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“Tell me if this sounds familiar – naive little kid with good grades and big ideals says ‘Hey look at me, I’m gonna move to Zootopia where predators and prey live in harmony and sing Kumbaya!’…Only to find, whoopsie! We don’t all get along.”

-Nick Wilde, stating the film’s premise in a nutshell

Sigh…

Have you ever had an idea for something, something you knew was right up your alley, that you could pull off spectacularly without having to rely on anyone else’s words or opinions or worry about stealing someone else’s punchlines, only to have someone with more experience and followers not only beat you to it but do it in such a way that YOU look like the copycat?

Because I did.

When I announced that I’d be going on hiatus until September and returning with a surprise movie of my own choosing, I already had a movie in mind – Disney’s latest animated hit Zootopia.

Then a short time later, Unshaved Mouse announced he would be going on hiatus and returning with Zootopia (or Zootropolis as it’s called in some countries). I’ve mentioned before he’s one of my influences, but it’s especially hard to review Disney movies because I’ve noticed we have similar tastes and opinions when it comes to them (Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan and Chicken Little notwithstanding), and, I have to admit, Zootopia is just another one he wrote long before I could, and even better than me at that.

Yeah I’m a bit miffed that someone beat me to the punch, but there’s plenty of things to talk about when it comes to Zootopia that can’t be covered in one review, and that’s a GOOD thing! This movie should be talked about, not just by fans or Disney lovers or even furries, but people in general. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Disney openly address issues that are alarmingly relevant today in any of their films (Hunchback came close, but it wasn’t the central focus). In a climate where racism, homophobia, and misogyny is out in the open, even in my country which prides itself on being the land of the free and home of the brave, Zootopia is a film that needed to be made. It’d be easy to write it off as a cute talking animal movie (hell, the first few trailers made it look like something shipped out of Dreamworks), but because it uses the animal society as an allegory, it works wonders. This was a movie a long time in the making and it shows; not only is the storytelling tight but Disney’s long climb to make good CGI-animated films pays off in spades. The animation’s elastic and cartoony when it needs to be while staying true to each animal’s anatomy, and the designs combine the big-eyed softness of the 90’s with the aesthetics of movies like The Jungle Book and Robin Hood.

But don’t take my word for it…even though I’m the one writing the review so it is my word. How good is Zootopia?

The movie opens on a surprisingly dark note with scary music and a darkened jungle. A cute little rabbit hops through the undergrowth, unaware that it is being stalked by a savage predator just out of sight. The predator attacks in a frenzy of blood and gore!

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Damn, this movie EARNS its PG rating!

No, it’s just a school play put on by a group of young animals, one that exposits the story of the world we’re in, Zootopia – over time, animals evolved from savage predator and meek prey to overcome their biological urges and live in harmony. As someone who’s watched and been in a lot of these kinds of pageants, they get the awkward acting and scene changes down perfectly. Also, providing the background music, we have the unsung hero of the movie.

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Behold, the humble beginnings of Keyboard Cat.

The rabbit, Judy Hopps, tells the audience that in Zootopia, animals are free to be what they want to, and reveals that she wants to be the first bunny cop. After the show her parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) try to discourage her dreams in a way that’s both heartbreakingly honest and yet comically brutal. While they prattle on about the joys of complacency, Judy notices some of her friends’ fair tickets being stolen by local bully Gideon Gray, a Southern-accented fox with a big ego and violent streak who…

Hang on a second!

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We’ll get to YOU later, you demented little munchkin.

Judy tries to stand up to Gideon but he mocks her because he’s a predator and the urge to kill is still in his DNA, while she’s just a dumb cowardly bunny. It gets surprisingly intense as he knocks her to the ground and scratches her face. He snarls at her to remember this moment when she thinks she can be anything other than what she is. Now when I heard that the first few minutes of the film would be scary for younger kids, I thought that there would be some kind of horrific accident or traumatizing death along the lines of, you know, the usual parental loss that spurs a number of Disney animated movies. I did not expect this one bit. I may have mentioned once or twice that I was bullied as a kid –

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“I’ll go put Dr. Angela on standby.”

Will you get out of here?!

Anyway, though my experiences were more psychological and verbal than physical, they still run pretty deep when invoked, and this scene captures the intensity and fear of when you’re humiliated and put down at the hands of someone stronger than you.

Judy’s determination does not go unrewarded, however. She swiped the tickets from Gideon while he was monologuing and tells her friends that he was right about one thing  – she doesn’t know when to quit.

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“Just ask my third grade teacher!”

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“She never knew when to quit.”

Cut to an adult Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) attending police academy and having more than a hard time working with a regimen fit for larger and more brutal animals. Through sheer willpower, the use of her own size and agility against her bigger opponents and one Mulan-worthy training montage, she graduates the top of her class. At the ceremony overseen by Mayor Lionheart (JK Simmons), we learn that Judy’s induction was part of a “mammal inclusion initiative”, not unlike Affirmative-Action programs we have in the states. Assistant Mayor Bellweather (Jenny Slate) gives her her badge and comments on how “it’s a great day for us little guys” before Lionheart pushes her away for a photo op.

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“Bad guy! Bad guy! She’s the bad guy!”

Oh come on Cynicism, just because Disney did the whole third-act bad guy switcheroo for its past three movies doesn’t mean they’ll do it a fourth time. In a movie that’s as progressive as Zootopia,they wouldn’t be that repetitive, right?

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“I don’t know, you’re the one who’s practicing screenwriting in between five-hour periods of Sort the Court. You should know how these things work by now.”

Anyway, Judy bids her family a fond farewell at the train where they act as all concerned parents do when their kids go off to the city and…give her a taser to keep foxes at bay. They remind her of the incident with Gideon when she was a kid, but Judy tells them that Gideon was a jerk who happened to be a fox, and she knows plenty of bunnies that are jerks (sound familiar?). Judy mollifies them by taking some fox pepper spray (seriously, I know there’s racism against other species – specism? – but who the hell gives the right to make products intended to cause harm to one particular animal in this kind of world?!) and she hops on the train that takes her out of the Bunny Boroughs to the heart of Zootopia. And what follows…my God.

While making Big Hero 6, the people at Disney Animation created an entirely new program to help them develop cities. As gorgeous as San Fransokyo was in that film, it was only a teaser compared to the living piece of art that is Zootopia. Think of the best parts of Manhattan, Moscow, and Egypt, put it in a blender with bits of Disney’s theme parks, section off areas for different extreme climates (rainforest, arctic tundra, desert, etc.) and top it all off with a new song by Shakira, “Try Everything”, and you get an amazing introduction to a completely original world. Speaking of, Shakira plays a singer named Gazelle who performs that very song. After learning she was in this movie I thought “Here we go, another singer shoehorning herself into a movie even though she’s never acted before, let’s see how she makes it all about herself”. On watching the movie, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Shakira appears up every now and then but never figures into the plot the way most other movies that feature pop stars often do. She’s in it for just the right amount of time, and her character is more or less a proactive background character than a main one.

Judy arrives at the police station the following morning and meets Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) a jolly cheetah who works at the front desk and checks off every item on the chubby donut-eating cop cliche list.

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If this was a Don Bluth movie, there’s no way in hell he wouldn’t be voiced by Dom Deluise.

His introduction has one of the best bits of dialogue in the movie where he calls Judy cute…and Judy corrects him by saying only animals like her can call each other “cute”. It’s their word (again, sound familiar?) Clawhauser is understandably mortified, but it’s no big deal and Judy heads to her first role call where she finds herself completely out of her depth. Every animal is a typical big toughie you’d expect to see in the role of a cop (rhino, hippo, wolf, elephant, etc.) and not even her desk is the appropriate size for a creature like her. She’s still very enthusiastic until her new boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba in the first of three animated animal characters he’s voiced for Disney this year) sticks her with parking duty while sending the rest of his officers on a large missing mammals case. Judy informs Bogo that she was at the top of her class and can play with the big boys, but Bogo isn’t being entirely unreasonable when you stop and think about it. One, it’s her first day. Two, jumping into a case of fourteen missing animals is a tall order for a rookie cop without a partner. That’s all well and good, but Bogo makes it clear he has other reasons for benching Judy that will rear its ugly head later.

Judy carries out Bogo’s challenge of giving out 100 tickets before noon with panache. She stops when she notices a shady-looking fox hanging around an ice cream parlor and assumes he’s up to trouble. Following him in, she finds that the fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is trying to buy an huge ice pop for his adorable little kid. The ice cream shop they’re in, however, is one run by and catered mostly for elephants, and even though the kid loves elephants to the point of dressing up like one and speaking only in little trunk toots, the owner refuses to sell it to him because he’s a fox. Judy steps in and threatens to close the shop over health violations if he doesn’t, and even pays for the pop herself when Nick forgets his wallet. Judy encourages the little fox’s dream of being an elephant, and calls Nick a “real articulate fella”, which I’m sure is in no way condescending if you’re telling it to a fox. She returns to her routine until she spies Nick and his “son” Finnick melting down the ice pop to make little “paw-psicles” of their own, which they sell and then collect the sticks to be sold as lumber to a mouse construction site. Judy tracks down Nick after he and Finnick split the cash and go their separate ways. She doesn’t hold back how she feels but the ever-cool Nick informs her that he’s got enough permits to make sure what he did was perfectly legal, and knows enough loopholes to get away with whatever else “Carrots” has hangups with (“It’s called a hustle, sweetheart.”) Also, he firmly pops her optimistic bubble by spelling out her life story and telling her she’s better off quitting before she becomes bitter and has a massive emtional breakdown. “Everyone comes to Zootopia thinking they can be anything they want. Well, you can’t. You can only be what you are. Sly fox, dumb bunny.”

Judy returns to her apartment after her frustrating day which only gets more aggravating from there – the microwave dinner turns out rotten, every song on the radio mocks her, and when she does FaceTime with her parents, they notice her uniform and are thrilled that she’s “not a real cop”, even joyously shouting “Meter maid! Meter maid!” over and over. I’m of two minds when it comes to this scene. Yes Judy’s family is being insensitive but they’re not doing it purposefully and are rejoicing that they won’t have to worry about their daughter being in harm’s way (which is a sentiment I’m all too familiar with when it comes to my family). It’s also a good segway into the following day of people complaining about her and her tickets. And speaking of someone who did an internship program about a thousand miles away from where I live that involved working in a popular theme park and nobody but the people who work there take the job seriously, least of all your own family until they see how damn hard it is to herd a team of Brazilian tourists into one freaking boat…yeah, I could identify with every exhausting demoralizing moment poor Judy goes through. Then I saw the alternate version where Judy tries to suck it up, lies about her first day of work and her parents act more supportive of her, ending with her falling asleep happy and surrounded by reminders of home. It’s sweeter and uplifting, but the one we’ve got is rife with comedic cruelty. Feel free to discuss which you prefer in the comments.

While trying to motivate herself, a weasel (Alan Tudyk) runs out of a florist’s shop with a bag of stolen goods and Judy gives chase (fun fact: the pig who tells Judy to get off her cottontail and get him is voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin’s tv and real-life Prince Charming, Josh Dallas). It’s a fun high-speed escapade that takes them both through the heart of Little Rodentia, a district made just for Zootopia’s tiniest residents without fear of them being underfoot (literally). The whole thing plays out like an expanded version of the tail end of the climax of Hot Fuzz if it were populated by Godzilla movie extras (and thankfully no one gets impaled on a church steeple). In the midst of the chaos, the weasel chucks a giant donut from a donut shop and nearly crushes a chatty little shew, but Judy saves her and nabs him in the process.

So for capturing a criminal and saving a life, Judy is finally taken seriously as a cop, right?

Wrong.

Bogo berates Judy for abandoning her post and endangering lives over a bag of “moldy onions” that the weasel stole. Judy tries to inform him that they’re flower bulbs and that she wants to be taken seriously but Bogo answers that he didn’t get a say in what he wanted when Mayor Lionheart stuck a bunny in his precinct and “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and your insipid little dreams magically come true. So Let. It. Go.”

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“…well fuck you too, Heimdall.”

Gotta hand it to Disney, I love when they acknowledge how overly popular or annoying some of the things they have created can get and have a little fun dissing themselves. It’s rare, but it always gets a good laugh when it works. The only other time I think they did this in their animated films was in The Lion King with It’s a Small World, and it’s one of the funniest if random parts of the movie…and now only 22 years after that movie came out do I wonder how a pride of lions living far from any humans would even know that song.

Clawhauser enters the office with a concerned otter, Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer), whose husband Emmett is one of the missing mammals (not kidding here, the first time I heard that name I nearly cried out in the theater, “Emmett Otter?! Like the Christmas special?”). She begs Chief Bogo to do something as he’s been gone for weeks, and Judy tells her she’s on the case. Once Mrs. Otterton is out of earshot, Bogo demands that Judy hand over her badge for insubordination, which is, yes, technically true, but still harsh for only her second day. Was banishment to a desk job too good for her, Bogo? Anyway, when he opens the door to tell Mrs. Otterton the news, he finds Assistant Mayor Bellweather already there and thrilled that Judy is on the job. After letting Bogo and the Mayor know that the Mammal Inclusion is already doing wonders, she pulls Judy aside and lets her know that she’s got a friend in city hall if she needs one. Once they’re alone, Bogo relents and gives Judy 48 hours to find Mr. Otterton or she’s out of the force.

Hey Cynicism, you’ve got a discerning eye, I have friends and relations who are cops, and we’ve both watched a lot of police procedural dramas in the past. Do you know if they can get away with sort of thing in real life?

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“No. No they cannot.”

Good to know we’re on the same page for once.

So, Judy tells Bogo to shove it and haha just kidding, she takes the deal like a putz because we have to have a reason to move the plot forward. It’s going to be tougher for Judy than before as there’s barely anything in the case to go by and she’s not in the ZPD’s system yet. Luckily she gets a closer look at the last known photo of Mr. Otterton through Clawhauser’s soda bottle and notices he’s munching on a paw-psicle. Judy finds Nick again and secretly records him on a microphone-pen as he brags about how much money he makes on his schemes without paying taxes. Armed with this incriminating evidence, Judy strongarms him into helping her or she’ll calculate just how long he’ll be selling ice pops in jail (rabbits are good multipliers, her words, not mine). Even Finnick finds the idea that Judy pulled a fast one on Nick hilarious and jokingly gives him his ZPD sticker badge from earlier.

Nick brings Judy to a yoga club which is actually part of a nudist center run by a spaced out yak voiced by Tommy Chong (which officially means both Cheech AND Chong have played Disney characters at one point in their careers). Even though no genitalia is shown, the way they frame the animals doing their activities (as well as primarily featuring ones with body types you really wouldn’t want to see naked) puts you in Judy’s uncomfortable mindset, which Nick takes pleasure in. The yak takes them to an elephant that taught Otterton yoga, but ironically he remembers more about what happened to him than she did. Judy is able to glean from him that he got in a limo and even gets the license number. Because she still isn’t set up in the system, however, she can’t run the plate, but Nick tells her he’s got a friend at the DMV who can help her.

Enter Flash, Flash, hundred-yard dash.

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Let’s face it, jokes about the DMV being slow are as old hat as airline food sucking and Republicans being assholes (not that it isn’t true), but making the workers all sloths in this world? Brilliant. It’s a scene that milks every bit of comedy from the facial expressions alone, if the above GIF isn’t any indication. In fact they used this whole part as one of the first trailers for the movie, which initially made me apprehensive until this GIF sold me on it. Also, I have to give a shout-out again to Raymond Persi, who once more lent his storyboarding and vocal talents to Flash, even going so far as to make a puppet for him to help promote the film! He initially voiced him for the temporary track until they could find someone to play Flash proper, but the reception was so positive that the directors wisely decided to keep him.

By the time Flash gets them the information it’s night and the lot where the limo’s parked is now closed. Judy accuses Nick of wasting the day on purpose and when Nick demands she fulfill her half of the deal like he has, she throws the pen over the fence. Nick climbs over to retrieve it and Judy, now having probable cause to enter a place without a warrant because of a “shady” character on the premises, burrows through and snatches it before he can. “Dumb bunny” indeed. She and Nick search the limo where they find Otterton’s wallet, polar bear fur and claw marks everywhere, meaning things got bad in that car. After stumbling across a personalized glass, Nick recognizes who the limo belongs to and tries to get Judy to leave but their way out is blocked by two intimidating polar bears who take them to their boss, the biggest and meanest crime lord in Tundra Town, Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche).

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Show of hands, who saw this punchline coming in the trailer?

The inclusion of Mr. Big was something I initially rolled my eyes at when I first saw him. I mean, a Godfather reference? In a Disney movie? They’re seriously going this route? For a story like this it seemed the easiest and cheapest reference to make. Thankfully, two things happened – one, a few months before Zootopia came out I finally sat down and watched The Godfather for the first time, so when this scene played out I could fully appreciate the humor and detail they put in recreating the movie (oh by the way The Godfather is brilliant and everything the critics say about it being one of the greatest films made is true blah blah blah). Two, Mr. Big has a part to play other than a brief reference to a movie well beyond Zootopia’s demographic so he’s not as shoehorned as he could have been in other hands (I’m lookin at you, Shark Tale…)

Mr. Big isn’t happy on learning Nick has been snooping around his premises since the last time they crossed paths Nick sold him a rug made from a skunk’s butt (not gonna ask how he even got hold of that rug) which he ended up burying his grandmama in. He’s even less thrilled when Judy reveals she’s a cop and starts accusing him of making Otterton disappear. As he orders his flunkies to ice them, his daughter Fru Fru comes in for their father-daughter dance (because no Godfather reference is complete without having it take place during a wedding) and recognizes Judy – it turns out she’s the shrew she rescued from the giant donut earlier. Grateful for what Judy has done, Mr. Big rescinds the order and Judy is made a part of the Big family (I can only hope Bogo never finds out about her new mob connections).

Judy and Nick are invited to the wedding which takes place on a small dinner table surrounded by these huge polar bear bodyguards, making for one of the funniest images of the film. Mr. Big tells them that Otterton wasn’t attacked in his car, it was the other way around as a matter of fact. Otterton was their family’s florist and was on his way to Big’s in his limo to tell him something important when he suddenly went feral and attacked the driver, a panther named Manchas. Mr. Big tells them to talk to Manchas in the Rainforest District and leaves them with a warning: “We may be evolved, but deep down, we are still animals.”

Nick and Judy find Manchas, voiced by Jesse Corti, who –

Wait, Jesse Corti…where have I heard that name before…

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Really? Now THAT’S good voice acting!!

Manchas is a paranoid wreck after the attack and afraid to talk to them about it, and when they show the flashback I can understand why. Otterton jumping in your face teeth bared and claws akimbo makes for a surprisingly effective jumpscare. After Manchas mentions that he was raving about “the Night Howlers” the whole time, Nick gets him to open up by saying they’re here to talk about that. Manchas closes the door to unlock it when there’s a sharp cry of pain. Judy and Nick unlock the door and find that now Manchas has gone savage. He chases them on all fours through the jungle in a primal bloodlust. Judy calls Clawhauser but he’s a bit preoccupied with a matter of urgency.

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She finally gets through to him and tells him to bring in ZPD reinforcements. Nick gets cornered by Manchas on the edge of the sky tram and Judy saves him by handcuffing Manchas to a post and sweeping up Nick Tarzan-style. Bogo and his forces arrive on the scene only to find Manchas has vanished. Bogo refuses to believe Judy’s story about Manchas going savage because any predator must look savage to a bunny and he refuses to listen to Nick’s testament because he’s not gonna believe anything a fox tells him.

Um, Bogo, I’m gonna level with you buddy. You have an awesome voice, and I love the beefy buffalo design they gave you, I mean you’re really rocking the horns, man, but…

Bogo reminds Judy of the deal they made and fires her on the spot. This is all new information to Nick, and even though up to this point he’s only been going along with the investigation just for his sake, he stands up for Judy by asking Bogo who in their right minds would give a rookie 48 hours to crack a case that his best guys hadn’t been able to in weeks (THANK YOU) and technically they still have 10 hours so he can go graze in a minefield for all he cares.

Judy and Nick board a tram that takes them over the jungle and she thanks him for what he said. Everything about this scene from the moody atmosphere, the lighting, the wistful music, adds to what happens next. Yep, you guessed it, it’s backstory time. Nick tells Judy he learned long ago not to let show how much other people’s prejudices can hurt you. When he was a kid he wanted to join the Junior Ranger Scouts, even though he was the only fox there. His mom saved up for a uniform and on the night of his initiation, the other kids – all prey – ganged up on him and forced a muzzle on him stating they’d never trust a predator, especially a lying fox. Again, wow, Disney has balls of steel to show this level of bullying. If I had one minor nitpick, it’s that I could tell young Nick’s voice was Kath Soucie, and it’s hard to take an emotional scene seriously if you’re hearing Phil and Lil in the back of your head while she’s talking. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Soucie is a great voice actress, but if they got actual kids to play the kids in this movie, why did they hire an adult to play the kid version of one of the main characters?

Anyway, what Nick took from that experience was that if people are only going to see you as one thing, you might as well live up to their expectations and be that stereotype. Judy tells him that he’s more than that and comforts him, marking a real turning point in their friendship. While above the city Nick comes across the idea of checking the traffic cameras to see where Manchas went. They meet Bellweather at City Hall and after we see just how badly Lionheart treats her, she helps them.

Nick and Judy find footage of Manchas being taken away by some wolves in a van, leading Judy to believe these were the “Night Howlers” Manchas was talking about. They track the van to Zootopia’s answer to Arkham Asylum, distract the timberwolf guards by getting them into a howl (they really did their homework with animal behavior) and break in. There they find all fourteen missing wild animals and Manchas locked up. They hide when they hear someone coming and find it’s Mayor Lionheart who’s behind the abductions. He doesn’t know why the animals are going savage but he’s been trying to find a cure and is keeping them locked away so the city doesn’t fly into an anti-predator panic. The doctor is having trouble finding answers and suggests it could be something in their DNA that’s been repressed until now, but the Mayor is adamant in keeping this under wraps, especially seeing how he’s a predator.

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“What do you want me to do about it, McBadger? Deport all predators? Build a wall around Zootopia and make the predators pay for it? Who the FUCK thinks THAT will be a good idea?!”

Judy succeeds in recording the conversation but her parents choose that time to call her and alert Lionheart to the intruders. She and Nick make their escape down a toilet, and if you really want to see good character progression in three words, take Nick’s reaction when he thinks Judy may have drowned. First he calls her by the nickname he gave her, “Carrots”, then Hopps, finally, desperately, Judy. It shows how far he has come to care about her like this. Thankfully, Judy survived and got her phone into a plastic baggie before diving down the plumbing so the evidence wasn’t lost. She sends it to Chief Bogo, who’s in the middle of some very urgent police work.

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On a side note, Clawhauser’s cry of “OOOOOHHHH CHIEEEEEEEEF” when he finds out he enjoys the same app as him is freaking adorable.

Mayor Lionheart is arrested, Judy is declared a hero, and she gives Nick a ZPD application form telling him he could be a great cop. So it seems our protagonists have learned a valuable lesson and the day is saved, right?

Wrong.

Judy holds a press conference and fouls it up by quoting what the doctor said – and subconsciously drawing on her own experiences – and stating that the root cause of these feral predators may be biological. All while monitors behind her are showing images of the savage predators being dragged away in chains and muzzles. All while Nick stares in horror at these pictures and flashbacks to his childhood.

When Judy comes down from the podium, he is pissed beyond all belief.

At first I was cynical about where this was going. I knew this would lead into the third act misunderstanding that has to happen to send our heroes their separate ways for a bit. I knew if I was going to eventually review this movie I’d stick the usual “doing so well” meme here. But I’m not. And you know why?

Because Nick has every reason to be pissed off.

Judy says she merely told them the facts of the case. Nick asks if that’s how he views her.

Judy says he’s not like them. Nick asks if there’s a “them” now.

He points out that she’s been carrying the fox repellent spray her dad gave her since they met and feints an attack. Her first instinct is to go for the spray.

Judy may believe that Zootopia is a place of freedom and acceptance, but she has to come to terms with the fact that she still has prejudices of her own.

 

Nick gives her back the application (which he already started filling out) and storms off. The press tries to spin it that even friends and family are a danger if they’re predators.

As weeks go by things get worse.

More predators start turning savage and mauling prey. The ZPD has its paws full as the violence escalates.

Sound familiar?

Gazelle tries to hold a peace rally but it’s ruined by protesters. One animal tells a jaguar to back to the forest. She cries out that she’s from the savannah.

Sound familiar?

The media brings up the possibility of predator quarantine. Prey start eyeing predator with fear and trepidation on public transportation.

Sound familiar?

Judy gets promoted, but Clawhauser is sent from the desk to the archives because the ZPD doesn’t want a predator to be the first face people see.

Sound familiar?

When I went into this movie, I knew it was going to be a fun modern take on the talking animal movie. I never expected it to go in this kind of direction.

My entire family are white Catholics who’ve lived in the States our whole lives, yet whenever my family goes to the airport my dad is pulled over for “random security checks” because he happens to look darker than the rest of us. As someone who’s fairly close to police officers, I’m always caught between the racist violence the more powerful ones in other states wreak and those who attack innocent cops because of the actions of those other cops. When I see a violent shooting on the news, instead of wondering why it happened I simply sigh and say “Another one?” It says something about how much it keeps happening yet so little is actually done to fix it that it’s dulling me to near indifference, that every attack I see makes me question humanity further. Violence targeted towards both ethnic and religious minorities has reached an all-time high in 2016, and while I don’t think the filmmakers intended for Zootopia to speak directly about these particular current events, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect or horrifying.

Bellweather, who’s now acting as Mayor, and a reformed Bogo ask Judy to become the new face of the ZPD as she’s proven herself to be a hero among the prey population. Judy has felt she has done far more harm than good, however, and instead quits the force and returns home to help on the family farm. While selling carrots with her parents, she meets their new business partner, Gideon Grey. The first thing he does when he sees her is apologize for how he acted when he was a kid and admit he was going through a lot of issues then. It’s short, but I love this moment. It’s an apology that feels genuine, and it comes in a way you’d imagine a former bully who’s learned how harmful his actions were might deliver it – unexpected, but honest and pleading for forgiveness. It’s especially rare that Disney would have a bully character reform this way instead of having them stay a bully and have their last moments in a film or show end in some kind of humiliation. Judy’s parents tell her that they never would have gotten over their fear of foxes and befriended Gideon if it wasn’t for her, another moment of heartwarming.

Some of Judy’s siblings run by some purple flowers and their dad quickly gets them to stop going near them. It turns out those particular blossoms, which Gideon refers to as “Night Howlers”, are dangerous and can make an animal go berserk, including Judy’s uncle who once attacked her mother after eating one. Judy puts two and two together and speeds back to Zootopia in the family truck. The first thing she does is track down Nick and…

…I realized I never really talked about the acting in this movie. Jason Bateman’s easygoing sly charm is perfect for Nick, Idris Elba is both intimidating and hilarious when he needs to be, JK Simmons is smarmy as always, but what surprised me the most was Ginnifer Goodwin. I’ve watched Once Upon a Time since the first season and initially Snow White was one of my favorite characters, but over time she became one of my least due to how whiny and goody-goody she became, and how she fell into a habit of making stupid choices for the sake of her family yet came out smelling like a rose while Regina kept getting screwed over (Regina’s my favorite by the way). Goodwin’s acting prowess suffered as a result, not because she’s a bad actress, but because she had so little to work with and I judged her abilities by the former instead of the latter. I doubted she’d be able to carry a film by her voice alone.

How foolish I was.

When Judy apologizes to Nick, you can hear how broken up she is from the start. She knows she was wrong and that she crossed huge boundaries in what she did, so many that she believes that she can never earn his forgiveness. She needs Nick to help solve the case, but is willing to let him go on hating her for the things she’s done because it will hurt more than anything else could, and that’s what a dumb bunny like her deserves. At first I thought her descent into tears was a bit much but now every time I hear it I start getting a little teary.

Bravo, Ginnifer Goodwin. Bra-fucking-o.

 

Nick shows he accepts her apology the only way he can – repeating the last line where she says “I’m just a dumb bunny” on the recorder pen –  and they make up. He leads her to a weasel, Duke Weselton Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), selling Disney bootlegs and Judy recognizes him as the weasel she chased before. He’s been stealing night howler bulbs but refuses to divulge whom his client is so Judy calls on the family to help her out.

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They’re gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse, and it ain’t a horse’s head in the bed of the man who cancelled Firefly.

Weaselton reveals that he’s been stealing for a ram named Doug who’s been working out of a lab hidden in the subway. Judy and Nick find the old train car where the nighthowlers have been grown and hide when Doug comes in in a yellow hazmat suit, produces a dangerous blue pellet from the flowers, and says to his boss over the phone he’ll be meeting “Walter and Jessie” later.

Yes. Disney has made a minute-long Breaking Bad reference in one of their animated movies. Did I mention that I love this movie, because I do, I really do.

Doug leaves to target his next predator victim and Judy takes the opportunity to lock him out and hijack the train in order to get all the evidence to the police station rather than just grab the case with the pellet and gun like Nick wanted. The rams attack while Judy and Nick fight to keep on track and out of the path of other trains, making for one more fun and harrowing action/chase sequence. Unfortunately the train crashes and they barely manage to escape before it blows up everything inside. Thankfully, Nick still has the case with him.

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“Can you tell me why we couldn’t have just brought this back and save us all the trouble?” “Contractual obligation. We’ve got to get to the finale in the most over-the-top way possible.”

They cut through the natural history museum where they bump into Mayor Bellweather with two of her bodyguards. Judy tells her that predators are being targeted and Bellweather asks to see the case, and Judy suddenly realizes how the hell Bellweather even knew they’d be here…

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“Told ya.”

I’m not really sure whether or not I should congratulate the movie on this plot twist. Yes, it was set up well, there is a clear motivation for Bellweather as it was shown multiple times that she went overworked and underappreciated by Lionheart, and her philosophy (which I’ll get to in a moment) makes for a compelling antagonist. On the other hand, while Disney has been doing an amazing job with trying different things in this modern era of animated films, it has fallen into one predictable pitfall, and that’s their villains. Ever since Wreck-It Ralph each villain has been a nice guy holding out until the very end, often with some sort of obvious red herring (usually voiced by Alan Tudyk) to fool you until the third act. Also, as clever as Prince Hans and King Candy are in both the twists and how complex they are, I kinda miss my Maleficents and Jafars, the villains oozing evil from every pore and enjoying every minute of it. Apparently Moana’s villain is supposed to be some sort of lava goddess, so I have my fingers crossed that she can stand alongside the best of the worst of the 50’s and 90’s.

Judy and Nick run for it with Bellweather and her sheep cops in hot pursuit. Judy slashes her ankle on a statue and can’t run as fast as she normally can, but Nick refuses to leave her. They both tumble into an exhibit of Zootopia’s distant past, which is a diorama in the floor, and Bellweather takes the gun and shoots Nick with a night howler pellet. Nick starts going savage, and while Bellweather waits to watch Judy be torn apart, she takes the time to monologue –

“Think of it.”

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“90 percent of the population united against a common enemy.”

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“We’ll be unstoppable.”

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“Prey fears predator – “

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“-and you stay on top.”

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“Fear always works.”

Nick clamps his teeth around Judy’s throat – and she milks it for all it’s worth like in the school play. Nick had switched out the night howler pellets with blueberries from Judy’s truck so he’s been acting too, and Judy has been recording Bellweather’s confession the whole time.

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“It’s called a hustle, sweetheart.”

Bellweather and her dirty cops are arrested, Judy rejoins the force, an antidote is made for the night howler victims that brings them back to normal, and the prey vs. predator furor begins to die down. Judy delivers a stirring monologue about how even though Zootopia is great, it’s far from the optimism you’d find on a bumper sticker because real life is more complicated, but it can be made great through change and understanding – and she’s delivering this speech at a police academy graduation ceremony where Nick has become the first fox cop.

Looking back, Zootopia feels like an apology for Chicken Little, Disney’s first fully CGI-animated film, which also has a story with an all-animal cast but unlike Zootopia,  the characters were mostly hateful, the plot was all over the place, and it was more interested in retreading things we’ve already seen than try anything new. It wouldn’t be until over 10 years later that Disney would try another anthropomorphized animal movie, and the result was well worth the wait. It didn’t just learn from the mistakes of the past, it also picked up on a few things from this current era of Disney animation. Remember how I said in my Wreck-It Ralph review that the product placement puns brought to light were distracting? Well here they’re relegated solely to the background as little sight gags; not a single character says out loud “Let’s take a Zuber back home” or “Anyone wanna listen to Hyena Gomez”. The posters seemed to promise nothing but that type of humor, but again, it was just a way of bringing in an eager audience. As for the real humor, I didn’t even touch half the hilarious jokes and great character moments in this movie because there’s too many to spoil. It also did something that I hadn’t seen since the golden age of Pixar, which is creating an original environment that I would want to visit. Shame that shortsightedness and James Cameron’s ego means that we’re getting Pandora instead of a Zootopia-themed land in Animal Kingdom, because the possibilities for it are limitless.

It might be hasty of me to put this as one of my top 10 animated Disney films, but each time I watch it I keep finding new reasons to do so. Zootopia is funny, charming, and of all things, clever. I’m not saying Disney can’t make movies that are deep or thought-provoking because they have, they just tend to lean more towards escapist entertainment than anything that could be considered too highbrow or potentially controversial. Zootopia practically Trojan Horsed us by presenting itself as a brightly colored cartoon that promises a fun escapade for the kids while holding a mirror up to our own world. It touches on important issues without needing to talk down to the children or stopping to shout the answers from a soapbox. You can look at the problems Zootopia tackles in any number of ways and not be alone in how you interpret them. I especially love how the movie doesn’t go through any of the cliches where Judy becomes what she hates or settles for not following her dream like a lesser movie would, but neither does it show that she’s perfect. She’s vulnerable and firmly believes in equality, but also has to learn a thing or two about herself and some deep-rooted fears she didn’t know she had in order to save the day. Unlike other films, it’s such a firm believer in its own themes that it’s able to weave them into the characters and story seamlessly.

Some of you might be familiar with the original idea for Zootopia, “Wild Times”, where Nick, the main character, lived in a world where prey forced all predators to wear shock collars 24/7 and Judy was a no-nonsense cop set on busting his underground club that allowed them to be free for a little while. Partway through production the filmmakers realized that it would be hard to make audiences like these characters and this place if they followed through with it, and even though much of it was already storyboarded and animated, they weren’t afraid to take what they had and try again. What could have been an interesting idea muddled by terrible execution and a heavy-handed message was averted because they were brave enough to try everything possible to make a great movie. Lord knows I did my best to say everything I could about this movie, and even if I didn’t I’m still gonna keep trying, because I can’t recommend Zootopia enough.


Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.

I had to wade through a buttload of horrible and stupid STUPID things while looking for pictures to use for the monologue, the kind of things that make you wonder where we went wrong as a species. I hope you appreciate what I go through to make a point.

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