Disney's "Zootopia" is not only a pretty great story that is very well told, the entire plot is built around some amazing messages for 2016. This isn't propaganda or some weird form of indoctrination, but "Zootopia" spends its entire running time focused on an important message that it spells out beautifully.
The best animated films nowadays aren't just about giving parents some place to take their kids for a few hours. Messages and thematic material are sprinkled throughout the bright colors and beautiful animation not only for the young audience, but also to give parents something to chew on, creating an in-road for difficult conversations.
Judy Hopps (voiced adorably by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who has wanted to be a cop since she was a child. She passes the police academy and is assigned to the city of Zootopia. The city is broken up into different sectors such asTundra Town and Sahara Square, but the twist is that everyone lives side by side: the predators and the prey.
Ever since Judy was a tiny rabbit, she feared (and was taught to fear by her parents) foxes, who were supposedly all violent and conniving. She even has pepper spray that is specifically targeted at foxes. When she arrives in Zootopia and meets a fox, she tries to push her judgments of foxes down to help him, but he turns out to be running a scam and all of her fears are basically founded. However, when she starts getting to know her new red fox friend (perfectly voiced by Jason Bateman), he tells his story of how he was always treated like he was going to be an animal and a conniving sneak, so he just became one since that's all anyone expected.
The two of them team up to take on a mystery of disappearing animals that feels like a mash-up of "Chinatown" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Though the mystery is fun and engaging and there's plenty of action and laughs for the kids and grown-ups, this Disney movie is straight-up about racism. Judy learns to get over her prejudices and fight institutional inequality, Nick Wilde, the fox, learns that systemic discrimination doesn't need to shape how he sees himself, and the big mystery is all tied to keeping the majority in fear of the minority.
Co-directors Byron Howard ("Tangled") and Rich Moore ("Futurama") have built a fully realized world (where dozens of stories can be told), creating an incredible device for teaching kids not to be judgmental, bigoted fools.
The predators in "Zootopia" are only 10 percent of the population, with the other 90 percent made up of mice, sheep, rabbits and everything else under the sun that is easily picked off. Part of the overarching conspiracy is to make the 90 percent fearful of the 10 percent for crimes they didn't commit. At one point, the villain even says how easy it is to control the majority through fear. Although those are some pretty heady topics for a Disney movie, the message is handled well and the film is a ton of fun.
"Zootopia" is an important movie for parents, for kids and for anyone who has an appreciation of animated films. Asking people to be less prejudiced and more open-minded isn't just something that kids should be learning, but a message for the entire world. Zootopia opened globally this month with box office sales approaching $600 million, and more countries to come.
Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore
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