Film: “Zootopia” (Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016)

By Samantha Nygard

With “Zootopia,” Disney has created a movie that tackles racism, misogyny, and stereotypes, using animated characters in a make-believe land where predators and prey coexist peacefully. More complex than just a silly cartoon about talking animals wearing clothes and doing human things, it aims to leave adults with some powerful insights while entertaining the children.

Judy Hopps, a small gray bunny voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love,” “Once Upon A Time”) is happy, upbeat, and hardworking. She brings light to the movie through her determined mindset and goal-oriented actions. Her sidekick, whom she meets on the job, is a shifty fox named Nick Wild (Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development”). Scamming her is the best mistake he could have made.

Judy grew up on a carrot farm with her parents and 225 siblings. While her parents’ dream was for her to take over the farm and help her family, Judy dreamed of bigger and better things. She was going to be a police officer in Zootopia, the big city. But after graduating with flying colors from the police academy and receiving her diploma, she learned her dream job was not as spectacular as she imagined.

This is where Disney touches on feminism: The reason her dream is a let-down is because she is a small mammal for this type of work, and a small female in a male-dominated world at that.

The dynamic duo of fox and rabbit are here to save the city and bring it back to order after finding out that the mayor’s assistant, a small, white, fluffy lamb (Jenny Slate of “Obvious Child”) is turning the predators savage again, reverting to their natural state while the lamb gains power over all of their prey.

Racism is brought to the audience’s attention through the role of predators and prey: The prey represents the white population and the predators are African-American. This may sound darker than it really is, but this is, after all, a Disney movie, and the creators pepper it with comical twists and turns. One scene finds Nick taking Judy to the DMV to get some important information, but Judy has to deal with a notoriously slow-moving sloth. The joke is likely to go over childrens’ heads, but parents will appreciate it, and the kiddies won’t lose interest.

Disney has rarely addressed society’s problems so directly, and it often has been criticized for relegating men and women to traditional roles from the past. But the classic princess, damsel in distress, and hackneyed love stories are all missing from “Zootopia.” That fresh approach and strong performances from the voice actors make it a well-rounded movie that stands out among Disney’s offerings and ranks as one of its best.