Zootopia: Can a Cartoon Be Worth a Thousand Words?


In a world divided by race, religious credo, sexuality, politics, and more,?Zootopia?smacks us in the face with a fairy tale (or dare I say, parable?) that would’ve made the Grimm Brothers proud. We’re called to invest ourselves in the stories of these animals, and before too long, we recognize that this is a story about us.

We know from the very beginning that?Zootopia?is not going to allow us to settle in for a cutesy matinee of mindless comic entertainment. Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty to laugh about here. But from the opening stages of the tale of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny with a purpose, we know we’re in for something more.

In the opening vignette, Hobbs’ dedication to making the world a better place is scoffed at by her parents, who want her to live a safe, comfortable life. We expect that there will be problems in the world today – like those Hobbs experiences with her hometown fox antagonist, Gideon Gray, but do we accept and expect bullying from our parents, mentors, and role models? When Stu Hobbs (Don Lake) lectures his daughter on what it means to live life, I want to cry and scream at the same time:

We gave up our dreams and we settled. That?s the beauty of complacency; if you never dream, you never fail. It?s great to have dreams as long as you don?t believe in them too much.?

For anyone who has ever been told their dreams weren’t worth following, or that they were too small, large, dumb, ugly, slow, uneducated,?whatever, enough, this one will ring true.

zootopia3But this is just the beginning of Phil Johnston and Jared Bush’s tale of morality, as Judy sets out to the grand city of Zootopia where each animals has its place. (Of course, they’re aiming for more of a cultural landmark like Chinatown or Little Italy than segregated ghettos, but thanks to the ‘fair representation’ we hear about in government, everyone has a place.)

So that I don’t convince you this is a completely highbrow tale of culture and race, consider that Jason Bateman’s foxy Nick Wilde is the foil to Hobbs’ naivet?; he’s the one who will become a key piece of her first (I’m sure Disney will provide us with luscious sequels) case, and the foil to her country bumpkin. Their escapades together, from the ice cream shop to the junkyard, are priceless, but none compares to their visit to the DMV, sloth-full. This is a laugh until it hurts funny comedy, with animated, anthropomorphic characters incredibly crafted to match.

zootopia1Judy knows that there are animals disappearing all over Zootopia, but the police force is too underserved to do anything about it or, in the case of Idris Elba’s Chief Bogo, care. When she and Nick break out on their own, they discover a conspiracy of governmental proportions that may or may not involve the beloved mayor, Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), and finds them working alongside mobster Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche), who shows us firsthand his own version of water boarding. [You could write a whole article on the ways that the society of Zootopia is flawed because no community can run perfectly, but I’ll leave that for another day.]

Tracking things to their logical conclusion, Judy and Nick take on more than they bargained for, in the case and in each other. They both want to be legitimate, to be recognized for their worth, but they have to fight through a rat’s nest of society’s making. Their pre-suppositions about each other, about what they’re capable of, and about what the community really means to them get in the way over and over. But thankfully, they will overcome.


The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital copy is full of special features that delight the big fan (me) and the small fans (my kids). There’s the roundtable hosted by Goodwin that highlights the way the story and characters come together; there’s the development of the story itself; there’s a file on the Easter eggs in “Z.P.D. Forensic Files”; and deleted scenes, characters, and much more of this wonderful world Walt Disney delivered.

Until proven otherwise, this is my front-runner for the Academy Award Best Picture. See it today!

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