Movie Review: “Zootopia” – They’re Just Like Us!

Written by Matt Butler March 19, 2016

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Here’s a question, if Zootopia is the utopian animal epicentre, then where are all the birds? And the aquatic life? And the amphibians? My theory is, Nick Wilde’s line in the teaser trailer: “But the truth is, Zootopia isn’t perfect.” isn’t just about the social rifts between prey and predator, he’s also referring to all the delicious Fish & Chip, Fried Chicken and Frog Leg locales conveniently distributed throughout Zootopia, but always outside the frame of the camera. Talk about mammal-washing!

Zootopia follows the optimistic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny with big-city dreams of moving to Zootopia and becoming the first bunny-cop. However, when she lands her first case, it becomes all too clear that Zootopia’s equality is superficial, and like it or not, deep down, they’re all still animals. With the unlikely help of a swindling fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy sets out to solve the case, dismantle the stigmas set between prey and predator, and prove once and for all that anyone can be anything.

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“Ready to make the world a better place?”

I know it’s early to be saying this, but I believe Zootopia might be this year’s Inside Out, and that’s saying a lot, considering 2016’s heavy load of animated pictures yet to be released (both Illumination and Disney are doubling on animated features, just as Pixar did in 2015). It’s not even just the quality of it, Zootopia and Inside Out have very similar approaches. Both movies tackle complex social issues with colourful and straightforward insights, in ways that are simple enough for children and clever enough for adults.

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Something that really impresses me about Zootopia is its use of criminology to advance the plot. One of my favourite scenes is when Judy accuses Nick of tax exemption and pulls out a trail of evidence, catching Nick completely off-guard. Scenes like this work to make the characters, and the movie, smarter. I’m sure this will be many kids’ first exposure to detective fiction, so it’s assuring to see it done well.

“Do you think when she goes to sleep, she counts herself?”

Zootopia is one of those films that is so engaging and entertaining that any problems I have just shrink to nitpicks. Even the formulaic story didn’t take me out of it, even if there were a few moments where it was clear the writing favoured convenience, like how Judy and Nick just open the van without breaking in or having any keys, or how Judy finds the night-howlers in a field purely by coincidence. I can also admit the meta-ness of Zootopia does get a tad excessive. We get a Disney DVD bootleg scene and two not-so-subtle Frozen references (I’ll leave you to spot them). Really though, I’m just impressed that with a race subject-matter, Disney still knows not to take itself too seriously. I’m sure anyone who grew sick and cynical over Frozen will get something out of Zootopia’s self-awareness.

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I sincerely hope animation studios like Blue Sky, Illumination, even Dreamworks –Trolls? Really?- will start cluing into what makes Zootopia work. It’s not necessary to pander to children, just like it isn’t to exclude adults. You can have the best of both worlds, just as long as you remember the whole family is the audience. Whatever issues I had with Zootopia, its saving grace was a lively, perfectly paced and engaging story with a healthy dose of realism. Let’s hope Disney can get two for two when Moana comes out this fall.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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