Disney has yet again made another 3D animated movie with the same old paint-by-numbers plot. Haven’t seen Zootopia? Don’t worry. I can’t spoil the plot for you. You’ve seen it a hundred times. So why did I like Zootopia so much?
What a perplexing situation I find myself in. I should be indifferent about Zootopia. I should have been able to see through the sparkly distraction of funny jokes and visual gags. I should have scoffed at Zootopia’s attempts at political and social statements. But gosh darn, it won me over. What evil magic did Disney use to warm the ice-cold chambers of my heart?
Just a Small Town Trope
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Judy is just a small girl from a small town. Judy’s parents are simple carrot farmers who want Judy to settle into an easy, simple life. But Judy doesn’t want to be a farmer! She wants to be a cop, in the big city no less!
But what if I told you that Judy is a bunny and her bunny family is a huge and constantly growing because they’re bunnies and sex jokes are always great and so are the emotional feelings you feel when little Judy is confronted by a vicious fox bully but Judy still won’t stand down and she fights and fights and fights and becomes a cop and moves to Zootopia and fulfills her childhood dream and in the process we get to see one great visual gag after another that blends human behavior with anthropomorphic animals brilliantly?
And the small town trope is really just a ruse. Zootopia moves away from small town dreams pretty quickly and actually addresses real human issues with cartoon animals as our proxy. I don’t often watch animated features that make statements about hot-button issues like Mexicans, Muslims, LBGTQ folks and even the LGBTQ Muslim Mexicans.
Zootopia isn’t the deepest movie in the world. But for a fun, flashy animated movies about talking animals, it packs the biggest punch it can muster. And you know Donald Trump absolutely hates this movie. So that’s a big positive.
I Write the Songs (That Tell the Whole World the Moral)
I’m getting real sick of pop songs getting integrated into animated movies (thanks Shrek). Regardless of whether it serves the story in any possible way, studios are cramming in a pop song or two (I’m looking at you Peanuts). Zootopia is no different. Shakira in a gazelle suit sings to us all about how important it is to try, even if you fail. You gotta keep trying. Try, try, try!
Yeah. We get it. We already knew the moral from the introduction. Jeez.
But on the other hand, I did appreciate that Shakira’s song is actually integrated into the movie with some level of tact, as opposed to the usual practice of only being a soundtrack only for the audience. Also, it’s a pretty fun song. It’s not great but it is good enough to hum when leaving the theater. Also, are we sure that Shakira isn’t really a cartoon gazelle in a human suit? Also, dancing glitter tigers always get a pass in my book. Always.
Enemies. Friends. Misunderstanding. Best Friends. Repeat.
This might be my least favorite movie cliché. You have an unlikely duo who eventually come to appreciate each other but have a misunderstanding that causes them to separate about two thirds into the movie but then they always settle their differences and resume their friendship even strong than before just in time to finish the film.
In Zootopia, the hard-nosed goody two shoes meets the wise-cracking “I only care about myself” conman. They don’t like each other. But eventually they do. Until there is a misunderstanding. But then they’re cool about it. Finally they are best buds for life. Sorry, I just spoiled the movie for you.
But did I? Nope. I didn’t. Zootopia took the skeleton of an old boring story structure and filled in the empty space with delicious bits of animal meat. You have the two main leads dealing with racism… not to say that racism is delicious… I’m just saying that I liked how racism was used in the film… not that I like racism—Let me start over– You have two main leads who are beautifully animated, deal with real issues, are genuinely cohesive and are voiced by the perfect actors. It might all be at a pretty high level, but this is a movie for kids.
In fact, the entire voice cast is perfect. Animations studies are often quick to add big names to boost the marketability only to worsen the product (Scarlett Johansson in the Jungle Book anybody?).
Obvious Conclusion is Obvious
I knew how Zootopia was going to end before the first act was halfway through. But it didn’t matter. It was the journey in Zootopia that mattered and the journey was what I loved. If I take a trip to Long Beach, WA I know what’s going to happen when I go there. I’m going to see a long beach and I’m going to eat a huge freaking donut. However, Zootopia did surprise me with a depth that I didn’t think Disney was prepared to explore. They made a great movie… oh no. They’re going to milk it to death aren’t they?
I should have seen it coming.