Zootopia (PG)

Action/Adventure 108 min. March 4, 2016
By Michelle Orange
In Zootopia, animals do a lot of the things that animals in Disney movies usually do: They speak, to begin with; they walk upright and wear funny clothes; they exhibit attitudes that align or ironically misalign with their species' appearance and reputation; they hold jobs; they experience outsized emotion and moral doubt. Which is to say that, in Disney's almost-audacious new animated feature, the animals behave less like actual humans and more like humans found in movies. What sets Zootopia apart is the way it uses the terms of anthropomorphism to emphasize its central questions: What does it mean to be civilized -- i.e. to be human -- what does it mean to be an animal, and is it possible to be both?

If that sounds heavy, never fear: Zootopia also features a lion named Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), a bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and an anthem-belting gazelle (named Gazelle) voiced by Shakira. A biblical variety and number of God's adorably styled creatures populate this allegory of discrimination and tribalism. Boroughs like "Little Rodentia" and "Tundratown" separate the mice from the polar bears; despite its claim of harmony between species, Zootopia's animals self-segregate, something the film suggests is inevitable within even the most inclusive society.

In case we miss the analogies for sexism, racism and bigotry that run somewhat rampant in Zootopia, the screenwriters use language borrowed from debates on diversity and civil rights as well as the realm of microaggressions. Zootopia's mission gets clouded in scenes where the DMV is staffed entirely by sloths that behave … exactly like sloths. It's an easy laugh, but one that cuts against the movie's diligent parsing of how insidious a silly stereotype can be.
Byron Howard, Rich Moore Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt Jared Bush Clark Spencer Walt Disney Pictures

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