So it makes sense, then, that Showcase should broken itself out to that wider spectrum too. Bear in mind, though, that it will never be a bog-standard review. Showcase will focus purely on storytelling, both good and bad. So it's high time I showcased my first ever movie! And what better way to start than with Disney's latest animated masterpiece: Zootopia. It goes without warning, but I’ll say it anyway: spoilers ahead!
My word, what a fantastic story this tells. It tells the story of small-town rabbit Judy Hopps, moving to the big city of Zootopia and becoming a police offer. She holds Zootopia up on a pedestal, believing it to be a place where 'anyone can be anything'. But it quickly becomes apparent that Zootopia isn't that perfect, and she faces barriers, cynicism and discrimination at every turn - including her own.
Yes, that description did just use the words cynicism and discrimination. I also deleted prejudice from an earlier draft. And yes, this is a Disney movie. Zootopia works so well for a number of reasons - fantastic use of humor, a rich and impeccably realized world, a clever mystery to solve - but what puts Zootopia head and shoulders above even the cream of the Disney crop is how the whole thing plays out as an allegory for - yep - discrimination and prejudice in all of its ugly forms. Racism, sexism, and other -isms as well...you name it, Zootopia tackles it. And although it's a little heavy-handed and muddled in places, it offers a more convincing argument for tolerance and equality than a hundred 'grown up' movies and books on the subjects have ever managed.
The genius is in how Disney uses the concept of anthropomorphic animals - a classic stable of Disney since a certain mouse steered a steamboat - to deliberately play to the audiences expectations and prejudices, then expose them. I mean, in a police department full of big burly creatures like rhinos, buffalos and elephants how on earth could a little rabbit be an effective cop? And of course foxes are sneaky and cunning, right? And oh, haha, sloths are slow!
And in a way, the audience is right. In the real world the real animals are exactly like that. But in this world of Zootopia where animals have basically evolved to the same level of intelligence and sophistication as humans, you realize that their prejudices are based not on one’s own understanding of that character’s personality but on their own assumptions, and the fact that the animals judge one another based on that old animalistic form – then the lines start to get blurred with our own real world, and the result is actually a little disconcerting. The short stretch of the movie after Judy sends the whole of Zootopia into social meltdown after suggesting that predators are going savage due to their biology up until she and Nick settle their differences is one of the most poignant, dark, and political moments that Disney has ever committed to screen. The moment of when the mother rabbit pulls her little one closer when a tiger sits next them on a train is uncomfortably real.
The thing is, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how this harkens back to the Disney of old, when they weren’t afraid to tackle heavy topics or go dark. But while I certainly agree that this is right up there with classic Disney in terms of quality, I can’t help but disagree: what exactly are these tough-topic Disney films we’re talking about? Snow White? Dumbo? The Lion King? Perhaps, but lest we forget, these aren’t original Disney stories but adaptions of old fairytales. The Lion King is basically Hamlet by Shakespeare. But Zootopia is an entirely new story cooked up by the House of Mouse. That fact, coupled with just how topical, timely and powerful Zootopia turned out to be, bodes very well for the future of not just Disney but also excellent storytelling with positive messages. I admire Disney for having the chutzpah to do it. More please!