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'Zootopia' Film Review: Disney's talking animal movie has something clever to say about the way we live our lives

March 4, 2016Ben MK

Disney and talking animal movies go hand in hand, from old classics like Dumbo to more recent films like The Good Dinosaur. Still, that doesn't mean you should discount their latest animated feature as just another cookie-cutter story about cute critters with a gift for gab. On the contrary, Zootopia is that rare breed of film — a movie that's as culturally relevant as it is thoughtful and entertaining.

Taking its title from its setting, a bustling metropolis where the line between predator and prey has been erased, and where all mammals have evolved to be as linguistically-capable and as upright-walking as you and me, Zootopia follows the adventures of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an optimistic young rabbit for whom hard work and perseverance is a mantra. As Zootopia's first ever bunny police officer, Judy has broken down barriers for her species. Yet, she still finds herself pigeonholed and condescended to, even by her peers and her family.

Always on the lookout for opportunities to prove herself, Judy's big break comes when she crosses paths with a fast-talking hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox who also happens to be the only lead in a missing mammals investigation that's been stumping her colleagues at the Zootopia P.D. Now, given only 48 hours to crack the case by her hard-nosed chief, Judy must team up with a reluctant Nick, forming a partnership that will see them not only sniffing out the clues, but also discovering something about themselves and each other along the way.

Of course, you don't have to possess eagle-like vision to see the parallels drawn between our own society and Zootopia, a sprawling melting pot of a city that's home to dozens of different animal species, and which is itself comprised of multiple ecosystems, each with its own catchy name. From the desert dunes of Sahara Sands to the frozen lakes of Tundratown, this is a world that's a perfect metaphor for our own; and as such, the film's themes feel especially resonant, particularly when it comes to the story's core messages about prejudice, equality and inclusion.

The movie also has plenty to say about believing in oneself and never giving up, two traits that describe our main protagonist Judy to a tee. Despite being almost constantly brow-beaten, she never lets it get the better of her. And while this quality could very well have proven grating, Goodwin pulls it off with wit and charm, evoking shades of Amy Poehler's Joy from Inside Out. Goodwin's performance also serves as the perfect fodder for Bateman's sharply sarcastic line readings, and together they make for the best on-screen Disney pairing since Joy and Sadness.

Otherwise, Zootopia is just an incredibly breathtaking and busy film, so jam-packed with amazing vocal talent and bursting with sight gags, pop culture references and animal-related puns that it can feel almost overwhelming at times. Thankfully, the filmmakers — Tangled's Byron Howard, Jared Bush and Wreck-It Ralph's Rich Moore and Phil Johnston — know exactly when to dial back the zingers and let the movie's heart shine through. Suffice to say, the result sets a new high-water mark, not just for Disney animated films, but for the genre as a whole.

Zootopia releases March 4th, 2016 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 48 Mins.

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