October 9, 2018

Zootopia (2016)
Grade: 68/100

Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira

What it's about. A Walt Disney computer animated feature whose characters are all animals with humanoid bodies. The story takes place in Zootopia, a city where predators and prey coexist peacefully.

Judy (voiced by Della Saba) is a young rabbit who has achieved her dream of becoming a police officer. But her Cape buffalo chief Bogo (v/b Idris Elba) discriminates against her, assigning her to meter maid duties instead of helping to solve the case of an increasing number of missing predators.

On her first day of work, Judy meets Nick (v/b Jason Bateman), a fox who runs a dubious business with diminutive partner Finnick (v/b Tommy Lister).

On her second day, Judy presses Bogo for an investigative assignment. She is given 48 hours to solve the case of a missing otter, or she must resign. Judy coerces Nick into becoming her sidekick as they crack the case. Along the way, they encounter Zootopia mayor Lionheart (v/b J.K. Simmons); assistant mayor Bellwether (v/b Jenny Slate), who is deceptively meek; and Mr. Big (v/b Maurice LaMarche), a shrew who does his best imitation of Marlon Brando from The Godfather.

How others will see it. Zootopia was another box office smash for Disney, exceeding 1B worldwide in ticket sales. It was a critical success as well, winning Best Animated Feature at the Oscars and Golden Globes, though at BAFTA it lost to dark horse candidate Kubo and the Two Strings.

Today at imdb.com, Zootopia has a huge 356K user votes and a lofty user rating of 8.0, which ranges from 8.4 among women under 30 to 7.7 among men over 45.

The user ratings are overwhelming positive ("Best of the Best, What a Great Surprise). Negative reviews certainly exist, mostly from those who dislike its pointed political message.

How I felt about it. I see Zootopia as an allegory against prejudice. In that vein, the animated feature is similar to Animal Farm (1954), a thinly veiled criticism of Soviet dictator Stalin, and Watership Down (1978), in which the rabbits flee a military dictatorship and eventually establish a utopia.

Next, we must find the parallels in our world to the fictional characters in Zootopia, a task countless high school students had to endure with "Lord of the Flies." Here, the Zootopia as allegory theory breaks down, if only because it is uncomfortable to postulate that bunnies are women, predators are blacks, foxes are white collar criminals, etc.

Is it possible, instead, to simply regard Zootopia as merely an amusing comedy? No. Aside from the city government sloths, which evoked uproarious laughter in theaters during the film's preview before showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the movie is not that funny.

But it is a good movie, and aside from the unlikely conman fox and plucky bunny chemistry, it is the anti-prejudice theme that works best. We actually feel sorry for Clawhauser, the amiable cheetah, who loses his "greet the public" desk job and is instead relegated to the boiler room.

Now if only we could remove the mediocrity and insipid inspirationalism of Shakira's "Try Everything" (such as heroin, or angel dust, or everclear?), and find a more credible villain than Bellwether, even if her signature line "Fear always works" is the GOP mantra for winning elections.