PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Zootopia' Is An Amazing Animated Allegory and One of Disney's Best

A flashy cartoon feast that deals with the concept of racism? Yes, Zootopia lives up to that promise, and offers much, much more. As with any work of art, the conversation it creates is as important as the entertainment value offered.


Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate
Rated: PG
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-03-04 (General release)
UK date: 2016-03-04 (General release)

We expect this kind of thing from Pixar: the crystal clear characterization, the attention to story detail, the gorgeous computer-generated animation. When it comes to that company, these are all givens. Sister studio Disney, on the other hand, can be a bit of a mixed bag. Having ditched the traditional hand drawn animation that made it famous to follow in the trend's high tech footsteps, we've had the genius of Wreck-It Ralph, and the phenomenon known as Frozen, but few people are placing those film's in the pantheon of the artform's best.

Now comes Zootopia, the first movie made by the modern House of Mouse that can be literally compared to Pixar's output and come out a winner. With a narrative straight out of a far more adult crime thriller and a clever bit of pro-tolerance subtext, this is one of the best animated allegories ever. It's right up there with Animal Farm, Watership Down, and Fantastic Planet. Mixed with Disney's uncanny ability to find fun in even the most mundane of ideas, it announces a whole new strategy for the studio, one that will earn them more artistic rewards than, perhaps, boffo box office returns.

Don't be mistaken -- the kiddies will eat this up. Zootopia is, without a doubt, one of the most gorgeous movies Mickey's minions have ever made. It's reminiscent of the candy land created for Wreck-It Ralph, with brilliantly designed animals taking the place of sweet meats. Colors pop in psychedelic splendor, the lushness of the backgrounds adding depth to the already present power on display. For anyone who denies the beauty inherent in animation, just show them this film. It will definitely change their mind.

The premise revolves around an animal society where the natural instincts of predators and prey have been long ago resolved, leading to a world where both live together in a kind of peace and harmony. For rabbit Judy Hoops (Ginnifer Goodwin), her lifelong goal has been to become a police officer. When she does, however, she discovers that the city of Zootopia's cape buffalo Chief, Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn't believe in her bunny-based skills.

One day, while on parking duty, she's manipulated by a con artist fox named Nick (Jason Bateman) and winds up reprimanded. When citizens go missing, Judy is given 48 hours to solve the case or lose her position. With Nick's reluctant help, she discovers an underground conspiracy that challenges her notions of what the Zootopia community is all about. There are undercurrents of intolerance and prejudice, as well as abuses of power -- and yes, this is a family film.

Indeed, the best thing about Zootopia, in a movie overflowing with goodness, is the message lying just beneath the surface. The concept of what makes a creature "savage" becomes the foundation for a debate on acceptance and misconception, and considering our current cultural clime, it's a devastating creative decision. Most kid films just want to pile on the pop culture references and fart jokes. There's a bit of that here, but mostly, we are given a wild and witty ride through some often complex ideas.

The voice acting definitely helps get the message across. Goodwin is wonderful as a wide-eyed innocent with some mixed-up ideas, while Bateman pours on the huckster charms. As usual, Elba brings an authoritarian spin on his police boss that amplifies his often misguided mandates. With work from other fine performers like J.K. Simmons (as Leo Lionheart, the Mayor of Zootopia), Jenny Slate (as his deputy) and Octavia Spencer (as an otter), Disney avoids the stunt casting of other studios to invest these characters with real personality. It's not about recognizing whose who, it's about bringing the inanimate to life.

Mothers and fathers need to be prepared to address some of the issues brought up in the film, however. Sure, they're painted in broad strokes and perhaps a bit over-generalized, but they're there among the flash colors and pretty, shiny things. Yes, your kids will want to collect cuddly versions of all the characters, but they may also question the unfair classifications and judgments placed on members of Zootopia's population. Older kids will see an instant reflection of our times here. As with any work of art, the conversation it creates is as important as the entertainment value offered.

Zootopia is a blast to watch, a wonderful cartoon experience with an extra bit of gravitas for spice and flavor. It's a singular achievement, and one that Disney can look on with pride. With Pixar constantly stealing the aesthetic limelight (and the praise and awards that come with it), their partners in animation have felt a bit left out. Even with massive box office returns, the House of Mouse has always wanted to recapture the respect that its classic cartoon features earned back in the day. With Zootopia, it's finally back to that gold standard, and it's a stirring return to form.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.