MPAA Rating: PG | Rating: ★★★
Release year: 2016
Genre: Animated, Family, Mystery Director: Howard, Moore

Follow your dreams.

It’s the thesis for so many animated films directed towards children, particularly those within the world of Disney. “When You Wish Upon A Star” is the song Jiminy Cricket sang way back in 1940 for the film adaptation of Pinocchio. It has since become the signature musical representation of Disney, playing over the opening credits of their films. What happens when you wish upon a star? Well, it makes no difference who you are. Your dreams come true. Whether you’re a puppet who longs to become a real boy, a princess who yearns for true love’s kiss, or an anthropomorphic bunny who wants to become a police officer, anything’s possible.

I don’t recall any actual wishing-upon-a-star moments in Zootopia, but there certainly is a big dream in a small package. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an ambitious, driven young rabbit from the countryside who longs to become a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. In this world, the evolved animals have created a society where predator and prey from all walks of life and environments coexist in mutual respect. Of course, even evolved animals are prone to wander into the realm of criminal activity. The Zootopia police department, led by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) works hard to promote justice and keep the peace. But they’ve never had a bunny cop before. It’s never been done. Judy is reminded of this constantly–by her parents, her fellow cops, and even the criminals she apprehends, like the scheming fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist with a heart of gold. When predators begin to go missing around the city, then appear to have “gone wild,” Judy and Nick find themselves caught up in a mystery much larger than they bargained for.

The world-building of Zootopia is top notch, one of the more creative filmic environments I’ve seen since Wreck-It Ralph. The metropolis of Zootopia is comprised of various environments, like the boroughs of New York–snow, rain forests, underwater, and even smaller animals like mice. In a foot chase with a criminal, Judy finds herself smack dab in the middle of this tiny neighborhood of mice, shrews, and other little critters, where she’s taller than the size of their apartment buildings. Later on, she’s confronted by a group of polar bear henchmen, the hired thugs of a Godfather-esque crime boss, Mr. Big. All of these animals are, essentially, to size as they would be in real life. Judy is tiny compared to the lions, tigers, and bears all around her. But she also holds her own in this world of predators. In a season where filmmakers are telling the stories of excellent female heroines, Judy Hopps is one of the better-developed and most fully realized.

Zootopia is film noir for kids. It’s a buddy-cop movie with talking animals, lots of ideas, and absolutely zero poop jokes. It’s also extremely timely, as its message about reconciliation beyond boundaries of “nature” speaks against racial prejudice, and paints a picture of the police office promoting justice within a broken system. In our present political climate where xenophoia, racism, misogyny, and violence seem to be the rhetoric of the day (at least from certain presidential candidates), we need uplifting films like this as prophetic reminders. Racism is bad. Prejudice leads to injustice. Yet we all suffer from it; we all have our biases and fears. Instead of pretending those don’t exist (or embracing them as normative and good), Zootopia calls us to face our fears and embrace the Other, whether that Other is predator or prey.

Zootopia ends with a fairly on-the-nose speech from Judy about the film’s thesis–Follow your dreams; Be true to yourself; Learn to try everything and respect everyone–which made me wish the filmmakers could have trusted the audience to understand the ideas presented within the story. The film also ends with a concert, featuring pop icon Shakira as a gazelle musically exhorting both the animals and audiences to “try everything.” It’s uplifting and fun, but somehow felt like a bit too much for me. Dance numbers and concerts as finales sometimes work well as a rousing coda for a film, but they can also become a distraction to the story as a whole, or a marketing tool for a singer’s new single. But I don’t want to end this review on a downer. Zootopia deserves better than that. It’s a film loaded with heart and ideas, as well as the ambition to challenge our cultural zeitgeist, all through the mouths of talking bunnies, foxes, sloths, and sheep.

So, follow your dreams. Who knows? Someday, you could be a talking bunny cop too.

IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2948356/

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