Disney creates a living, breathing city in Zootopia

Colin Barry

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In a sprawling urban landscape, people come from all different backgrounds and personalities. Sometimes, everyone has the ability to work together, but more often than not, citizens just don’t get along.

Disney portrays this situation of a metropolis, among other aspects of city life in Zootopia, its 55th animated film. It contains highly entertaining voice acting from leads Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, whose characters perfectly highlight this unique adventure.

Goodwin plays Judy Hopps, a plucky and optimistic rabbit who moves from the countryside to follow her dream of being the first rabbit cop. She moves to the megacity of Zootopia, where predator and prey live together in harmony. Despite her enthusiastic attitude about joining the police force, she is stuck being a meter maid.

On Hopps’s first day, she meets the rebellious and smooth Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman, a red fox who is a low-key conman. Hopps takes on a case where she must find a missing citizen of Zootopia and enlists Wilde to help her.

While featuring vibrant and perfectly cartoonish animation, the film goes above and beyond the theme of “animals that live in the city,” and also might be one of the best representations of how people connect and correlate in a city, while also emphasizing on their personal relationships.

The pair end up going on a road trip throughout the extensive metropolis and uncover a conspiracy involving several missing animals.

Arguably the film’s strongest quality is its story.  It tackles the concerns of prejudice in major cities, but does not force the issue down the throats of audience members and will not come off as preachy. In fact, the film portrays how people across such a busy area treat each other and how it can negatively or positively affect someone in an organic way, which most films cannot do. In a strange way it is almost a family friendly version of HBO’s The Wire.

Zootopia is able to balance deep themes, while also being captivating throughout. The story contains elements of classic cartoon comedy and detective stories. The film’s plot has enough shocking twists and turns to keep both the children and their parents interested in where Hopps and Wilde head next.

The actual world of Zootopia may be one of Disney’s most ingenious creations. The animation is absolutely gorgeous and has some great cartoonish moments to keep audience members laughing, but still keep it surreal. In one condition, they emphasize the style of the city in an in-depth visual aspect.

The township of Zootopia has individual districts with characteristics of environments that animals live in. One of the city’s areas, the wintery landscape of Tundratown, is mostly populated by polar bears and mafia-esque winter shrews. Another instance is in a big chase scene where Hopps is trying to catch a weasel in an enjoyable chase sequence and ends up in a literal small town populated by tiny mammals. While she is a rabbit and already appears small, she emerges as a Godzilla-type monster to these critters, by stomping around and even moving buildings with her feet.

Goodwin and Bateman put on remarkable voice work and both Wilde and Hopps shine as two of the most likeable characters. Goodwin’s never-say-die persona and Bateman playing the wisecracking hustler really played off of each other.

The characters’ interactions create a lot of funny and endearing moments, especially when Wilde reveals his past. The way the two try to solve the case using their specific skills, such as Hopps’ athleticism and Wilde’s fast-talking nature, makes the whole experience incredibly enjoyable.

However, the weakest component of Zootopia is its supporting cast. While the performances are far from terrible, they are criminally underutilized. Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons and SNL alum Jenny Slate don’t have much to say or do in terms of comedy. Simmons played an overworked mayor and Slate being his foil should create some solid comedy, but unfortunately it does not. Idris Alba gets some minor chuckles as the humorless police chief, but he is also underplayed.

Zootopia is a great film that contains one of the most enthralling stories in any animated movie. It’s a shame to see some good actors wasted, but the overall presentation of the movie, as well as its taking on significant modern day issues in a clever manner, which make it an incredible movie-going experience.