NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Movie Review: Zootopia

★★★★ (out of four stars)

I can’t remember the last time an animated film made me uncomfortable in the way “Zootopia” did during a handful of scenes. That might be because it’s been a really long time, but honestly, I’m more inclined to believe it’s because no animated film has made me feel this way before.

Now, that might sound like a strange way to start off a four-star review — after all, feelings of discomfort are rarely associated with great times at the movies — but this film challenges its audience in ways I never thought possible under the corporate influence of Disney. Better yet, it does so while being one of the funniest and most gorgeous films in their entire catalog.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreamed of being a police officer ever since she was a little rabbit growing up on her parents’ farm in rural Bunnyburrow. Said parents, keenly aware of the fact that there has never before been a “bunny cop,” advise her to set her sights lower.

“You know why your mom and I ended up so happy?” her father asks. “Because we settled!”

Undeterred by this exchange — and by all the other resistance she meets along the way — Judy goes on to become the first of her kind, and moves out of home to the big city of Zootopia. Despite an urgent and developing case involving missing animals, surly buffalo boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) sticks her on parking duty without a second thought.

Judy’s no quitter, in case you haven’t figured it out by this point. Hoping her enthusiasm for parking duty will land her in a better position next time, she leaves to hand out a record-breaking number of tickets, in the process running into con-artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Fortuitously, Nick seems to have a lead on the important case, but he’s also an insufferable cynic and wise guy that wants nothing to do with the investigation.

What follows is the development of a truly adorable relationship: first, one of the snarky back-and-forth variety, as Judy attempts to force Nick into cooperating with the investigation and the latter tries to weasel his way out. As you might expect, though, the two eventually discover they have more in common than they originally thought — a development which could be the recipe for groans and eye-rolls in a different movie, but is perfectly sweet and enjoyable to witness here. These are two whip-smart and loveable personalities, and the script takes its time bringing them together.

But while “Zootopia” may seem to merely filch the cop-buddy formula, it’s got a lot more to offer than just two mismatched characters solving a mystery together. An undercurrent of uncomfortable prejudice runs through earlier scenes, including one where Judy’s parents attempt to give her a number of devices to ward off predators, and remains bubbling beneath the surface throughout the rest of the mystery.

Just as the film seems to be wrapping up its third act, this theme comes roaring back to life, hitting a note of jarring reality that made me both uncomfortable and emotional — and the aftermath reveals both a hidden layer to Judy’s case and a new, even more devastating problem for the plucky heroine to deal with.

Without revealing too much, let me just say that the themes of prejudice and stereotyping really hit home here, in ways I’d never expect an animated film to affect me. This, combined with the humor and fully-realized characters, is especially timely in an era when division as a way to solve problems seems to be coming back into style.