Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Writer: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Kristen Bell (in a small cameo)
Seen on: 13.3.2016

Plot:
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always dreamed of becoming a police officer. And although there has never been a bunny police officer before, she fights her way through the academy and into active duty in the capital – only to be relegated to doling out parking tickets. But even then she promptly finds con man Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), although she can’t actually arrest him. But when carnivores start going crazy and threaten the peace of Zootropolis, Judy realize that there are bigger fish to fry – and that she needs Nick’s help to catch them.

Zootopia is a sweet, funny, entertaining film that might not be quite as progressive as it thinks it is. But that’s debatable and it certainly is very good to watch.

zootopia

[SPOILERS]

Zootopia is about prejudices. Judy is prejudiced against foxes, the police force is prejudiced against Judy, herbivores are prejudiced against carnivores and so on. The way the carnivores are treated by the herbivores as the naturally more dangerous animals who are relegated to the societal sidelines and stigmatized instantly conjures up comparisons with racism and segregation. Unfortunately the film never really acknowledges prejudices beyond a personal level – and that means that in all their honest attempts at discussing these things, they fall very short and stumble into quite a few traps along the way. For example, they have no problem with the fact that the big pop symbol for the fight for equality is a herbivore – Gazelle (Shakira) – whose performance features oversexed tigers as her background dancers/props. Or the awkward moment when Judy schools Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) that he can’t call a bunny cute, only bunnies are allowed to call themselves that. The way the world is set up, this is like a white person telling a black person that they shouldn’t call them blond (as there are too many jokes about blond(e)s). In fact, the very real difference betwen herbivores and carnivores suggests that there is an actual biological difference between the human races and if that doesn’t make you uncomfortable as a message in a film that tries to dismantle prejudices, I don’t know what will.

But to be honest, things are muddled in the film. The racism analogy doesn’t hold up in all places, it feels like they were trying really very hard to not consider racism all that seriously despite the story being all about it. What it boils down to is that Zootopia is the cinematic equivalent of a well-meaning white person proclaiming that we should just stop seeing race and judging people because of it and all will be well. Unfortunately that just isn’t how racism works.

zootopia1If you manage to ignore this – and I admit that I was able to very easily while watching the film – Zootopia has a lot to offer. It’s full of incredibly funny jokes and intertextual references (the Godfather bit was hilarious) that are built for the adults that watch it, though the cute animals, energy and fast pacing throughout the story will probably keep kids entertained as well. The voice cast is great as well – it would be hard for me to pick a favorite – and the film looks wonderful.

All of that makes the film a good watch. It just isn’t a very good comment on racism – despite the fact that it plays with the topic on many levels.

Summarizing: A whole lot of fun. If only it could have been a little more accurate on racism, it would have been perfect.

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