Zootopia Review: Brilliant, Insightful, Poignant Fable About Bigotry That You Must See
"Sly bunny. Dumb fox." Great movie.
Isn’t it wonderful when a movie lives up to hype? Zootopia … what can I even say? It’s a triumph in animated filmmaking on every level, combining cutting edge animation, detailed world-building, likable yet deeply flawed characters, spot-on voice casting, and allegorical animals to tell a story that reflects an ugly side of our own world right back at us … while still being engaging and funny. It’s effectively a 21st century Beatrix Potter-style call for intersectionality, and it is a marvel.
The plot follows Judy Hopps, the first rabbit lieutenant in Zootopia, who teams up with a con artist fox, Nick Wilde, (who dredges up a LOT of memories of my childhood crush on Robin Hood, and not by coincidence, apparently) to solve a missing mammal case. In doing so, they uncover an epidemic of predatory animals going “savage” and seemingly giving in to their wild natures.
Zootopia has so much going for it. The detail in the animation and world-building is staggering, and the design of Zootopia itself, how its infrastructure accommodates animals of different sizes and species, is truly impressive. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are excellent as Judy and Nick, respectively, and Idris Elba deserves special mention for voicing the tough buffalo police chief, Bogo.
The plot is well-paced and full of genuine twists and turns, but what really sets Zootopia apart is its deft (read: not preachy) yet unflinching take on bigotry. As Judy says in the epilogue, “Real life is messy.” The movie starts out focusing on the anti-rabbit prejudice that Judy faces but gradually shifts to anti-predator (particularly anti-fox) prejudice … which Judy, herself, harbors.
Furthermore, Zootopia confronts the uncomfortable reality that sometimes stereotypes (and, consequently, suspicions) are founded, but it frames them as a product of the cycle of hatred. Judy mistrusts foxes and Nick reinforces the “shifty, untrustworthy” fox stereotype, but both behaviors stem from valid childhood experiences (particularly Nick’s … holy hell). They’re both victims of bias who harbor biases themselves.
While the heavy social themes might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and those expecting a light romp about sloths in the DMV will likely be disappointed, Zootopia is an exceptional film and—dare I say it?—an important one. It doesn’t encourage wide-eyed naiveté (Judy’s openheartedness when bailing out Nick and his “son” at an ice cream parlor comes back to bite her), but it does challenge us to take a long, hard look at parts of ourselves we like to think aren’t there.
It’s a testament to the power of filmmaking and to the talent, intelligence, and passion of those who worked on Zootopia (and the poor state of rational discourse in our real world) that the best discussion about privilege, intersectionality, and prejudice I’ve heard in a long time takes place in this animated movie between a talking rabbit and a fox.
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