transcendence Disney has employed so readily lately. I wager children will have fun exploring the inevitable ZOOTOPIA are in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but I don’t see any character attaching themselves to children the same way Baymax, Ralph, or Olaf have.

So a few points must be deducted for lack of originality, when Uncle Walt repeats himself so quickly…even if there is a larger reason for it. More on that later.

What’s most fun about a movie like ZOOTOPIA is the way it peppers its story with just enough clever references. These aren’t flourishes to make the film feel more current or more timely, they’re more like cookies for the parents in the audience with their children. The target demo aren’t going to know who Vito Corleone or Walter White are, but their parents will…and happily, this film knows how to give them a wink of thanks without hitting them over the head.

Hearing Goodwin and Bateman play off one-another is actually rather sweet. Since the actors likely recorded their parts separately, their chemistry is not entirely organic. However, it has been orchestrated in such a way that underlines Wilde and Hopps’ relationship with a lovely blend of platonic and charming affection. If anything, it actually leads one to wish that we could get a live-action film starring Bateman and Goodwin in-the-flesh. Perhaps they would make for a great romantic pairing…we already know they’d make a great buddy cop team.

There’s a tinge of built-in sadness that comes from the lessons and morals that ZOOTOPIA want to teach its audience. Let it not be suggested that this critic disagrees with re-enforcing the notion that opportunity and achievement is not inherently tied to what we are but rather who we are. Perish the thought. No, what is sad and disconcerting is that it is 2016 and we still have to teach our children those notions in the hopes that eventually the concept will stick. We still live in a world where one’s looks and lineage supersedes how hard they are willing to work in the eyes of many. One would hope that by now, such xenophobia would be behind us…but unfortunately there are still many who believe that the bunnies of our world cannot be cops.

ZOOTOPIA’s ultimate message might seem slight, but one glance at the evening news reminds us that it’s a message that still needs to be taught. At least lessons like the ones in this film allow for some laughs along the way.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on ZOOTOPIA.