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‘Zootopia’ is a Talking Animal Movie About Prejudice

The film is more fun as a buddy movie, the fun dynamic between the two, very well voiced main characters giving the movie much of its narrative appeal.

The world of Zootopia is one wherein animals have evolved to walk on their hind legs, talk, and form civilized communities. Predators no longer hunt prey, and all of the animals are living in harmony. At least, that’s what it’s like on the surface. Prejudice exists in this world, and it manifests in pretty insidious ways. The main character, the rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), wants to be a police officer, but is told at every turn that a bunny can’t be one. Through hard work and perseverance, she becomes the very first rabbit police officer. But when gets to Zootopia, she’s stuck with parking duty while the rest of the force investigates the mysterious disappearance of several predators.

Judy eventually manages to get herself on one of the cases, but with a catch. If she doesn’t solve it within 48 hours, she’s going to resign. Her first lead brings her to the con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman), with whom she’s already had a run-in. She coerces him into helping her out, and the unlikely duo dive into investigation that uncovers a vast conspiracy. Along the way, the two learn to respect each other, and look past their preconceived notions about each other’s species.

That’s right: Zootopia is a talking animal movie about prejudice. The metaphors don’t always hold up, but the movie tells a story where the conflicts are based on the inability of characters to go beyond stereotypes and engage with others with an openness of heart. The movie takes on the kind of everyday, latent bigotry that can hide beneath the polished surface of a civilized society. Though inelegant in plotting, the film is winning in its pursuits of its praiseworthy ideas. And it’s wildly entertaining to boot.

As a detective story, Zootopia takes too many shortcuts to be really satisfying. The main elements of this mystery are pretty clunky, the film becoming too focused on the mechanics rather than the more interesting motivations behind the crime. The film is more fun as a buddy movie, the fun dynamic between the two, very well voiced main characters giving the movie much of its narrative appeal. And it’s fun to just have them exploring this strange city of Zootopia, which is made of several separate habitats made to accommodate the city’s diverse animal population. The movie gets visually imaginative in conceiving how each part looks, and it how it all connects to the largest tapestry that is the city.

And the film really shines thematically. The differences between animals in the movie stand in for the various differences between people. The movie cleverly puts forward the idea that prejudice forces people to conform to stereotypes. This might seem like heady stuff for a children’s movie, but the film puts it in simple terms. It stumps for the idea that anyone can be anything, no matter what anyone else says. It ties up this theme in bright, colorful visuals that depict a vibrant world of difference.


Zootopia doesn’t always work. It even gets a little queasy as in moments where it seems to ascribe specific racial traits to certain animals. But these are the risks that the film takes, and in the end, it still mostly pays off. The film is already fun and vibrant and really well put together. But it goes to the next level as it takes on difficult subjects with surprising humor and sensitivity. Zootopia can’t get everything right, but that it’s willing to have that conversation at all feels like a victory.

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