Disney has always done an excellent job of marketing; they are truly one of the best at it. Still, I’m still in awe at the marketing coup they’ve pulled with their most recent movie, Zootopia. Coming right on the tail (pun intended) of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Disney is releasing a film that, not so subtlety, addresses issues of prejudice; albeit with talking animals. The timing for the release really couldn’t be more apropos (how they pulled that off, considering that animated movies take a couple years or more to complete, still baffles me), but politics aside, Zootopia is also a fun and entertaining movie for all ages.
First, let me just say that I don’t mind a little social commentary in my movies; in fact, that can often make them more compelling and poignant. However, there’s the subtle, thought-provoking way of inserting that into a story, and then there’s the obvious, heavy-handed way of inserting that into a story. For whatever reason, Zootopia ultimately takes the later approach, climaxing with a character blatantly stating something along the lines of, “I was prejudiced and that was wrong and that was dumb.” The movie had already made this point a couple times with more subtle, thought-provoking moments that were organic to the story, but just in case this very important point was missed, apparently the filmmakers decided they had to spell it out as clearly as possible at least once. There’s no denying it’s a timely message, but the movie didn’t need to lay it on quite so thick.
Getting past that, however, the rest of Zootopia is a delightfully fun romp through a colorful, imaginative world where animals have evolved to live in a society not that different form our own. The story uses some well-known tropes—small town hero feeling out of place in the big city, the misfit rookie cop no one wants around, two unlikely companions forced to work together to solve the case—and presents a fun and engaging story that has some genuinely surprising twists. More importantly, however, our heroes are absolutely charming, so it’s easy to get caught up with them in their adventures. Jason Bateman is the perfect voice for a sly, con-man fox with a heart of gold (Nick Wilde), and Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps) has the perfect amount of energy, spunk, and up-beatness for the optimistic bunny who doesn’t know when to quit and only wants to help make the world a better place. They’re supported by a stellar cast, some wonderful in-jokes, and a vivid world that’s brought to life in fun and creative ways.
Race and prejudice aren’t the only themes this movie addresses. After some of Officer Hopps’ actions and comments backfire, she worries that instead of making the world a better place, perhaps she’s broken it. Her police chief assures her that, “The world has always been broken, that’s why we need good cops, like you.” That line really resonated with me because our world is broken. We live in a broken, fallen world full of hurts and needs. We live in a world where our savage desires and impulses sometimes get the best of us. We live in a world that desperately needs someone to help it. Enter Jesus Christ, who, unlike officer Hopps, didn’t just want to make the world a better place, but wanted to save it. It’s an important distinction as many view Jesus as some sort of wise guru who simply offered insights and advice on how to live a better life. Yet Jesus was here to do more than just be a “good teacher,” but rather to “give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Just as the citizens of Zootopia needed someone to save them from their “savage” selves, so we needed someone to save us from our sinful, savage selves, and that’s why Jesus came, died, and rose again. That’s why the upcoming celebration of Easter is so special; it’s a reminder of that fact that this broken world does indeed have a Savior, assuming it chooses to be saved. The broken can be mended, the hurting can be comforted, the wounded can be healed, all because of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, race issues and prejudices are important to address, but it’s our need for a Savior that’s the real need which should be addressed.
Disney has definitely been on a winning streak of late (pretty much since they bought Pixar and put John Lasseter in charge of the animation division), and that continues with Zootopia. While not something that will become an instant classic Tangled, or even a world-wide phenom like Frozen, Zootopia is a fun, high-energy, imaginative world filled with charming, engaging characters. The film has a great wit, and has a fun, surprising mystery propelling things forward. It’s this combination of winning characters and compelling plot that has always made for Disney’s best films, and while Zootopia doesn’t quite reach the upper echelons of Disney greats, it is a very good, very enjoyable film that also touches on some very important issues. But, in the end, it’s the sloths that’ll be the main thing anyone remembers about it.
Score: 5 of 7 – Fun, funny, imaginative, charming and just a bit heavy handed, Zootopia is another notch on Disney’s winning streak.