Oh-ho! Caught you off guard didn’t I? You thought all I did was write about ’80s slasher flicks or pretentious arthouse films, didn’t you? But here I am, writing about a family movie. And a good family movie at that. Not a kids movie mind you. A family movie. A lot of people lump media for kids and media for families together, when they are completely different beasts. Sure, the two of them usually have bright colors and silly characters but when you dig in to the actual content of the film or television show or whatever, family-oriented ones usually have more to offer. A kids movie is something like the 2004 Spongebob Squarepants movie (I love this movie, but I can recognize that it’s a dumb movie for dumb kids), a movie that is made to entertain children only. The jokes are juvenile and there’s not really anything to gain from its story or characters. Parents buy the DVD or Blu-Ray or stream it on Netflix just to shut their kid up for an hour and a half while they take a nap. Family movies are movies that are meant to entertain kids and adults, and usually contain more delicate and real life themes that can actually teach kids something or spark an actual discussion afterwards. Sometimes they even throw the parents a bone, and slip some mature jokes in that would fly over a child’s head. Prime examples of movies and TV like that would include titles like:The Legend of Korra, The Lego Movie, Martyrs, and Disney’s newest box office crushing movie: Zootopia.
Zootopia is essentially a buddy cop crime drama that happens to involve goofy looking anthropomorphic animals. It was directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush, all super talented guys who have been involved with directing or writing in projects like Big Hero 6, Tangled, and The Simpsons (from ’89 to ’98 in case you were wondering).
This film is about a young, country bumpkin rabbit named Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) who moves to the bustling metropolis of Zootopia to become a cop. She’s the first ever rabbit to become an officer and being new and different to the force lends Judy to face discrimination and prejudice from the rest of her co-workers. She eventually bands together with a sly con artist fox, Nick (Jason Bateman) to solve a series of disappearances around Zootopia. Adventure ensues.
It’s 2016, which means that I shouldn’t have to write about how good this movie looks. Animation studios like Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar have been stepping their game up constantly to make everything look better and better, year after year. What I do want to write about is the themes that Zootopia tackles. This movie is so incredibly relevant to today’s social and political climates, that a lot of the dramatic moments in the film carry much more weight. Discrimination abounds in Zootopia, and the film showcases examples that can ring all too true for some people who might watch it. Everything from Judy not being taken seriously by her fellow officers, all of whom are large, intimidating species (also are almost all men), to accusations and stereotyping of certain animals because they happen to fall in either the “predator” or “prey” categories. The movie even addresses racial and homophobic slurs used by and against different animals. The big city of Zootopia shows that while things may look fine and dandy, a lot of people (animals in this case, I guess) have a strict us-versus-them mentality. Once things start going wrong, people begin blaming one group or another, claiming “genetic predisposition” for whatever foul actions took place. In Zootopia, the media sensationalizes everything, trying to craft the catchiest and most pop-off-the-page headline they can. Sound familiar? It should. Under the surface, Zootopia runs on fear-mongering, and it’s up to our underdog (underrabbit and underfox?) main characters to set things straight and help people become more tolerant and accepting. Isn’t that a lesson you want kids to learn?
Aside from the heavy subject matter at hand, Zootopia is a fun movie. The city itself is divided into different biomes, including a desert, a rainforest, and an arctic tundra. This gives the audience a massive smorgasbord of environs to watch the characters run through, keeping each action set piece different and exciting from the last. I’m a huge Dungeons and Dragons nerd and seeing all the different climates and environments that the characters go through played out like a big D&D adventure to me. There are lots of great looking locations with tons of interesting things for the characters to do and challenges to overcome. I thought the comedy was pretty alright in the movie but I found the quick banter between Judy and Nick to be the most entertaining part. Except for the sloth scene. There’s a scene with sloths in this movie, and I won’t spoil anything, but you should know that I was dying from laughter the whole time they were on screen. There was a surprising amount of referential humor in the movie, aping scenes and characters from properties like The Godfather and Breaking Bad (seriously). The voice acting was top notch too, with heavyweights like J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, and Idris Elba lending their talents as some of the colorful and memorable secondary characters.
Overall, I liked Zootopia. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it, regardless of their age. It’s got heart and competently addresses a subject matter that doesn’t often get touched, let alone by a family movie. If you’re an adult it may come across as a bit heavy handed in its message and more than a little predictable in its narrative, but there’s still plenty to enjoy about it. While I’m definitely very behind on my 2016 movies, I can foresee Zootopia being one of the better releases of this year.