When Zootopia (2016) came out, it was at the beginning of the strange Disney odyssey that I have been on for the past six years. It started with an ex-girlfriend convincing me to get an annual pass, and has now, er . . . blossomed to where I am part of a duo that has a YouTube channel dedicated to reviewing the Mouse’s theme parks. It is called Oh Man Disney, and a subscription to it would be appreciated. Getting back to Zootopia, I remember seeing previews for it and thinking, oh no, here we go again. The Mouse is famous for putting out movies that adults convince themselves is funny while they bring their children to look at pretty, moving colors on a giant screen, praying that they will be quiet long enough to sit still for almost two blessed hours. Case in point: the bunny rabbit police officer and main character, Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), is trying to get a name from a license plate number. For reasons, she must rely on the department of motor vehicles (DMV) in order to obtain this information. In a joke sure to have the little ones rolling on the floor in laughter (no dumb abbreviations here!), the DMV is run by sloths. I know as a child I loved humor related to inept government bureaucracy, haha. HAHA! Haha. Ha. Ahem. But there you have it. The joke for kids is how slowly the sloths move, and for adults it is for any moment you have been at a DMV and felt like it was staffed by sloths. The rest of the movie is of this caliber, so brace yourselves.
There are two things that Judy Hopps wants out of life in Zootopia: to move to the title city and become a police officer. Unfortunately, the title reference to a perfect society is not as idyllic as it might sound. The anthropomorphic animals of this world are divided into two groups: predator and prey. Somewhere along the evolutionary lines, the predators stopped trying to eat the prey (I have no idea what they eat now) and they joined to form the society you see in the film. Yet, the mistrust between the groups remains, and they seem to perform jobs specific to their species. So much for a “utopia.” Despite this, Judy is accepted into the police academy, and through determination and hard work she rises to the top of her class and graduates. She then bids farewell to mom Bonnie (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) and dad Stu (voiced by Don Lake), and heads for the big city. Again, we see the “districting” (I wanted to use another, harsher word, take your pick), where different animals live in quarters more suitable to their primordial habitats. Nonetheless, the diminutive bunny settles in to her tiny apartment, and eagerly heads to her first day on the job. She also makes friends with the officer at the front desk, a cheetah named Benjamin Clawhauser (voiced by Nate Torrence), and believes she will soon be cracking tough cases. She even seems to have friends in the mayor’s office, particularly the assistant, a sheep named Dawn Bellwether (voiced by Jenny Slate). Instead, her African buffalo (is this not a prey animal?) boss, Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba), assigns her the unglamorous mission of parking duty. Undaunted, Judy heads out, determined to giving as many citations as she can before her shift ends. In the course of her energetic handing out of violations, she comes across a red fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman). At first, she mistakes his refusal from getting a popsicle for his supposed son as an act of discrimination, and puts pressure on the owners to hand over the treat. In reality, it is part of a con Nick and his partner are running to sell counterfeit frozen desserts. Judy’s interest does not stop with fake popsicles, though. At another point in her first patrol, she stops a weasel from stealing what appears to be a bag of onions. Chief Bogo reprimands Judy for exceeding her duties, but she is spared from being fired when they are interrupted by Mrs. Otterton (voiced by Octavia Spencer, and I am sure you can guess the animal). She is there on behalf of her missing husband, you guessed it, Mr. Otterton, who is part of a number of recently unsolved missing persons cases. Chief Bogo seems to want to brush off the frantic otter wife, but Judy volunteers to takes the case. Since Dawn is on hand when this exchange goes down, Chief Bogo is forced to acquiesce, but only gives Judy forty-eight hours to solve it. Since it appears that one of the last ones to see Mr. Otterton is Nick, Judy blackmails the fox into helping track the otter down, threatening to expose his con. From there, they must learn to trust each other as they begin to unravel a mystery that goes straight to the mayor’s office, or so they believe. They find all the missing animals in a remote hospital, where they have reverted to their primitive selves, including Mr. Otterton. At first, Judy believes it is Mayor Lionheart (voiced by J. K. Simmons, and again, guess the specie) behind it all when the city executive is seen there with a doctor. For seemingly cracking the case, she receives a great deal of praise. It also leads to Dawn assuming the vacated office, and a crackdown on predator animals, including Benjamin losing his job and driving a wedge in her new friendship with Nick. Disillusioned, she decides to return to her hometown of Bunnyburrow. Yet, while mechanically selling vegetables at her family’s roadside stand, she is reminded of a plant that makes people act crazy. Hence, she now realizes what is making the animals behave so barbarically. Going back to Zootopia, she makes amends with Nick and enlists his help. Together, they discover the source of the plants being grown to change the animals, and collect the evidence they need to turn over to the police. Dawn gets to them first, though, and it turns out it has all been a part of her master plan to ensure the dominance of prey animals. Using a bit of trickery, they are able to see her arrested. The film concludes with Nick joining the police force, and becoming Judy’s partner.
The title Zootopia might suggest a utopia, but it is not a perfect society, so much so that I wonder why they even bothered with the reference. In fact, I believe it could be framed in a slightly different way, and made into a serious cop movie. All the elements for this kind of drama are present. You have racism, a missing persons case, greed, the mafia. . . . Yes, even organized crime is present in the film, just like you would expect in any utopia. It is also meant to be a reference to The Godfather film franchise. It is yet another example of how the film tries to appeal to both children and adults. With this example, though, I am not sure kids would understand the reference, so they made it funny by having the crime family be artic shrews guarded by polar bears, you know, because tiny things are funny. Perhaps it is just me, but the title says less about the actual society, and more about what they are trying to achieve. I suppose that is something, but I would have gone in a different direction.
Of course, there are bigger fish to fry (no animal pun intended, though I wonder where they are?) in Zootopia from a faith perspective. The place I will aim is at the nudist colony that Judy and Nick visit during the course of their investigation. It is run by the oh, so originally named yak Yax (voiced by Tommy Chong), who refers to his establishment as a “naturist club” going by the title Mystic Springs Oasis. It is supposed to be a place where animals can come to do a whole host of new-aged nonsense with which my Faith, to put it mildly, has had trouble. Yet, that is not what Judy and Nick notice almost as soon as they enter the courtyard, but rather the fact that none of the animals are wearing clothes. This is the point at which the film crosses the line between adult humor/kid entertainment, which it further complicates by referring to this behavior as natural. Yes, God did create us without clothes. He did the same thing for all animals. However, we are not animals, and animals are not humans. While these last few statements are painfully obvious, it seems that I have to repeat them. Sure, Genesis does say that Adam and Eve existed in Eden in their birthday suits, only realizing their nakedness after eating from the apple. The problem, though, is that we are not currently in Eden and therefore we wear clothes out of a sense of decorum. Nudity in the confines of your home when preparing to bathe or changing is fine. Nudity for the sake of it is a problem, particularly when in public. I am not sure we should be giving our children a different message.
Okay, maybe I am being a stick in the mud about Zootopia. Clearly, it is not a film aimed at me. I have also come a little way since my Disney-hating days. Still, if you are going to force me to sit through one of these productions, give me something with more consistent substance. I say that because while it reaches for a higher purpose of a world where anyone can be anything, ultimately I find this movie to be a lie.