'Zootopia' Makes A Pitch For A More Paw-fect Union Without Being Preachy

Mar 4, 2016
Originally published on March 4, 2016 6:03 pm

Zootopia is both an animated charmer and a theme-park ready world that's precisely what it sounds like: an anthropomorphic utopia where animals have overcome the predator/prey divide to live in near-perfect harmony, in ecologically distinct districts. Disney animators have conjured up in gratifyingly intricate detail a Tundra Town, Sahara Square, even a hamster-sized village for mice and moles.

Our heroine is country rabbit Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), who dreams of joining the police force, though even her folks think she's too small, too fuzzy, too just-plain-adorable to deal with trouble in paradise.

And there is trouble in paradise.

"Fourteen missing mammal cases," bellows Zootopia's water buffalo police chief (Idris Elba), "all predators, from a giant polar bear to a teensy little otter."

Though the chief assigns her to parking-ticket detail, Officer Hopps hops to it, teaming-up with a helpful sheep (Jenny Slate) in the mayor's office — the lamb to the mayor's lion as it were — and also with a fox named Nick (Jason Bateman), who would traditionally be a nemesis to both of them.

You'll have gathered that the filmmakers are playing here with stereotypes — playing quite cleverly, in fact, with notions of social diversity

"The mammal inclusion initiative is starting to pay off" is the sort of line that will fly right over the heads of tots but offers adults a reason to stick around. As are the jokes about such societal annoyances as lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Imagine a DMV staffed entirely with slow-moving sloths. (Actually, you don't have to, because the filmmakers have beaten you to it, and uproariously, too.)

Credit the Disney folks with making what could have been a lecture on stereotypes into one of the more amusing animated kidflicks of recent vintage. When you consider that this is the same zip-ah-dee-doo-dah studio that once made Song of the South ... well, let's just say Zootopia suggests we've all come a long way.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Animated movies are one of Hollywood's most reliably popular genres. And in recent years, you've gotten increasingly more sophisticated. They might be marketed toward children, but there's a lot for adult audiences to dig into. In a moment, we'll talk with Ginnifer Goodwin, who voices an animated bunny in Disney's "Zootopia." But first, Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: "Zootopia" is just what it sounds like - a place where animals live in perfect harmony - lions and lambs, wolves and sheep. When bunny rabbit Judy Hopps joins the police force...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOTOPIA")

GINNIFER GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Officer Hopps, I am in pursuit.

MONDELLO: ...Even her folks think she's too small, too fuzzy, too adorable to deal with trouble in paradise. And there is trouble in paradise.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOTOPIA")

IDRIS ELBA: (As Chief Bogo) We have 14 missing mammal cases. All predators from a giant polar bear, to a teensy, little otter. This is priority number one.

MONDELLO: Officer Hopps hops to it, teaming up with a helpful sheep in the mayor's office - the lamb to the mayor's lion, as it were.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOTOPIA")

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps)You're the assistant mayor of Zootopia.

JENNY SLATE: (As Bellwether) Oh, I'm more of a glorified secretary. I think MAyor Lionheart just wanted the sheep vote.

MONDELLO: And they also team up with a Fox, who would traditionally be a nemesis to both of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOTOPIA")

BATEMAN: (As Nick Wilde) You think when she goes to sleep she counts herself?

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Oh, shush.

MONDELLO: You'll have gathered that the filmmakers are playing here with stereotypes - playing quite cleverly, in fact, with notions of social diversity.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOTOPIA")

SLATE: (As Bellwether) The mammal inclusion initiative is really starting to pay off.

MONDELLO: In a society beset by the usual annoyances - foxes and rabbits in a hurry, say, encountering a government clerk who is literally a slow-moving sloth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOPTOPIA")

BATEMAN: (As Nick Wilde) Buddy, it's nice to see you.

RAYMOND S. PERSI: (As Flash) Nice to see you, too.

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Officer Judy Hopps, CPD. How are you?

PERSI: (As Flash) I am doing...

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Fine?

PERSI: (As Flash) ...Well. What...

MONDELLO: Hang in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOOPTOPIA")

PERSI: (As Flash) Can I do...

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Well, I was hoping you could run a plate.

PERSI: (As Flash) ...For you...

GOODWIN: (As Judy Hopps) Well, I was hoping you could...

PERSI: (As Flash) ...Today?

MONDELLO: Credit the Disney folks with making what could have been lecture on stereotypes into one of the more amusing animated kid flicks of recent vintage. When you consider that this is the same zip-ah-dee-doo-dah studio that once made "Song Of The South," well, "Zootopia" suggests we've all come a long way. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.