Film Review: Zootopia

by Keith Hill

Rated PG. Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore.

Zootopia is set in a world where humans don’t exist, and animals have evolved beyond their primal predator/prey instincts, and now live harmoniously side-by-side. The capital city, Zootopia, is the pinnacle of this new, modern society – a place where the lion lays down with the lamb (as mayor and assistant mayor).

Embracing the freedom that such a society brings is Judy Hopps (Goodwin), a rabbit from the small town of Bunnyburrow, whose lifelong dream has been to become the first ever rabbit police officer in the Zootopia Police Department. After graduating as valedictorian of her class at the Academy, Judy heads off to take up her first posting in District 1 as part of Mayor Lionheart’s (Simmons) mammal-inclusion program. But it doesn’t take long for her enthusiasm to be curbed – on her first day she’s assigned to parking duty by Chief Bogo (Elba), and conned by a sly and street-wise fox called Nick (Bateman). Meanwhile, the rest of her department is off trying to solve the case of 14 missing citizens, who have vanished without a trace.

Of course, Judy talks her way onto the case, and Bogo gives her 48-hours to crack it or hand in her badge. Finding that Nick was the last known person to see one of the victims, she blackmails him into helping her out, and together they begin to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the harmony on which life in Zootopia depends, and questions whether predators can actually evolve beyond their primal urges.

At its heart, Zootopia is a classic buddy-cop film, and Judy’s untiring enthusiasm and optimism is perfectly contrasted by Nick’s sly cynicism. With directors Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama, Wreck-It Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled) at the helm, Zootopia manages to achieve the sought-after balance in appealing to both parents and kids. There’s enough of a film-noir vibe, pop-culture references (Breaking Bad, The Godfather), and adult in-jokes (sloths staffing the DMV) to keep the grown-ups’ attention, but they’re pulled off in a way that keeps the kids laughing along too.

Despite the fact that the animals that inhabit the universe of Zootopia have evolved enough to live side-by-side, their world is actually still far from the utopia that Judy naively imagines it to be. There remains a natural distrust between species, and society is divided into an unspoken caste system, where the predators rule, despite constituting less than ten-percent of the population. The take home message for the kids is that we just need to look beyond those differences, to embrace each person for who they are, and then we’ll all get along.

But the Bible shows us that it’s not that straightforward. Though God created us good, and there was peace and harmony in the Garden of Eden, mankind’s sin brought about a fundamental change in our nature. The corruption at the heart of who we are is sin, and our sinful nature puts us in enmity with God and with one another. Sin introduces into the world a fundamental distrust of one another that will always undermine our visions for a utopian society. On our own, we can never outgrow it, or evolve beyond it.

Yet there is hope. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah looked forward to a day when natural enemies would lie down alongside one another. Isaiah 6:11 shows us what that day will look like:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

And bringing in that day will be a new king. A king from the line of the great king of Israel, David. A king who is filled with the Spirit of God. When he comes, he will banish sin, and bringing judgment to God’s enemies. Then he will recreate the world, transforming our broken natures and bringing in the utopia that we long for.

The Verdict: Zootopia is another instant classic in the Disney canon, deftly managing to walk the fine line of keeping both adults and kids entertained through the school holidays. 4/5

Zootopia is screening now in cinemas everywhere.

For more film reviews from a Christian perspective, connect with Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter.

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