Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young, optimistic rabbit who dreamed her whole life of being a police officer. She’s the daughter of a carrot farmer from her little country town and plans to move to Zootopia, where anyone can be anything. But there are big obstacles for this little bunny, from a childhood bully, grueling physical police academy tests better suited for lions or bears, and her dismissive boss who doesn’t seem to care for a rabbit on his force. When she tries to make a difference, promising a distraught wife that she will find her missing husband, Hopps’ boss gives her an ultimatum to find him within two days or she is fired.
This leads Hopps to seek help from a local hustler she met on duty, Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman), a fox. Foxes are seen as a very untrustworthy predator. With Hopps’ childhood bully being a fox, her parents warning her against foxes so much so that they give her pepper spray like fox repellant, we understand the tension between the two right away. But a friendship forms between them as they work to crack the case of the missing otter and discover a conspiracy that could destroy Zootopia.
Disney films have tackled social issues before, but never so head on as Zootopia. The tension between predators and prey, foxes and rabbits plays along our society’s problems with racism and sexism. Gazelle’s line, “It is irresponsible to label all predators as savages,” is a heated one where we can easily replace predator with any minority and savage with any unsavory stereotype. Yet the film is still kid friendly enough that adults don’t need to worry about their children witnessing any racist acts or slurs that could get them in trouble at school. It’s easy for children and adults to understand who the victims are here, regardless of their own upbringing.
The writing about social issues is smart, the mystery plot that unfolds is brilliant. This is one of the more elaborate stories I’ve seen from Disney and I really enjoyed it. I think it can best describe it as an animated buddy cop noir with a touch of Chinatown for inspiration. And adults will enjoy the Godfather and Breaking Bad references.
While I expect to see Zootopia nominated for best animated feature come Oscar season, I doubt it will take the prize. Visually, the film does nothing new. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to see how all these different animals live together, the sloth scene is great slow motion fun and Tommy Chong as a yak running a “naturalist club” is hilarious. But if Zootopia does take the Oscar, it will be for it’s superb writing, which it may find a second nomination for.
“I mean I am just a dumb bunny, but we are good at multiplying.”