Charming ‘Zootopia’ is a sanitized but sweet crime caper

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 9:49am

NOSELL

Walt Disney Pictures

 

Most college students crave Spring Break because it’s a hiatus from the heavy class load and permits countless hours of sleep. But for me, Spring Break is that marvelous time when I finally have companionship for my moviegoing. Ever since the trailer’s release, I anticipated my nine-year-old brother and 11-year old-sister’s fondness for the big-eyed, floppy-eared creatures of “Zootopia,” but I didn’t foresee it as being anything other than “cute yet predictable.” I was wrong.   

The story centers on an ambitious and intelligent bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, “Once Upon a Time”), whose big dreams of becoming a police officer are constantly crushed by both her parents and the rest of society. Being a petite female, she’s not favored to survive working as a cop. Despite these odds, Judy makes it to Zootopia, the land of opportunity, where she starts out as a meter maid but soon finds herself working the case of a lifetime when once friendly predators start turning into “savages.” Of course, she gets assistance from her perceived enemy, the sly yet surprisingly faithful fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”).   

The romantic subplot thrives on its realistic qualities. Nick and Judy smoothly transition from adversaries to companions; however, as in many human relationships, Judy’s ignorance temporarily destroys the bond they share. Now, while this really is Judy’s tale, Bateman’s vocal work proves Nick to be the more intriguing character. Bateman maintains a smooth voice, providing an essential believability to the slyness of his character. He also does a great job evolving Nick through his tonality. Initially, Nick’s endearing tone dupes Judy into thinking he’s an innocent, loving dad just trying to buy an ice pop for his young son, but the moment he leaves the ice cream shop he reveals his hustling ways. Gradually, this tough exterior crumbles, revealing a humble, caring friend.

Directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”), Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) and co-director Jared Bush (“Big Hero 6”) make Zootopian society incredibly believable by presenting human frustrations, such as the slowness of the DMV, in a way that makes sense for animals to be experiencing them, i.e. having the DMV’s staff be composed entirely of sloths. There’s also more subtle humor found in a shifty weasel’s collection of pirated DVDs and a monorail that has three different doors to accommodate for the varying animal sizes (tall, average and tiny). To mimic our heavy reliance on technology, all the animals carry smartphones — even the evil henchmen (who use the devices to take selfies with their captives).   

On a more serious note, “Zootopia” demonstrates how dangerous stereotyping can be. Many “little guys” are regarded as inefficient and thus deprived of power in the workplace, which often leads to their involvement in illegal endeavors, namely drugs. This issue is one that’s heavily sanitized, but easily understood by the older audience. Don Corleone’s appearance is easily one of the best moments of the entire film. (I’ll let you guess which animal they use to portray him.) If a “Godfather” reference in an animated Disney movie doesn’t leave you flabbergasted, just know that there’s a “Breaking Bad” reference too.

An almost flawless combination of film noir, comedy and romance, “Zootopia” plays against viewer’s expectations to keep all ages entranced to the very end. But, don’t just take it from me, take it from the words of my observant brother: “Well, Rachel always tells me that movies I enjoy are so predictable so it was hilarious when she basically yelled, ‘I can’t believe they did that!’ like every ten seconds.”