Around this time of year bunnies usually visit kids with baskets of jellybeans and chocolate. This March, however, a baby rabbit named Judy “Don’t call me cute!” Hopps bounces into theatres bringing with her a message of tolerance. The new Disney film “Zootopia” is social commentary disguised as a furry and funny cartoon.
Growing up on a carrot farm Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreamed of being a police officer in the city of Zootopia, despite the fact, as her father (Don Lake) constantly reminds her, “There’s never been a bunny cop.” In fact, her parents preach the virtues of complacency and want her to go into the family business and become a carrot farmer. “It’s OK to have dreams,” says dad, “just as long as you don’t believe in them too much.”
The call to service to too strong, however, and she soon graduates for the Police Academy at the top of her class. Despite her small size (Message #1: Never give up on your dreams.) she’s sent to Zootopia’s city center, a cosmopolitan place filled with hustle and bustle and animals of all shapes and sizes. “In Zootopia,” she says, “anyone can be anything.”
She’s a keener who introduces herself with, “Ready to make the world a better place?” only to be assigned to parking enforcement duty. True to form she becomes the city’s best ticketer (Message #2: Be The Best Version Of You!) but is unsatisfied by the work. When a missing otter case falls into her lap she starts her investigation by questioning a con artist named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox with a smart mouth and underworld connections. Together (Message #3: We all do better when we work together.) they learn to look past sly fox/dumb bunny stereotypes (Message #4: Er… look past stereotypes and don’t judge others.) and uncover a plot that threatens Zootopia’s basic precept of celebrating one another’s differences. (Message #5: There is beauty and strength in diversity.)
There are more messages in “Zootopia” than in Hillary Clinton’s private server’s spam folder but the film doesn’t feel like a Successories motivational poster come to life. The life lessons are nicely woven into the story and washed down with a spoonful of humour. Kids and parents alike should find Flash, the fastest sloth at the DMV funny, although for very different reasons, while a “Godfather” take-off will likely mean nothing to children but give older folks a chuckle.
Co-directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush pack every inch of the frame with in-jokes, like a billboard for Zuber car services, the carrot logo on a smart phone, or my favourite, the sloth’s mug that reads “You want it when?” If the messages don’t connect the animation will.
“Zootopia” is more than just another cartoon to entertain the eye. It’s a timely and relevant children’s tale with a social agenda.