Zootropolis also known as Zootopia is the new animated buddy cop feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios directed by Byron Howard and Richard Moore. The film takes place in a fictional universe where both prey and predator animals have evolved to co-exist together. Since childhood Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always dreamt of being Zootropolis first bunny cop, in order to solve a missing mammal case, she partners with a streetwise fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) however they find out not all is right in the big city.
What makes the film brilliant is the way in which the film deals with and explores complex and difficult issues such as race, gender, discrimination, intolerance and who society thinks we should be.
One narrative thread that is at the forefront of the film is what it means to be female and to make it in a male-dominated industry she is the first of her species to become an officer in the city and one of a few female officers in a male precinct. Her first obstacle is her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) who at first ignores her presence and assigns her to menial traffic duties followed by an unsolvable missing mammal case. In excelling at this and through perseverance and determination she eventually wins the respect and recognition of her boss.
There is a smaller but significant interaction later on in the film pertinent to this topic. The macho Chief Bogo is interrupted by one of his officers, Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) whilst enjoying an app featuring the recording artist Gazelle (Shakira) instead of condemnation for engaging with something outside of his stereotypical perceived masculinity, this is met by enthusiastic fandom from Clawhauser.
The predator vs prey relations in the film can be seen as a foil for exploring the theme of racism, racial profiling and race relations between communities and the police. However, this is imperfect as the prejudice of racism is put on the same level of discrimination and prejudice as other injustices. This is problematic since it doesn’t acknowledge the imbalance of power present. Taking this into account it still is noteworthy because the film attempts to talk about this issue away which is appropriate for the target audience. Yes, the reading of the film in this way can be problematic, however, it raises the question in my mind of how far do you go and how do you raise the issue in an effective and honest way in a children’s / family film?
Despite its flaws where the film shines through is the message of the importance of love, understanding, tolerance, and difference in a time of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. In all, we have a fantastic film which, although in some places, could be read as problematic, that manages to pack in several positive messages in a way which isn’t condescending to its target audience.