Sunday, April 10, 2016

Zootopia Review

A trip to the movie theater is a rare treat for a Dragan of any size, mostly because by the time we've paid for the tickets, popcorn, and Raisinets we've almost matched our monthly mortgage.

It's tough to turn down popcorn and Raisinets, though.

We'd heard so many positive reviews of Disney's Zootopia that Little Guy and I decided we had to check it out.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) wants to break the family tradition of carrot farming to pursue her dreams of becoming a police officer in the big city, "Zootopia." As a young bunny she has to overcome many obstacles, namely her parents' expectations, a fox bully, an academy designed for animals much larger than herself, and a chief who limits her to parking-meter duty. When a series of kidnappings threatens the carefully maintained equilibrium in Zootopia, Judy has the opportunity to find a missing otter, but she must do so within forty-eight hours or she will lose her job. With the help of a shifty fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy uncovers a far more complicated scheme with sinister implications. Judy and Nick have to put aside their differences and work together if they want to save Zootopia.


Zootopia tackles issues that may or may not reach a child in the audience, but they do so within the context of a beautifully designed movie with laughs for all ages. Employing animals in allegory is not a new concept, but the film uses some new tropes in the predator/prey relationship. In Zootopia, animals of either camp have supposedly evolved beyond being a danger to one another, but lingering stereotypes and fear continue to divide the animals. Wisely, the writers leave room for interpretation, and I have found convincing analyses of Zootopia reading it as a commentary on ISIS, the drug war, and racial profiling, to name a few. The central message, as reiterated by Gazelle's catchy song (Try Anything, performed by Shakira!) is that while fear can only divide us, celebrating our differences lets us all achieve our dreams. The theme is conveyed with importance, but without preachiness, and will resonate with most audiences.

Extras - for the Kids

In addition to the astronomical price, one of the reasons we don't take the little Dragans to the theater often is the overwhelming sensory experience. Movies with big jump scares or long, intense scenes leave one or both kids scrambling for my lap, and I wonder why I've paid for more than one seat as I peek through their hair at the screen. Zootopia is rated PG for thematic elements, rude humor and action. There are a few of those jump scares and one very intense passage. Little Guy was on my lap for the last forty-five minutes. The PG rating is subtitled "Know your kid," and, in this case, I agree. Zootopia was just fine for Little Guy: the jumps didn't leave him hysterical, the intensity resolves, and the rude humor went totally over his head. B can wait for the DVD; jumps are harder on her.

A great website to use while evaluating movies for kids is "Common Sense Media". It gives a kid and adult rating and breaks down the specific rationale behind the MPAA rating, which can be vague. My favorite section is the "Families can talk about..." tab that offers topic suggestions for further discussion with kids. For Zootopia, they suggest conversations about stereotyping; character strengths such as courage, empathy, and teamwork; and also bullying, which is a part of both Judy and Nick's backstories.

Extras - for the Adults

The film is full of laughs, jokes, and references that are in place for adults in the audience. A scene mocking the DMV, references to The Godfather, and Breaking Bad, and numerous "Easter Eggs" that I won't spoil here will keep adults laughing and engaged. It doesn't seem to matter that these jokes go over the heads of most of the younger audience, as there is enough humor in the tight script for everyone. I prefer any children's entertainment with a few allusions thrown in for the chaperones to the more saccharine films and tv shows that ignore an adult audience. I'm definitely more engaged with something that works on both levels and then more likely to talk about it later with my kids.

An interesting question that this film raises is whether or not the message, in addition to the jokes, is actually aimed at an adult audience. Are the filmmakers deliberately putting forth a topical issue for the consideration of the adults in their audience? Gene Demby addresses the message of police profiling in this article on the NPR blog, "Codeswitching." Or is it the adult audience member who brings his or her own analysis and interpretation to the allegory? Either way, Zootopia entertains, delights, and leaves family members of all ages with jokes that linger and questions to ponder. Little Guy and I highly recommend it!


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you liked both! Looking forward to any movies this summer? I want to take the kids to Finding Dori!