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Reviewed by Xander Johnson, © 2016

Format: Movie
By:   Byron Howard, Rich Moore. and Jared Bush
Genre:   Anthropomorphic Utopian crime-thriller
Review Date:   March 02, 2016
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

In a cultural cesspool in which millennial animated pictures are considered children's entertainment with no true artistic merit, Walt Disney's 2016 release Zootopia demonstrates that the Disney name is one that continues to hold value.

Zootopia is Disney's take on a Utopian crime-thriller; a universe in which evolution takes an alternate route. Humanity didn't find its own branch on the evolutionary tree, and instead animals considered prey and predator transcend their most basic instincts, and live in harmony. With this step-up, community, architecture, and economy are established. The final result is reminiscent of the World State in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; every animal's role is decided for them based on their species, and critical thinking on this matter is discouraged.

The narrative centers on Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an idealistic rabbit with ambitions beyond her family's carrot farm. Hopps aims to become a cop in the metropolis of the title, but meets discouragement from her parents, opposition from her fellow officers post-academy graduation, namely from Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a cynical, overworked, possibly hard-drinking Cape Buffalo. Initially being stationed on parking duty, Hopps is promoted to the Major Crimes Unit through the political machinations of Leodore Lionhart (J.K. Simmons), the town's opportunistic but well-meaning mayor. Hopps' first major case is to find an otter reported missing weeks prior to the start of Hopps' posting. She's assisted by Nicholas P. Wile (Jason Bateman), a mercurial, streetwise fox she encountered while on parking duty. The twists and turns of the case eventually point in the direction of Dawn Bellwether (Jenny Slate), the Deputy Mayor of Zootopia with a species-supremacist agenda.

Despite the praises sung in its name, including an enthusiastic cast and an enthralling universe, Zootopia's story phones it in. As stated, this is Disney's first leap into the old classic cop dramas of the days of Dirty Harry, but doesn't accomplish anything of consequence. It makes no effort to innovate, and the word “risk” seems to be lost on Disney's vocabulary. When held to scale against the exemplary universe and riveting technical majesty, Zootopia's story feels like a war of attrition. It doesn't commit any cinematic sins, but if any faux pas happened to be committed, then the film would have accomplished far more from a narrative standpoint then it did.

As many arguments one can make against Zootopia's story, one cannot argue the merit that it holds technically and creatively. No performance in the film felt short or unnecessary, and in a world so vast, the background action served only to draw the audience in further, giving the illusion of a fully functioning universe. And through a surprisingly sinister villain, Disney tackles the issue of diversity that has become even more relevant in our time. Through the juxtaposition of the relationship between animals through their hierarchy on the food chain, Disney thoughtfully examines the fear inherent in the prejudice, and how dangerous that prejudice can be. The story may not be one that can stand on its own feet, but when considering Zootopia as an allegory, it is nothing short of enlightening, certainly making this film a work of art to behold.

Recently returning to Texas after a lengthy Canadian exile, Xander Johnson wonders if it has always been this hot and this crazy in the land of his birth. At least he can take some solace with movies, which he both loves and loathes.

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