Zootopia (2016)

No, this movie isn’t out on DVD yet. This is actually the first movie I feel like I have to review before I own it. For a few reasons:

  1. I’m leaving Disney and well, this is Disney. It fits in here and I’ll do it here.
  2. This movie pertains to SO MUCH going on right now in The U.S. and the world. I really want to bash this movie over everyone’s heads.

I will start by saying that I have been excited about this movie since I heard it existed. Why? Because Lasseter was excited about it when it was pitched to him. And we all know I believe Lasseter = Disney God.

I was also excited because it joins a handful of other Disney movies that do NOT feature humans (the others being Bambi, Robin Hood, The Lion King, and Chicken Little). Also excited because it was said to be a mystery, and existed in a land where animals weren’t just anthropomorphic but maintained their animal adaptations and habitats. As a biology person who loves mysteries, I was EXCITED.

Needless to say there are SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet. It goes a little something like this (go with me as I’ve only seen it once and this is liable to be a LONG synopsis):

We open and get to know one of our main characters, Judy Hopps. She’s a kid in a talent show giving us the history of the land we’re in. Apparently predators used to eat prey but they’ve since evolved and now they live side by side. We also learn that Judy wants to become a cop in Zootopia, a feat which has never been accomplished by a rabbit before. Her parents (who are hilarious, btw) tell her to settle and just be a carrot farmer, but she has higher dreams.

We also see her get bullied by a fox named Gideon, which leads to her parents not trusting foxes. Then we’re thrown into a montage showing her living her dream and becoming the first rabbit ever to go through the police academy and assigned in Zootopia city center as part of Mayor Lionheart’s Mammal inclusion program. Except… Chief Bogo puts her on Meter maid duty while all the other cops are assigned to missing mammal cases (14 in total. This will be important later, I promise).

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Not willing to let it get her down, Judy gives herself the goal of writing 200 tickets before noon, which she hits before getting conned by a fox and his partner (a fennec fox) posing as a father and son wanting to buy a popsicle from a pachyderm establishment. She helps them out only to learn through following them that they melt the larger popsicle down into smaller ones to sell and make a profit (again… will be important later). She confronts him, but it doesn’t go well, and he shuts her down.

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It’s pretty good con, using a Fennec Fox as a kid.

Later she’s busy meter maid-ing when a weasel runs out of a grocery store, having robbed the place. She gets excited and pursues him until he is arrested, only to learn that he stole onions. Bogo is not happy she left her post and is ready to fire her when Mrs. Otterton comes into his office begging for someone to help her find her husband, Emmett (Emmet Otter… anyone? anyone?). Judy agrees much to Bogo’s dismay, and with the assistant Mayor Bellweather in the room, he can’t tell her she can’t. So he gives her 48 hours to find Mr. Otterton or she relinquishes her badge.

Upon getting the case file from front desk man Clawhauser (who I swore was Josh Gad for the entire movie only to learn it wasn’t…) she only has a single picture from his last known location. However, upon noticing he is carrying one of the popsicles the fox who conned her was selling, she has a starting point.

So she finds that fox, whose name is Nick, and pretty much blackmails him into helping her.

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Luckily he knows everyone in the city and through his reluctant help, they track Mr. Otterton’s whereabouts to a completely clawed up limousine. After speaking with the owner of the Limo (I won’t spoil who it belongs to), he sends them to the driver, who talks about how Mr. Otterton went all “savage” and began destroying the inside of the car after he started talking about something called the “night howler.” Judy and Nick then watch as before their eyes the driver too turns savage and they must escape.

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I would run from that too!

She calls for backup, but of course when backup, including Bogo, gets there, the savage panther driver that she had handcuffed is no longer there.

Bogo is disappointed in Judy and tells her to hand in her badge, as obviously she could not produce Mr. Otterton (and quite honestly, he doesn’t believe her about the savage story.) This is the moment Nick has a change of heart and pretty much tells Bogo off, telling him that they still have 10 hours to produce Mr. Otterton, and they will be going.

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With Nick on board completely, Judy has Assistant Mayor Bellweather pull up the traffic cams only to find that a van came by and wolves came and took the savage driver. Assuming these are the “night howlers,” they track them to a facility to find all 14 of the missing mammals. They are all savage (and all predators – that’s important too), and the Mayor has been trying to figure out what went wrong and how to get them back to normal, but no one can figure it out (this is all discovered covertly, of course). Judy sends a video of Mayor Lionheart admitting he kept the police out of it to Bogo, who goes on to arrest Lionheart.

Judy becomes a hero and respected at the police office for finding all of the missing mammals, and when they interview her, she gets a bit flustered on how to answer the questions (despite some coaching from Nick) and begins to quote what the scientist in the facility told Lionheart – that it might come down to biology and the fact that predators are hard-wired this way. Obviously this interview has some fallout. Nick can’t believe that she believes that and leaves her. Animals begin to suspect predators will turn “savage” at any moment. Lionheart is removed from office and Bellweather becomes Mayor. She in turn wants Judy to become the new face of the ZPD, to which Judy declines and turns in her badge bc this isn’t why she became a police officer, and she needs to fix this.

She returns home, where she learns through a random encounter that a “night howler” is not a wolf, but a plant (a flower actually) that will turn anyone savage – even a rabbit. With this new information, she heads back to Zootopia, finds Nick and begs forgiveness, then they’re off to find out who’s behind the plot and who’s been causing the animals to turn savage.

I’m actually going to end it here because, well, I can’t give away everything!

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so OMG this movie. How how how did they do this?

This movie is about prejudice. It’s about race and discrimination. It’s about feminism and judging people based on what they look like or do, not what they are. AND IT MAKES SENSE TO KIDS. AND IT DOES IT WELL.

This movie should belong to Pixar. Because it takes this incredibly deep message and tackles it head-on without looking back or being sorry its doing it. And it succeeds. It succeeds without bashing it over a person’s head because this is just how things work in this world. It makes sense in the world that is so unlike ours but yet… it is… so… much… like… ours.

The elephant refusing service to Nick and his partner in the beginning because he’s a fox. Discriminating against Judy because she’s a rabbit and not “big enough” to be a real cop. Nick’s entire backstory (omg i’m going to tear up). The whole thing with “only rabbits can call each other cute. When someone else says it it’s…”

Predators being affected and targeted by the Night Howler to instill fear in the general public, which we’re told is 90% prey animals. Suddenly they can’t go anywhere and do anything. They’re judged simply for being who they are. Hmm, sound familiar to a certain issue we’re all dealing with right now with syrian refugees and religious fear (not to mention the more domestic racism this country deals with on an everyday level)??

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Zootopia is a movie that starts out saying “Sly fox, dumb bunny,” but in the end it’s really about how to break those stereotypes. Judy and Nick do it. “It’s a place where anyone can be anything.”

Let’s talk about our characters for a bit. There are a lot so I am really just going to focus on our two main characters, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde.

We’re in a day and age at Disney where female characters really are capable of doing anything. We saw that in Frozen, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and we see that again in Zootopia. Judy doesn’t care about what rabbits “should” do. She just knows what she wants to do, and puts her mind to it and accomplishes it. She’s strong, brave, smart, and sly enough to outwit many characters she comes in contact with.

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She’s from a podunk little town where everyone has the same beliefs…. and the same prejudices. Her parents don’t trust foxes. They even give her fox repellant when she leaves for the city. She has a bad experience with Gideon (a fox) as a kid, and so of course has this preconceived notion as to what foxes are like. But even we can see in the beginning that she’s trying to fight that and be impartial. She tries to help Nick and his partner in the beginning almost to prove to herself that not all foxes are horrible. Of course this backfires, as he is what she thought, until she gets to really know him (but more on that later).

Judy is voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, who I think was a great choice. She’s got a naivety to her but a very can-do attitude and the ability to talk circles. I LOVE that they use a rabbit’s natural adaptations of good hearing, speed and jumping to her advantage. I also love that through Judy we almost get a lesson as to how Cops are supposed to behave. She has this picture in her mind about what being a cop in Zootopia is going to be like, and, well… it doesn’t turn out the way she wants it to. When she’s asked to be the face of the ZPD and turns it down, she does so because she says she was brought in to help all people, and this would be turning her back on some of them. That that’s not what cops do (or something like this… I’m not quoting obviously). It’s another interesting (and timely, in the U.S.) lesson that Disney chose to stick in there quickly.

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Also, if the whole story about Judy doesn’t correspond to “women can do and be anything,” you’re just not paying attention to this movie.

Now let’s talk about Nick. He’s voiced by Jason Bateman who honestly I’m surprised took this long to voice a Disney character. I’m a fan of Bateman, especially Arrested Development, and I was excited to hear him. He does pretty well giving Nick a layer of sass and confidence that gets stripped away as the movie goes.

I’m going to give away his backstory, so if you want it a surprise… well, skip the next few paragraphs. Whereas Judy has been fighting her stereotypes her whole life to become a cop, Nick gave in to his. The only thing he ever wanted was to become a scout:

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Seriously cute

But then just as he gets an invite, he’s bullied and tormented as a kid by prey animals who said they would “never let a predator” into their scout group without a muzzle. They attack and muzzle him, humiliating him and disillusioning him in that one action with how the world really is and how predators really are seen and treated. So… he became what society wanted him to be. He became the sly fox. The con artist.

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Look how suave he is.

Is this who he really is? No. But no one ever gives him a chance to be who he’s capable of being until Judy comes along. And not even that. In the beginning when she is blackmailing him he continues to be suave, and purposefully sabotaging her investigation because, well, he thinks she’s just a dumb bunny. But then there’s the scene where they lose the savage limo driver and Bogo tells her to hand in her badge, and that she wasn’t cut out for this. In that moment, he understands. This is her moment of humiliation and disillusion that he had when he was a kid. And he’s not going to let that happen to her. In that moment, he understands that they are more alike than different. Neither of them are like their stereotypes.

Their relationship is one of the things that makes this movie so special. This is one of the few Disney movies where there really isn’t a romantic relationship central to the story, and this movie really excels BECAUSE of this. Judy and Nick have a friendship that ends up based on acceptance. Is it perfect? no. But they understand each other, and their chemistry is great.

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This is near the very end of the movie. Yeah that carrot pen is more important than you’d think

I’m not going to go into great detail, but a lot of the other side characters are great. Clawhauser (Nate Torrence – Not Josh Gad…) is the bumbling but sweet front desk cop with a love for all things “Gazelle” (a singer in Zootopia) Chief Bogo (Idris Elba… apparently he is just voicing Disney characters now)  is firm but you kinda get he’s not exactly the smartest guy in the world. We’ve got Flash the sloth, mayor Lionheart, and others to round out our cast. None of them are really that blah. They’re all funny or needed. And the jokes are good, so we’ll keep them.

But then there’s Judy’s parents (Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt), who definitely (IMO) steal the supportive character show with probably all of 10 minutes (if that) on screen. They have some of the best lines and the banter back and forth and with Judy is comic gold. How they have time to spend with one of their 389 (or something) children is beyond me, but hey, they must be awesome parents, or she must be their favorite.

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The last character I want to talk about is the villain. That being said, there are major SPOILERS ahead. I’ve kept it major spoiler free for the most part so far, but I really can’t discuss this without naming names. You have been warned.

I’ll admit it. I should have seen it coming. Disney is sort of getting into a rut with their villains these days. It’s always the person you least expect. King Candy (or Turbo), Hans, Robert Callaghan. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad way to do it (and i’m all for twists in movies), but… let’s just say in Moana I’m going to assume the bad guy is really someone who early in the movie was thought of as good.

Case in point: Bellweather. Criminal mastermind.

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In a lot of ways, it makes sense. She’s a smaller animal that feels disrespected and undervalued not only in her job but I’m sure her life. She makes jokes about it almost the entire movie, and tells Judy more than once that “us little guys gotta stick together.”She works for a lion and thus has a underlying hatred towards predators. Whereas Judy is our character who tries to defy her stereotype and Nick was one who sank into his, Bellweather represents the person who got mad at her stereotype. She blames everyone who’s not like her for the way things are and the way she’s treated, gets mad, and seeks revenge. She views the predators as having some type of edge on the world and in her mind they are the “villains” for always putting the little guys last. In her mind, she’s freeing the world from their tyranny.

I’ll come right out and say it. Bellweather is a terrorist. She uses the Night Howler to create fear and panic in the city and targets a specific group, the predators. As she says, they are in the minority (Zootopia is 90% prey animals), so the majority should go along with her, right?

Except she doesn’t speak for all the small animals, just as those savage night-howler predators don’t speak for their kind. Terrorists (as we’ve learned from our real life experiences) are typically in the minority of whatever group they come from. They don’t represent their group as a whole. And this is another thing this movie shows us.

Seriously. This movie just gets smarter and smarter the more I think about it.

Alright enough on characters. I want to talk about not only how great this animation is but OMG the world they created is unbelievable!

They could have easily just made this a busy metropolis with no character. A “look at the animals that live in a city like us” thing. But they didn’t. Instead, they took the idea of neighborhoods like in NYC and designed the city based on how animals would design it. We have Sahara square, where all the desert animals live. We have Tundra town, and the Rainforest District. And each is a different habitat, and animated beautifully. I can’t begin to tell you how brilliant and creative this is. Again. This is the kind of thing we typically expect from Pixar.

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I really wish we could have seen more of it. We got to the Rainforest District and got to see a bit of Tundratown, but I want to see all of it! Again, am I the only one wishing for a Zootopia 2?

The only other thing I’m going to say about this movie is that it is (unsurprisedly?) chock full of references. Some are extremely apparent, some are incredibly subtle (I suggest going to youtube and searching for “Zootopia Easter Eggs” if you’re curious – there are way too many to put down here). Some had me laughing so incredibly hard, some my husband didn’t catch (or didn’t know about) and some we both went “Did they really just do that in a Disney movie?”

A few of my favorites that are pretty blatant:

  • The Character of Emmett Otterton. Come on. Obviously a play on “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (both the book and the more well known muppet adaptation)
  • The weasel that steals from the grocery store in the beginning then holds the key to uncovering the villain at the end’s name is Duke Weaselton, obviously a play on the Duke of Wesselton from Frozen. Not only is he voiced by the same person (The ever awesome Alan Tudyk), but they actually call him “wesselton” in Zootopia and he corrects them “It’s Weaselton.” hahaha.
  • The Godfather reference in Tundratown. Classic.
  • And of course, the Breaking bad reference. I haven’t even seen the show but even I knew when they got in that rail car and saw the blue flowers that they were going for that. Even better when there was a knock on the door and voices go “It’s Walter and Jesse.” 10 points for Disney for that one.

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  • Also anyone notice Mrs. Otterton has the same coloring as Rapunzel from Tangled? and Nick looked an awful lot like Robin Hood?

Like I said, there’s a ton of other references. But those were some of my favorites.

This movie is… well, it’s awesome. I could probably go on and on about it and it’s pertinence to the world today, but I really don’t want to turn this into a political or incredibly depressing post. The point is that this movie teaches about prejudice, judgements, and in it’s 3 more important characters represents what happens with each road you decide to take. It’s got some amazing visuals, unforgettable characters, incredible heart and some quick wit and hilarious jokes. This movie requires more viewing by me to determine where it falls on my Disney list, but I’d be safe to say it’s probably at least in my top 10-15.

I give Zootopia (2016) a 4.5 out of 5. Solid entertainment.

Up Next: Toy Story (1995)

 

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