Disney's ZOOTOPIA Is Animation At It's Best: A Cleverly Disguised Allegory On Racism

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ZOOTOPIA opens everywhere on March 4, 2016.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—animation is one of the least appreciated visual art forms in this country. In many other cultures, perhaps most notably in Japan, animation is considered in no different light than live acted cinema. In America, animation almost always falls into two categories: Japanese anime, and cartoons. Cartoons, sadly, are often dumped in the children’s bin: Sponge Bob, The Simpsons, if you’re lucky perhaps the classic Bugs Bunny episodes. Of course, there’s also the granddaddy of the medium –Disney. Currently, Disney is on an unstoppable roll. Since they own the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic licenses Disney practically can’t help but make money. They aren’t resting on their laurel, however; they’re still putting some highly entertaining original adventures in the tradition of SNOW WHITE and BAMBI. They will score another huge hit with ZOOTOPIA. Kids of all ages will enjoy it and their parents won’t be bored to death waiting for the credits to roll. In fact, they might be surprised at just how topical and poignant this fancy, CGI animated “cartoon” actually is.

In the anthropomorphic world of ZOOTOPIA, any animal can be whatever they want to be. A lion can be mayor, a gazelle can be a pop star (Shakira!), a rat can be a mafia don and a young, plucky bunny can be a police officer. ONCE UPON A TIME’s Ginnifer Goodwin voices Officer Judy Hopps, the rookie rabbit who’s eager to prove her worth but stuck on menial meter maid detail. She meets a sly fox grafter named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and after being tricked into aiding one of his schemes she turns the tables and soon as him working with her in an uneasy partnership. Her commanding officer on the force, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba as a water buffalo, I think), had given her only 48 hours to crack a missing person’s case and the clock was ticking. Their pursuit of any leads they can turn up take them on a merry chase or shady cats…well, lions, rats and weasels. Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), the longtime live and animated portrayer of Spider-Man’s boss J. Jonah Jameson) gets swept up in the investigation, Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk of FIREFLY fame) gives up the goods and Mr. Big, the Godrat (veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche ) ,lends the pair a hand after Judy saved his daughter. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because the story, while excellent in its own right, is merely window dressing.

ZOOTOPIA is, at its heart, an allegory about racism. It’s about the small minded xenophobia that prevents dissimilar (if only slightly, sometimes) races from living together. In the real world, foxes eat bunnies. Lions would eat sheep if there were mutton to be pounced upon. As usual, humanity—thankfully unrepresented in this picture—has no greater opponent than humanity itself. We claim to be civilized and yet our own systems of politics and religion, two of the biggest driving forces to which humanity reacts, are corrupt and deceitful at best. We’re mired into an election cycle that most people are already thinking will be historically awful. Priest sex abuse scandals are once again in the headlines, and locally a prominent Catholic clergyman called for ending all support of the Girl Scouts. It kind of makes you wonder if the bees or ants haven’t got a much better system for organizing themselves.  

This is your chance to make up for taking the kids to see DEADPOOL a few weeks back. It’s visually exciting in the tradition of so many Disney animated classics and laugh-out-loud funny at times. If you’ve seen the trailer where Nick and Judy attempt to get a plate number ran against the records at the DMV, which is operated entirely by sloths, I can tell you that it’s still just as funny in the bigger story. There are a couple of intense occasions but nothing that should haunt your children after seeing it  and it’s about as  verbally offensive as an episode of ANDY GRIFFITH. What should haunt you, on the other hand, is the commentary the film makes on race. You’ll come out of the theater happy for the fun, well-acted and kid friendly drama/buddy comedy but contemplating its adult theme long after you’ve headed home. Would that “We the People” be able to coexist with one another the way predator and prey do in ZOOTOPIA , instead of tearing ourselves apart over our petty differences.  

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0