Disney has a history of disappointing me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics and even the new ones (think "Tangled" and "Inside Out"). I always feel slightly guilty about it, though, because of the fundamental problems they always seem to return to: relying on stereotypes, whitewashing and gender issues, among many others. The fact that “Frozen” heroes Anna and Elsa had eyes with larger circumferences than their wrists will forever make me sick and women in Disney movies frequently speak less than a third of the run time, even in their own movies. However, in my opinion, the recently released “Zootopia” was a step in the right direction when it comes to addressing these problematic themes in Disney movies.
Bear with me, though. "Zootopia" is a Disney movie about animals that have overcome their animal instincts, walk around on two legs, wear clothes, have jobs and live in a city that contains multiple ecosystems. This review is going to sound a little ridiculous.
In “Zootopia,” Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodman) is a small bunny with a big dream: become the animal world’s first bunny police officer. She faces opposition not only from her parents who fear for her safety, but from her training officer and ultimately from the chief of police in “Zootopia,” since police officers are traditionally predators such as tigers or at least larger animals like elephants. Her struggle closely mirrors the issues that still plague women trying to penetrate traditionally male-dominated fields, but she consistently works hard and finds herself in the middle of the biggest case (and conspiracy) the police force in Zootopia has ever seen.
Officer Hops is not free of her own prejudices, however. She grew up in a small town outside of the major city in which she now works and has an ingrained mistrust of animals that have in the past been traditionally “predators,” especially foxes. Her inherent prejudices make appearances at the worst times, and I won’t spoil it for you, but one particular part in the movie had me literally putting my head in my hands in secondhand embarrassment over Hops’ ignorance.
There is also a plot twist that is extremely important and exciting that I really want to write about because I’m pretty sure it’s a Disney movie first, but I don’t want to spoil it for you – you’ll just have to go see it and find out for yourself. Also, if that doesn't convince you, there's a pretty hilarious (and blatant) "Breaking Bad" reference in there, plus a ton of animal puns.
“Zootopia” is an over-exaggerated depiction of some seriously culturally relevant issues. Although it is a children’s movie and Disney does not have the best track record, it was genuinely funny and not nearly as annoying as I was afraid it was going to be. Jason Bateman, who played Nick the Fox, was dry and witty, and played a character that was a nice departure from the usual dad character he has played in essentially everything else he’s ever been in. There are no characters that are unintelligent for comedy’s sake; the theme of the movie is acceptance and overcoming unfounded, preconceived notions of those who are different from us, and it happens to all manner of characters. “Zootopia” shows us that no one is immune to prejudice, but that we can all learn to recognize our own and work to overcome them.