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Zootopia Set to Kill at Oscars

By Crystal Harrell

Oscar season has finally arrived, and with it comes a slew of cinematic contenders waiting to be named the best that film has to offer for 2017. One category in particular is filled with top-notch features that hold prestige in both name and quality. From the stunning stop-motion craftsmanship in Kubo and the Two Strings and My Life as a Zucchini to the industry giant that is Studio Ghibli with The Red Turtle, there’s some stiff competition in store for Best Animated Feature. Although it’s no secret that Disney tends to dominate this category, especially with two top-grossing films on this year’s list. Between Moana and Zootopia, however, my allegiance falls with the latter.

This Disney hit follows the exploits of new ZPD bunny recruit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and sly con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) as they race to find missing mammals that have gone feral before their peaceful city is left in shambles.

Ever since the creation of a certain white-gloved mouse, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been made famous for countless feature films with lovable, anthropomorphic animals. Zootopia is a significant deviation from classic selections such as Robin Hood or even Bambi. While no humans are seen onscreen in those movies as well, Zootopia’s world is a metropolis made up entirely of mammals in a 21st century context. They have dreams, they have careers, and they even have WiFi for their smartphones. The concept, simple in its delivery, absolutely flourishes with the film’s execution. The city is an imaginative fusion of regular human ideals and beast-friendly appeal, such as a controversial animal “naturalist club” and sloth-run DMV. The different environmental districts within Zootopia also give more detail into the inventive infrastructure and landmarks of this fictitious world. Having countless sequels and spin-offs plague the movie industry as of late, it is extremely refreshing to have an original story presented to a mass audience in so caring of a way and be so well-received in return.

Judy Hopps is a true role model; possibly the best character ever concocted from the minds of Disney’s industry professionals. She is no forlorn princess singing her troubles to pass the time or a talking race car with way too many movies under her name. Judy represents the traditional underdog with the added edge of definite capability. There’s no doubt that she is more than just a little rabbit from a carrot farm—she possesses remarkable characteristics of strength, determination, and cleverness to conquer any obstacles the big city has in store for her. Of course, she isn’t perfect and recognizes that she holds a disadvantage compared to all the other mammals that tower over her, but she still tries, and that aspect of her persona brings an incredible amount of charm to Zootopia. Judy is a relatable soul that doesn’t need to rely on pop culture references or trendy awkwardness to get the audience to like her: it is simply inevitable that we will be rooting for her in the end.

As strong-minded as Judy Hopps may be, she still needs assistance when solving the missing mammal case, and who better to join her in this pseudo-buddy cop romp than a wise-cracking fox from the wrong side of the tracks? Nick Wilde is no side-kick. He’s just as much the star of the film as Judy is, and together they develop an incredible amount of chemistry without even sharing any touching musical numbers together. Their interaction makes simple scenes consisting of solely dialogue humorous and affectionately engaging without even a hint of cliched predictability in their partnership. As the trail runs hot with deception, betrayal, and a possible clue to the animals’ whereabouts, the duo face perilous action as a team for the ages. The voice stylings of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman fit the characters so well, and make it so you recognize their own unique tones in the animation rather than having an obvious celebrity voice talent read the lines.

One point that Zootopia clearly establishes is that its mammalian society is not a utopia. Much like the real world, stereotyping, prejudices against species, and discrimination are ever-present in the colorful streets under the guise of justifiable reasoning. While the film could have easily adapted a dominantly preachy tone about tolerance, Zootopia expertly manages to craft a poignant analogy of the mirrored flaws within our supposedly superior human race. Likening the wisdom found in Aesop’s Fables, having our actions depicted in the form of animal counterparts helps us to discover the morality we have stripped ourselves of and to ultimately pinpoint the error of our ways. Some things can never truly be fixed, but progress is always a bright possibility shining in the distance, and Zootopia points viewers in the direction of that glowing hope.

Smart, self-aware, and socially congruent to our own reality, Zootopia is easily one of the best films Disney has put out in over a decade and I sincerely hope it nabs this year’s Oscar category of Best Animated Feature.

Crystal HarrellComment