If you’re lucky enough to have some spare time over spring break, and you’re not planning to become a “middle-aged girl gone wild,” I have a recommendation for something fun, frivolous, and family-friendly to do. Take two hours of your day and lose yourself in the zany (but wise) goings-on of “Zootopia.”
The Walt Disney Animation Studios have taken the insight gleaned from decades of depicting animals as part human/part wildlife and combined it with the nitty-gritty details of a police procedural. Honestly, watching “Zootopia” is like viewing an animated version of “NYPD Blue” or “CSI.” In fact, the redheaded fox, who plays such a crucial part in the movie, and occasionally whips on and off his shades, could be channeling crime-show TV star David Caruso.
I went to see “Zootopia” with my daughter, who is 11, and a friend of mine. (We’re definitely not 11. Multiply that number by some other whole number, add it to Pi, subtract it from an integer, and I still won’t tell you our ages!) The theater was packed, and the attendees were a great blend of folks of all ages, genders, races, backgrounds, and behaviors. Before the show came on, there were some folks who seemed to be obsessed with their smartphones — continually staring at them and swiping like they were whisking away a battalion of flies — and there were other people who were talking loudly and constantly. It could have been a recipe for cinematic disaster!
The movie was so instantly enjoyable and entertaining that there wasn’t one instance of bad blood. Every person laughed hard, laughed long, and laughed freely. The producers filled every frame with clever twists on everyday items and devices. Daily annoyances, daily obstacles, and ordinary events are all given a keen-eyed animal conversion. The audience really loved it. As a matter of fact, when the movie had ended, my friend even mentioned how impressed she was to be in a room filled with such happy people. She was surprised at how gleeful everyone was.
As a teddy bear and plush pal fancier, I wasn’t taken aback at all. I expected it. Honestly, seeing this movie is akin to having your hugs come alive. Each of the animals that inhabit the movie’s metropolitan burg is heart-tugging in its own right. Each character has a personality and a set of quirks that make it instantly embraceable. The well-written script translates into being very watchable.
Plus, the movie is able to comment on our human tendency to stereotype and make assumptions. (Like Felix Unger beautifully pointed out in “The Odd Couple”: “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”)
Since all of the participants in the movie are critters, they can get away with things that a human actor or actress couldn’t. The main heroine, a bunny who is bursting to be taken seriously, is voiced by “Once Upon a Time” actress Ginnifer Goodwin. Judy Hopps has been chasing her lifelong dream to become a police officer. Her tiny stature and too-cute demeanor always has her wondering if she is just a “token” hire.
Simultaneously, a con artist she encounters — Nick Wilde, a sly fox — has had to journey through life with an enormous chip on his shoulder. Voiced by Jason Bateman, he explains how he easily slips down to the lowest expectations, because that what is expected of a fox. He doesn’t strive to be more because he’s been boxed into a strict, confining category. Bateman’s work is really remarkable, and he captures the vulnerability residing within this hard case.
All of the animals in the city of Zootopia are often judged and marginalized by either the best of assumptions or the worst of prejudgments. There is a funny bit of business with a yak named Yax who wishes he could be as smart and as with-it as an elephant. While being interviewed by Officer Hopps, the yak proves that he remembers more, has observed more, and definitely has not forgotten a single detail of a suspect. That’s much more than the elephant can say.
This is a terrific movie to see with your children because it will open up dialogue about assumptions that we all make about one another, and judgments that have been made about us. It is a comical movie, and there are lots of inspired bits of funny business on the screen, but I was really most impressed by how the filmmakers humanized these creatures.
It’s quite interesting that a movie that is brave enough to paint humanity, with all its foibles and weaknesses, prejudices and acceptance, stereotyping and trail blazing, is a full-length animated film. Indeed, the bunnies, foxes, lambs, sheep, rats, rodents, leopards, panthers, rhinos — and so many other two-legged and four-legged beasts — might be cartoon creations, but they are never cartoony!
As family fare for folks who are partial to teddy bears and their plush pals, I gladly give this entertainment vehicle two paws up!