Zootopia review: Disney impresses yet again with socially conscious, animated hit

Zootopia provides all of the usual Disney charm, but with a surprising message that has many people talking.

Screenshot from "ZOOTOPIA Official Trailer #2 (2016) Disney Animated Comedy Movie HD"

Zootopia provides all of the usual Disney charm, but with a surprising message that has many people talking.

Entering the theater to view Zootopia on Sunday, I knew next to nothing about Disney’s newest animated flick, except for that Jason Bateman was in it and it received impressively high ratings on IMDB (8.4 out of 10, the same score as movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Citizen Kane, for comparison). But Zootopia surprised me in so many ways that I’m glad I had no preconceived notions before I watched it. Zootopia is, quite simply, one of the most thought-provoking children’s movies I have ever seen.

On the surface, the plot gets underway with the story of Judy Hopps, a young rabbit who dreams of being a police officer in the beautiful city of Zootopia, where predators and prey live in harmony. Although no bunny has ever been an officer, as many of Judy’s family, friends, and class bullies tell her, she remains undeterred in her dream and eventually achieves her goal of making it on the force. Underestimated at first by her captain and fellow officers, she sets out to prove herself to them by solving a missing-mammal case. Enter Nick Wilde, a shady, conniving fox that makes a living as a con artist. Judy blackmails Nick into helping her solve the case, but what they uncover reveals a crime much larger than originally thought, one that pits predators and prey against each other once more.

Simple enough. But underlying this entertaining, if not slightly clichéd plot is relevant social commentary on the state of our world today. When I was reading up on the movie after I saw it, one article title really grabbed my attention. It reads: Zootopia: Yes, Disney Made a Movie About White Supremacy and the War on Drugs. And it’s completely true: Disney took a gamble on taking a stand on several politically charged issues, but succeeded in not only provoking conversations amongst adults, but also appealing to the minds of young children.

Adults understand the larger themes the movie tackled, mainly the issue of tension among communities with a white majority and a black minority. The population of Zootopia is 90 percent prey and 10 percent predator, and (spoiler alert) at one point in the movie, the prey population unites in its fear of the predators, for reasons beyond the predators’ control. Zootopia also tackles the problems of stereotyping against women and minorities, and at one point even addresses the controversy over the use of the N-word, although in Zootopia’s case, the controversial word is “cute” and it’s only OK for bunnies to say it to other bunnies. It’s so interesting to watch children’s movies now that I’m older and actually be able to understand the hidden jokes that keep that parents entertained, and it’s especially intriguing with a movie like Zootopia that addresses so many contentious modern issues.

Although most of the social commentary goes right over the kids’ heads, my favorite thing about Zootopia was that it provided so many lessons and messages that kids need to hear to be able to grow up and create a more accepting society where kindness prevails over prejudice and stereotypes. At the heart of the movie is the message that no matter where you come from, whether you’re a bunny or a fox or a poor kid or a minority, you can follow your dreams and achieve success. It preaches the message that underneath everything, people are really the same, and harmony in society is gained through uniting against discrimination rather than letting it divide us.

I truly enjoyed watching Zootopia, for the hilarious one-liners and sticky situations that Disney movies always provide as much as for the relevant social issues that the movie addressed. It provides a path for more discussion-provoking children’s movies that have the potential to if not cure, then at least draw helpful attention to the problems of racism and bigotry that prevail all over the world. The last lines of the movie promote a wonderful message in this vein: “The more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be […] So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.”