When most of us think of Disney films, images of princesses, musical numbers, true love, and happy endings come to mind. But while the Disney films of the past have often been entertaining, they in no way have carried the substance that the new film Zootopia is bringing to audiences.
I’ve seen some Disney movies in the past, and while I may be outside the age range for their target audience, I’ve always enjoyed the movies they’ve produced. So, when I noticed that Zootopia had a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and was receiving such an overwhelmingly positive reception online, I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. On March 17th at 2:00pm, I sat down, popcorn in hand, on one of the plush leather recliners at the AMC theater in Framingham. Aside from looking at the Rotten Tomato rating, I did my best to avoid any spoilers. I wanted to see for myself if the movie was as good as people claimed. My expectations were not just met, but they were exceeded.
Mammals both big and small come to life in this new animated film. In Zootopia, all are living harmoniously in a world where they now walk on two legs, wear clothing and hold down their own jobs. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit with big dreams of becoming the first of her kind to join the police force. Of course, in classic movie fashion, the dream she had so feverishly pursued proves harder to attain than she anticipated. Judy, determined to prove her worth, jumps at the chance to solve a case regarding a missing Otter. In order to do so she finds herself working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a cunning fox who at first makes her job harder, but ends up becoming her biggest ally.
Zootopia follows a common story-line that has become all too familiar: a hero leaves home to follow a dream. But the Disney animation studios have breathed some much needed life into this old and worn idea. Having a rabbit, a small and “cute” animal, try to find her place in a city filled with other larger animals gives this old idea a much needed face lift. The directors (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush) took the meaning of a “small fish in a big pond” quite literally with their choice of characters. Seeing Judy Hopps in comparison to the larger animals within the city really cemented the idea that Judy was going to have an uphill battle to get to the top.
With other stars such as Idris Elba as Chief Bongo, J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart and Jenny Slate as his sheep assistant Bellweather, Disney has provided audiences with a star-studded cast that brought their story to life. Each actor was paired perfectly with their animal counterpart. Those with deeper voices like Elba and Simmons portrayed the bigger more intimidating animals. You can have an amazing story, that is well thought out, but if the actors fall short, the story loses its poignancy. That wasn’t the case here: each actor was perfectly matched with the role he or she was voicing.
Disney pulled out all the stops, in order to make sure the film played well both to their younger demographic and the older members of the audience as well. The movies soundtrack is spearheaded by its unofficial theme “Try Everything,” performed by Shakira; the song lent itself well to the overall positive feeling of the film. “Try Everything,”which was introduced within the first few minutes of the film, not only had a catchy toe-tapping beat, but it was also used as a way to provide insight into the feelings of Judy Hopps– with lyrics such as “I messed up tonight, I lost another fight. I still mess up but I’ll just start again, I keep falling down, I keep hitting the ground, I always get up to see what’s next.”
While the film was overwhelmingly good, at some points the movie felt slow; and some of the humor that was targeted towards the adults felt forced; this often happens when directors try to appeal to both the kids and their parents. Zootopia’s biggest strength was in the way it presented an important message: “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In looking at the release date of the film, timed with the current social and political climate, Disney’s staff created a film that carried with it a much deeper meaning. By connecting the plot to certain political and social movements that are taking place today, they created a film that is a reflection of the current state of our society. It is unfortunate that these days, many people view certain groups as inherently bad, based on nothing more than their appearance.
I went into the theater expecting to watch just another Disney movie, one with a happy ending. Instead I was greeted with a family friendly social commentary on issues like prejudice and the danger of stereotyping. I give Zootopia 4.9 stars (the reason for not giving it 5 is that some of the humor seemed forced, as I said). But now that I have seen it, I definitely agree that this film deserves its 99% rating.