Disney Zootopia Is A Howling Good Time

As far as films go, I’m not completely smitten with films that feature anthropomorphic characters. I grew up on films like Robin Hood, The Aristocats and The Rescuers and loved them as much as any person could, but the past decade has been loaded with animated cuddly animal films. It felt like I was seeing the same style of storytelling to the point where so many films had almost the same look and feel with little distinction between them. That being said, I know that these films are great business for the industry, as they give families and opportunity to see a film together — and many of the films can be fun to watch. A part of me was reserving judgment before the first frame started. Just when I gave up on giving these films any attention, Disney takes a non-human cast and makes them relevant, funny…and dare I say, original.

Populated with a cast of lions, rabbits, hamsters and one very clever fox, the mammal-centric city of Zootopia is a metropolis where various animals live and thrive. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, and quickly learns how tough it is for a rabbit to become a police officer. Determined to prove to herself and to her colleagues who don’t take her seriously, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who makes her job even harder.

In the spirit of evolution (like the human world), the animals of Zootopia have evolved into a world were predator and prey coexist together in relative peace. As a society, they stay away from bloodlust to would lift everyone up in the city. We learn this history in the opening scene through a school play performed in rural Bunny Burrows.

The investigation takes them into treacherous areas of Zootopia, which include snowy Tundratown, and the lush Rain Forest District. During this time, Judy and Nick uncover a sinister plot that could affect their entire world: an engineered scheme by a mysterious villain to return predators to their once-savage, uncivilized nature and destroying the harmony of Zootopia.

Concept art for the film.

Concept art for the film

What begins as a buddy picture between a rabbit and a fox morphs into a wonderful story that explores themes of stereotyping. Though it never gets preachy, the film gives viewers an opportunity to look at contemporary issues that are cleverly disguised and weaved carefully into the story. It never talks down to the audience and delivers its message about the dangers of stereotyping quite clearly, while drawing parallels with instances of everyday racial prejudice among humans.

The potentially serious nature at the heart of the film could be mistaken as something too dark for this kind of storytelling. However, the interesting mash up of cute and serious makes for a very satisfying viewing experience. Peppered with themes of being true to oneself and living with others who come from different backgrounds, the well-intended message may create meaningful conversations after the final credits roll.

Zootopia was released on February 10, 2016 in Belgium, on February 12, 2016 in Spain, and on February 18, 2016 in Italy. The United States will see its release date on March 4, 2016. The film’s European title, Zootropolis, will be released across the European countries other than Belgium on March 25, 2016; six weeks after the initial theatrical release in Belgium.

The voice cast includes Idris Elba, Shakira, Maurice LaMarche, Alam Tukyk, Kristen Bell, John DiMaggio, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Octavia Spencer, Tommy Chong, Nate Torrance and J.K. Simmons.

The film was directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush; produced by Clark Spencer; screenplay by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston; story by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush; music by Michael Giacchino. Running time is 108 minutes.

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