Walt Disney Animation Studios has been doing very well recently flexing its muscles alongside the other animation house Disney distributes, and the generally agreed-upon favourite: Pixar.
“Frozen” showed it can bring in the crowds like Pixar’s “Toy Story” franchise, and now Disney Studio’s newest release, “Zootopia,” proves it can also make a family-friendly tale with a strong message, like Pixar’s “WALL-E” or “Inside Out.”
Animated movies have always had deep-seated morals behind them, whether overcoming fears or learning to be yourself. But recently the messages have been louder and more relevant to contemporary society. There’s the commentary on caring for the environment in “WALL-E” and now “Zootopia” takes on issues of identity and race.
“Zootopia” is set in a world where both prey and predator live in harmony. And not just that, the animals have evolved to have human characteristics and live in a metropolis, called Zootopia. But from the start, you can tell that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”), Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”), and Jared Bush are going to be driving home thoughts on our own world.
We get to know a bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as a youngster who has big ambitions to be a “bunny cop.” Though her parents try to make her understand that having big dreams is not healthy and that she should concentrate on staying home on the farm.
This makes sense when Judy tries to help out a few small animals being bullied by a large fox, and gets beaten up by the fox.
Yes, this is a Disney movie.
Fast-forward 15 years, and we see Judy training to be a cop, a small bunny among large tigers and elephants. She graduates top in her class and is stationed at the epicentre of Zootopia, a melting pot of species large and small.
But before Judy heads off to the big city, her father gives her fox repellent. After offering “fatherly advice” about why foxes can’t be trusted, she reluctantly takes the spray and heads off.
The moment seems meaningless and silly. But in fact, it’s the basis of the whole movie.
“Zootopia” is as much a commentary on race and bigotry as it is a fun romp through an imaginary world.
As the story evolves, finding Judy in search of a missing otter with the help of a shifty fox named Nick (Jason Bateman), this topical exploration bubbles to the surface.
First a tiger cop says Judy is so cute, and Judy retorts that only bunnies can call other bunnies that. Then Judy explains to the media that the reason a handful of predators have gone “savage” is due to what’s in their DNA. In essence, because their ancestors were killers, it’s safe to assume they must be as well.
This dive into the topic of stereotypes and the harm they cause is a triumph by Disney that hopefully encourages parents and their children to have discussions while heading back home from the theatre. (Parents will certainly have to engage in a talk about Nick’s flashback scene.)
Yes, movies should be escapism, and “Zootopia” is filled with incredible computer animation, very funny jokes, and wonderful characters. But it also helps young people today to have some reality seep into the content they endlessly consume.
What’s great is that “Zootopia” isn’t scared to raise issues, even highly sensitive ones. Hopefully we all keep away from knee-jerk reactions concerning “why” a cartoon is doing this and instead absorb it and educate.
If you haven’t noticed, your dad’s Disney cartoons are long gone.
“Zootopia” opens March 4.
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