At several points during the film, I asked myself if it was entirely a commentary on race relations. The animal species were treated like different races or ethnicities in contemporary society. This resulted in a number of heavy-handed messages of tolerance and spot-on jokes about racial sensitivity. Particularly fun was the jest that bunnies could call other bunnies cute, but that if a different species did so it was insulting.
Other references were more obvious, including stereotypes of species and we-didn't-always-get-along rhetoric, but they needed to be. It is important that adults watching this film remember that it is made for children, and as a result the lessons will seem overtly obvious. There are still plenty of relatable references to and satires of society and popular culture, such as "Rat Pack" music, Godfather quotes, and Breaking Bad references. And let’s also not forget the remarkably relatable illustration of every DMV employee being a sloth.
I will excuse obvious morals because Zootopia is a children's movie, but there were other eyeroll-worthy aspects of the film. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an innocent good girl who goes toe-to-toe with sly bad boy Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Haven’t audiences seen more than enough of this? Most of the plot is also based on the overdone idea of a naive farm girl moving to a city in hopes of achieving her dreams. It's likely common in film because it's common in real life, but that doesn't mean audiences don't tire of it.
Judy Hopps, the protagonist, is initially annoying in this respect. The extent of her optimistic naïveté is unbelievable, especially considering how often she repeats that in the city of Zootopia, anyone can be anything and all species live in harmony. Perhaps this can again be attributed to the fact that this is a cartoon for children, but it seems more like a lack of originality because Disney doesn’t deviate at all from the trope. There are enough movies about naive Country Bumpkins moving to the city and meeting a bad boy with a heart of gold— we don’t need any more.
The bully scenes in this movie from Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps' childhoods are somewhat horrifying. They probably aim raise awareness for bullying because of how dark they are, but subtle bullying would have been more realistic because that's how most bullying occurs. A vast majority of children realize that violence is wrong, but not all realize what real bullying tends to look like (i.e., comments, exclusion, etc.). It seems that every children's movie aims to raise awareness about bullying, but none depict it accurately. We must ask, then, how effective these overt bullying scenes are in the first place.
Zootopia's animation, however, was phenomenal. The animators were able to use traditional gendered mannerisms and physicality to express age, sex, and personality in these animals. Considering many of the characters were not always dressed in gendered clothing, this accomplishment is impressive. Characters were so well-illustrated and moved so realistically that I was able to stop regarding them as animals and regard them more as people (or at least personalities).
I enjoyed Zootopia. It’s well-made, well-timed, and simply entertaining. There are film tropes it succumbed to that it would have been better off without, but they’re negligible in light of the movie’s better qualities. Watch this film because it’s fun and it’s important, but let’s hope for more originality in the next Disney movie.
You can read Gabrielle's interview with Nick Orsi, one of the artists who worked on Zootopia, here.