‘Zootopia’ is complex but fun and refreshing

This image released by Disney shows Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, in a scene from the animated film, "Zootopia." (Disney via AP)

The devoted pursuit of one’s dream can lead to a better world in “Zootopia,” from Walt Disney Animation Studios, a heartwarming family film bursting with comedy and layered with social commentary. Directors Bryon Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush (as co-director) take audiences to a world where sentient, anthropomorphic mammals fill every niche typically occupied by humans.

Timothy Hogg

Timothy Hogg

In the city of Zootopia, all species of mammal, both predator and prey, have evolved beyond their primitive ways and learned to co-exist in harmony. Rookie police officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is determined to be the first bunny on the force, despite the prejudice she faces from the other officers. But when Judy discovers a controversy involving missing mammals, she recruits a con artist fox, Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), to help her solve the crime and save the city.

At first glance, it would be fairly easy for one to look at “Zootopia” and write it off as a silly kid’s film that features talking animals. But beyond its surface, there is so much more in play; the plot is complex and refreshing, allowing it to appeal to a wide audience. The filmmakers have crafted a story that combines elements of a buddy cop comedy with social drama and political commentary, tackling many real-world issues in an enjoyable, imaginative presentation.

The environment is vibrant and colorful, with fantastic detail shown in the animated characters. In fact, the story and characters are engaging enough that one can occasionally forget that they are watching an animated film, as they get absorbed by the narrative. It is also impressive to note that the story features much discussion on the subjects of prejudice and racism rampant in society. And while it is not subtle, being a driving force behind the plot, it is still handled with restraint.

The messages are easily absorbed through clever writing and sharp comedy. The film is delightfully funny, with jokes that appeal to both children and adults. Some viewers may worry that the jokes will be the typical “dumb” humor one often expects from a kid’s film. Instead, the filmmakers have taken advantage of the story’s world to create jokes and situations that younger viewers will find hilarious, but leave additional layers of comedy for adults to enjoy.

This matching of humor and story makes for an outstanding presentation of the film’s themes, and allows the audience to care for the characters; despite being animals, they feel like people, facing challenges and issues similar to those encountered in the real world. The presentation not only lets the audience root for them, it leaves them eager to see what happens next.

Disney’s “Zootopia,” from directors Bryon Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush, is an excellent film for families and viewers of any age. Combining important emotional themes and commentary within a layered, complex story that transcends its medium, the filmmakers have crafted a narrative that entertains while embracing its viewer’s intelligence. Part social drama, part political scandal, part buddy-cop comedy, “Zootopia” is sure to delight audiences with its resonating message.

My grade: 9 out of 10 stars.


(Timothy Hogg is a copy editor for The Derrick./The News-Herald. He has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at timothyhogg.thederrick@gmail.com.)