The tectonic plates of the world of animation seem to be shifting what with Pixar losing some of its luster and the red-headed stepchildren over at Disney Animation starting to come on up the ladder. The way I see it, Disney Animation is looking to keep their streak going (following the pretty okay Wreck-It Ralph, the mega-hit Frozen and the just almost awesome Big Hero 6) so there is reason to root for a film about a bunny cop and criminal fox who pair together to do … something.
If at the end of Zootopia, as the credits were rolling, crime fiction master Walter Mosley’s name had popped up as a consultant, I don’t think anyone who’d ever read a crime book would’ve been surprised. Zootopia is an animated buddy cop comedy set in a world where animals evolved to, well, pretty much be human. The story revolves around the unlikely pairing of the first bunny cop ever, – Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) – to grace the sprawling metropolis that is Zootopia, and a fox conman (Jason Bateman) and how, well, their unlikely pairing leads to the solving of a big, nasty crime. It’s also as pointed a critique of race relations in America as anything Spike Lee has made in twenty years. Really, it is. Zootopia – yes, the same buddy cop, animated comedy about a bunny and a fox who solve crimes – is a brilliant twist on the classic crime novel narrative structure, peppered with some of the boldest commentary on racial prejudices in established structures – conscious and unconscious – and how these prejudices are detrimental, even deadly, to our current society. See, as animals evolved, not into humans, but into talking animals, there had to be a certain forgiveness, a certain judicial acceptance, that those who were once predators (bears, lions, and well, foxes) would no longer eat those who were once prey (bunnies and other smaller, bunny-like things). Yet, even though predator and prey still peacefully co-exist, the underlying tensions between them still exist in all facets of society. Big predators like lions and tigers and such are usually in the highest positions of power, while smaller predators, weasels, ferrets and, well foxes, are usually relegated to some off-path section of the criminal empire. And yes, the film totally embraces all of this and makes it a part of the world. There’s fucking animal profiling in this film. The word “cute” as referred to bunnies is name dropped like an African-American using the n-word. And this is a Disney movie don’t you forget. And it’s funny and brilliantly written, with all the narrative storytelling of crime fiction done as well as any you’ll read or see this century. This could be crime as written by Michael Chabon or, again, Walter Mosley, folks who take the notion of dirty deeds done dirt cheap and find the ways to show how the darkest parts of our society can always be traced back to the top. Oh yeah, and again, it’s about an animated bunny and an animated fox and features Idris Elba as an ox Police Chief. And yes, it’s good, brilliant even, and I’m just as fucking surprised as you.
One More Thought:
Jason Bateman may have lost his charm to me. In a film full of great performances, Bateman’s Nick Wilde is sort of one-note. Or he isn’t one-note but something about Jason Bateman’s voice slithering out of his mouth made it feel like I was just watching Jason Bateman in an animated fox suit and well, it distracted me.