Throwback Sound Off! Zootopia

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’re celebrating its nomination for a Nebula Award by discussing Zootopia, which originally premiered in the United States on Friday, March 4, 2016. It is currently available to purchase on DVD, for streaming on Netflix, and to buy or rent on iTunes.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join Merrin, Casey Price, Nancy O’Toole Meservier, and J.L. Gribble as they talk about Zootopia! [Note: Minor plot, character, and set-piece spoilers. But it’s been out for a year! Go see it!]

Merrin: Do I need to tell you that Disney is a master of making children’s movies that adults will also find value and joy in watching? Probably not, right? But I’ll do it anyway. Disney is a master of making children’s movies that adults will also love. And yet, I waited to watch this movie until it was on Netflix, because sometimes I like to deprive myself of things I know I’ll like. This movie has so much: a delightful cast that includes Idris Elba and Shakira, a very thoughtful and hilarious exploration of the way that anthropomorphized animals of wildly varying shapes and sizes would interact with each other and the world around them, and a timely message that both children and adults can find wisdom in.

Ginnifer Goodwin has been buried on the mess that Once Upon a Time has become for six seasons now, but I imagine she loves the steady paycheck and the fact that she met Josh Dallas there. Still, it was nice to enjoy her voice acting as Judy Hopps, the little bunny from Bunnyopolis who dreams of being a police officer in Zootopia. The aforementioned Idris Elba plays her boss, Chief Bogo, an African buffalo, and I could quite happily listen to him read the phone book. Other standouts: Jason Bateman as Judy’s friend and partner, a fox named Nick Wilde, Shakira as a gazelle pop star named . . . Gazelle, and Tom Lister Jr., who voices a tiny fennec fox in absolutely hilarious fashion.

I appreciated that instead of going the route of making all of the animals roughly the same size like a lot of children’s programming, the movie really explored the size differences in these animals to hilarious effect. My favorite example of this is Mr. Big, but I won’t spoil what the gag is, it’s way too good. Judy’s size was also a running gag, as the little bunny on a force of large predators.

The message of the movie is both complex and simple. On the surface, it looks like a story about not letting our differences divide us, or letting our prejudices against a group (in the movie’s case, predators) mar the way we view them. Given that this movie was released in 2016 amidst a highly charged political climate, no matter what your political views are, it’s almost subversive in the fact that it warns against xenophobia and celebrates love and diversity. Judy’s closing monologue never fails to bring a tear to my eye. “We all have limitations, we all make mistakes, which means hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional we’ll be.”

If you haven’t watched this yet, you should. Let the dulcet tones of the Shakira soothe your troubled soul. Let the tiny Arctic “Godfather” shrew delight you. And let the classic tale of a bunny and a fox working together to fight crime and prejudice warm your heart.

Casey: I was thrilled to see Zootopia up for a Nebula this year. (It gave me an excuse to rewatch!) There’s a lot to love here. First is an excellent example of the classic underdog story. Everybody loves to see the little guy outshine the people who mistakenly doubted their ability. Watching the brief montage of Judy fighting her way through the police academy is inspiring, heartwarming, and exactly long enough to tell the story of her struggle without going overboard. Next, we have the spunky yet flawed heroine who manages to learn from her mistakes, apologize for them, and grow as a…person? Rabbit? Anyway. Finally, my favorite element is the plethora of sly little in-jokes. From Chief Bogo’s “Let it go” comment to the Breaking Bad sheep, there’s just enough self-awareness and humor that the movie stays well within the boundaries of smart and fun without veering into the dreaded OH LOOK HOW CLEVER WE ARE BEING territory. I’m having trouble finding something to criticize about Zootopia. The animation was top-notch, the voice acting was perfect (Finnick was the best…and so cute in the elephant costume), and the story was just so well done. I suppose my one complaint (if you can even call it that) would be the fact that the song “Try Everything” tends to get lodged in my head. TRAGEDY. I suppose this is the best way to sum it up for me: any movie that can make me sniffle over a romance between two otters has succeeded on a very special level.

Nancy: I’m a librarian, meaning I spend a lot of time recommending stuff to people. Obviously, my methods vary depending on the patron I’m speaking to, but whenever Zootopia comes up, I find myself saying the same line, over and over again.

“This is, hands down, my favorite movie of 2016.”

And that’s not an exaggeration. Zootopia is a film that transcends its target audiences (kids, animation buffs, etc.) and delivers something universally great. This may not be obvious at first. Like many computer-animated movies, Zootopia is a buddy film, focused around the interactions between its two leads. And what great leads they are. There’s Judy Hopps, one bunny desperate to be taken seriously as a cop despite her small stature, and Nick Wilde, the foxy con artist who finds himself hustled into helping Judy solve a missing person’s case. Whether they are fighting or confessing their saddest memories to each other, the chemistry between Nick and Judy is always on point. That alone would be enough to make Zootopia a truly entertaining film.

But wait! There’s more.

Because on top of the great chemistry shared by its leads, Zootopia is also a wonderful mystery story. Fans of procedurals will love collecting the various clues along with Judy and Nick. And when the villain is finally unmasked, it is a genuinely surprising moment.

But wait! There’s even more.

Zootopia is also a timely film. As Judy and Nick begin to put the pieces of the mystery together, the results pull from a serious, real-life issue: racial profiling by the police. I think the fact that Judy is (at least in part) the driving force behind this profiling makes it even more powerful. If lovable Judy Hopps can end up blinded by her own biases, that means, to a certain extent, we all can be. And like Judy, we must take a long, hard look at our own long-held perspectives and question whether or not they are actually true.

Beyond that, I could go on and on about the high-quality animation, the top-notch voice acting, and the wonderfully detailed worldbuilding, but I think I’ve made my case. Truly, Zootopia is my favorite movie from 2016, and I would love to see it win the Nebula award.

J.L.: Like the best sorts of movies, Zootopia is a creation of delightful layers. I saw it in theaters with my husband when it was released last year, and though I ended up too busy this past weekend for a rewatch, the fact that so many of the scenes and events are still vivid in my memory says a lot about the quality of the movie. The fact that I am still unpacking so much of the story also says a lot about the power of this movie.

On the surface, this movie is basically what is says on the tin. A cute, Disney-fied story about not judging people, unlikely friendships, and how our physical appearance does not determine our ability. It’s got just the right balance of great dialog, physical gags, and emotional feels to appeal to kids and their parents (and big kids who aren’t parents but see every Disney movie anyway). Though it followed on the heels of the Frozen title wave, I think Zootopia has more than secured its place in history as a Disney classic.

But like I said, that’s just the top layer. For those of us big-kid Disney fans, there was a lot for adults to appreciate in this movie without devolving into the realm of “dirty adult humor that will go over kids’ heads.” There’s a big difference between sexual innuendo and adult references, and Disney has mastered that distinction. Kids aren’t going to get animals dressed up like Breaking Bad characters or a whole swatch of scenarios right out of the Godfather films, and even younger kids might not catch what’s so funny about parody bootleg films. But I got the jokes, and they didn’t have to be dirty to be hilarious.

Beneath that, there’s the allegories being made about animals who are predator and prey, and how that conversation can apply to real racial issues and harmful stereotypes. The story line and messaging never comes across as condescending or trite. It’s a shame that this conversation has to be prompted by a movie with talking animals, but at least we’re showing progress? The movie’s timing could not have been more perfect, considering the real-world events that were also occurring — and “timing” is accurate, since animated feature films start production years before release.

Independent of its Nebula award nomination, Zootopia is a movie that everyone (kids and adults) should see. They’re sure to fall in love with it as much as I did.


  • Shara White April 11, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    This was such a fun movie. I couldn’t think of anything to say other than I adored it, and I knew one sentence wouldn’t be enough for this Sound Off, but I was pleased to see its Nebula nomination, and it’s up against some very worthy contenders!

  • Weasel of Doom April 12, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I finally got to see “Zootopia” a couple weeks ago (thanks, Netflix!), and thought it was adorable, too!


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