Directed by: Byron Howard and Rich Moore, co-directed by Jared Bush
Written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston (story by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, Joshie Trinidad, Jim Reardon)
Last weekend I went to see “Zootopia” – or “Zootropolis”, as it’s called here in the regions outside of the US of A – the latest computer animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios and the writers/directors of “Wreck-it Ralph”, “Tangled” and “Big Hero 6”. Now I want to make a note right here in the beginning, that I can not comment on the original voice cast or their acting here, because the only version of the film that was running in my local cinema was overdubbed by a Finnish voice cast (yes, we do that – only on animated movies though. We’re not barbarians). And the dubbings made here are by a standard very good quality, but I’m sure some of the verbal jokes of the original film got lost in translation. And some audible jokes as well, as I’ve noticed from the original voice cast list; Tom “Tiny” Lister jr. performing the voice of a teeny-weeny Fennec Fox probably worked better than what we got. But that’s minor bitching; the story is still intact and that’s the main thing that matters in the end, am I right?
In a world where mammals have evolved into a civilised society and left behind all (well, almost all) of their primal instincts, a young rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps has decided to leave her homestead carrot farm in Bunnyburrow and join the police force. After a rocky start, she finishes her schooling at the Police Academy and joins the police force as the first rabbit ever – this is made into a huge PR event by the officials. As she moves to the big city of Zootopia – which is divided into several areas with different habitats to best serve their occupants needs, like Arctic town, Jungle town, Desert town and even a miniature town for the micro-sized rodents – she quickly finds out that after all the media hooplah, no one at the police force really takes her seriously and she is basically reduced into a Meter Maid. But as she is determined to do the best she can in any line of work, she becomes the most effective giver of parking fines in the town – which pisses off a whole lot of citizens. During this time, she encounters a con artist – a Red Fox by the name of Nick Wilde – who tries to give her some street-smart advice on how to survive in this hostile urban environment.
After she abandons her parking assignment to successfully chase down a robber in a long foot chase (which goes through both regular-sized city as well as the rodent-inhabited miniature city – becoming a Godzilla/King Kong-parody), she gets no credit. Instead Chief Bogo nearly fires her. But before he can do that, she makes a promise to a family member of one of the persons who are on the list of recent mysterious disappearances, Mrs. Otterton. Furious about this, Bogo gives Judy an ultimatum: solve the case in 48 hours or quit your job. With only a few leads (all the disappeared animals being of the beast-kind), Judy joins forces with Nick – her only link to the seedy underworld of the city – to solve the case…
That’s the basic plot there. And that is a comedic action-adventure and an underdog(or “under-bunny” if you will)-story that in itself will pretty much satisfy the child audience. But… That’s pretty much only the top layer here, as there’s a helluva lot more going on in “Zootopia” than that simple plot description would hint of. It deals with some very contemporary issues.
First: the film deals in a very clever way with gender discrimination. On the surface, Judy’s kinda thrown to lesser assignments because she’s a rabbit – but let’s say it like it really is: it’s because she’s a WOMAN in an occupation dominated by males. And yet she’s just as capable – and in the end even more so than the male officers, so the last laugh’s on her. That’s good, positive statement in an animated film.
Second: racism and xenophobia. From very early on, it’s shown that Zootopia is not the kind of friendly utopia where everyone lives equal. There’s a very clear line drawn between the predatory animals and everyone else. Let’s take the character of Nick, for example. He deals with some pretty heavy prejudice: in an early scene he goes to a popsicle shop and the storeowner declines to sell him anything, basically saying “we don’t serve to any foxes in here!“. Damn. And let’s take a look at the central plot, that deals with the disappearances of the predators (I’ll try to do it as non-spoilery as I can): basically the plot deals with a power-hungry individual who tries to rise into a leading position in society by kidnapping and drugging the predators so that they would regress back to their natural state and cause violent incidents. By doing this, it would raise the public opinion against these “lesser” beings and get them rounded up, isolated and ultimately banished from the “perfect” society. Sound familiar? It should – because it very much reflects what’s happening right at this moment in EVERY CORNER OF THE WORLD.
So yes, not your average animated Disney movie featuring talking animals. I gotta tip my hat to the filmmaking team for dealing with some pretty major issues here. Hopefully some of that rubs onto the little audience members. As well as the adults.
As expected, there’s a lot of homages to known films too to give the adult viewer something to spot. The buddy-movie plot is a very clear homage to “48 Hrs.”, there is a nod to “The Godfather”, there’s even a nod to David Fincher’s “Se7en” in there – albeit a brief one; just an exchange of dialogue – and then the capper: a “Breaking Bad”-homage, which is something I wouldn’t have expected in a Disney animation in a million years. Then there’s a scene which takes place in a “naturist” resort, where animals can roam around sans clothing is they want to – I’m not sure if this is a jab at the “Madagaskar”-movies but I’d like to think so; there’s a long history of Dreamworks and Disney taking shots on each other. The scene that capped pretty much all the trailers featuring the DMV office that’s run by a bunch of sloths is as funny as it seemed, even more so – yours truly was laughing hysterically through pretty much all of it. The sloths are very much the scene-stealing supporting characters here, akin to the Penguins of Madagaskar of the Minions (I don’t see them getting a spinoff-movie though, as that would be 12 hours long).
In closing: “Zootopia” is an entertaining film for audiences of all ages, that takes such a ballsy – but not preachy – approach to some very prominent real-life issues that I can’t but give some MAJOR props to it.
I Am Better
Coming from the frozen wastelands of Finnish tundra. Mr. Better seeks warmth from his television & home theater and all the wonders they provide. He occasionally dabbles in the arts of drawing and photography.