Kirk Michael finds ‘Zootopia’ to be a fun romp
“Zootopia” is a transparent American allegory about a large, genetically related majority that mongers fear to over-incarcerate a smaller, theoretically more aggressive population. What’s remarkable is that the film is also great fun.
On the animal planet, Zootopia represents the peak of mammalian civilization, where polar bears wear pants and gazelles rock elaborately-coiffed pop star hair. But, despite the collective pride citizens feel about their evolved nature, the historical prey animals are still full of implicit bias against predators – they use the term “savages” where Americans might use code word “thugs.”
Into the melting pot bounds Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first ever rabbit cop in the big city and possessor of Liz Taylor violet eyes. She leaves her parents (and 275 brothers and sisters) behind on the farm to join Zootopia PD under the guidance of the imposing water buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Judy’s fears about lagomorphic tokenism (not to mention retrograde gender roles) are validated by her first assignment as a meter maid, but she quickly proves her worth when she chases down a thieving weasel.
The department is concerned with a group of predators who’ve disappeared after a sudden turn back to their baser instincts. Judy has a lead on the case but first must overcome her own prejudice against foxes when she meets the hustler Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Their exasperated chemistry is excellent – from “Robin Hood” to this film, Disney vulpines have a wonderful languid charm – and the animators get Bateman’s sly smile just right. It appears Nick sees Judy as just another mark but, after learning of her math prowess (her explanation: “rabbits are good at multiplying”), he consents to be her co-investigator.
To find an otter yogi turned “savage,” the pair embark on a through-the-looking-glass search, Raymond Chandler by way of Lewis Carroll. The cityscape changes shape marvelously – Judy is a dwarf in giraffe-sized elevators then a giant in a borough populated by mice. There’s an uproarious trip to the DMV, where all the employees are sloths, and a visit to the scene-stealing Mr. Big – he’s Vito Corleone as an Arctic shrew, wearing spats over bare paws.
“Zootopia” goes on defying expectations – the gags alternate with wrenching grown up moments, as when Judy explains to Nick, “You’re not that kind of predator.” How does one take that? Surprising profundity is the rule of the day. Kids will feel good about “Zootopia” – Judy’s pluck is rewarded with hilarious escapades and friendship – and their parents might find the film informing their vote if, like Zootopians, they choose to dismiss the ramblings of a demagogue stoking fear over imagined interspecies difference.