‘I’ ON CULTURE
I went to see Zootopia because I was certain it could not be as good as most of the critics have said. I am not a huge fan of animated features. In this case, however, they were correct. It is a wonderful, sly movie, officially a take-off on political correctness but, underneath, it’s a buddy comedy detective story. And, I might add, one that works well. Yes, it is for the kids, but there were a lot of childless adults like myself in the theater.
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is brilliantly set out. Comprising habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, as well as Rodentville, it’s a place where animals from every environment live together peacefully. But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough predators is not easy. Chief of Police Bogo (Idris Elba), a Cape buffalo, has no use for her and assigns her to traffic duty, as a meter maid. She, of course, wants more and winds up pushing herself into a “missing mammals” case with orders to solve it in 48 hours or quit the force.
She teams up with con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), and the two go on a hunt that takes them to a variety of places, all of which are created brilliantly. Watching Judy rush from the center of town where she is tiny right into Rodentville, where she is a giant, was a fabulous transition. Eventually they wind up dealing with arctic shrew gangster “Mr. Big” (Maurice LaMarche) in a hilarious send-up of The Godfather. Judy and Nick find 14 kidnapped predator mammals and become heroes, but then Judy makes a mess of everything by being politically incorrect. Eventually, things work out as she and Nick figure out the real story and pull a bit of a con game to make things right.
Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush keep things moving fast. One of the best things about the movie are the delightful characters inhabiting the world. Judy’s parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) are convinced that the best thing she could do would be to try nothing new. Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), a lion, has being a self-righteous politician down perfectly. The mayor’s assistant, a sheep named Bellwether (Jenny Slate), is very funny as she is clearly terrified by all the predators around her while she tries to work. I also liked Police Sergeant Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), some sort of feline species, but a perfect caricature of an old, fat desk sergeant.
The politically correct element was handled really well. In general, I hate the concept, since if something is correct, it is right. When politically correct, it often means that it is somehow wrong while everyone says it is right. But the filmmakers get around this problem by using it on one hand and knocking it down on the other. Judy wants to get ahead, but her 275 siblings want to be carrot farmers. No one trusts foxes, though no one seems to have trouble with lions with guns.
There are a few scenes that are absolutely priceless. At one point, Nick takes Judy to a health spa where a ditzy yak (Tommy Chong) brings them into the “meditation area” where all the animals are naked. Watching an elephant doing yoga positions while naked (but not anatomically correct) was hysterical. I also, as a former New Yorker, loved the scene in the Department of Motor Vehicles where all the employees were sloths, barely moving while everyone waited in long lines.
It is weird that some of our more interesting views of the human condition use animals. This has been true since Aesop’s fables, but also recent books like Watership Down and, one of the true greats, Animal Farm. Watching as somehow biology or ideology can be ignored or twisted seems fanciful when done by animals.
There is little doubt that the producers of this film really want us to be able to forget our differences and work things out together. In the real world, that is not at all easy to do.
In the movie world, however, all seems to be going well, particularly in Zootopia. It is the best movie I have seen so far in 2016, and not only for kids. This film is one reason I love movies.