Some blogs might tell you that Zootopia/Zootropolis came about as part of an ongoing effort by Disney to address the more troubling and regressive aspects of their legacy and take on a pressing real world issue. But only I will tell you the truth, namely that it was part of a desperate ploy to pay off a faustian bargain made by immortal warlock Walt Disney by creating an army of furries for a demonic lord of evil. That is why, after all, the people come to Unshaved Mouse.
But first of all, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Namely, why the hell is this called “Zootropolis” on my side of the pond? Well, Disney haven’t actually given a reason for the name change. One possibility of course is that, as sophisticated Europeans, we would know that any utopia, even a zootopia, is impossible in an imperfect world and refuse to see the movie purely on the grounds of philosophical consistency. Also, there’s the fact that a zoo called “Zootopia” is opening in Denmark soon and maybe Disney’s lawyers didn’t want the hassle. Who can say?
Anyway, if you read this blog you’re probably aware that Disney have been on one hell of a hot streak for the last few years, producing movies that are both critically lauded and hugely successful. That in and of itself is nothing new, the Disney canon goes through peaks and troughs and this is just one peak of many. But one thing that is different this time around is that Disney is more and more comfortable making movies that actually have something relevant to say about the world. I once called Walt Disney the most apolitical American artist of the twentieth century. His movies were beautiful, funny and charming but they almost never had any kind of political message or agenda beyond the most broad “be nice, everybody” kind of sentiment. They were meant to appeal to the broadest audience possible in their own time which in practice meant that they were very conservative and very, very white.
Fast forward to today. In my review of Princess and the Frog I called the current era of the Disney canon “The Redemption Era”. Unlike the Lost Era that preceded it, where Disney was trying to definitively break with the past, new types of story, new styles, new animation techniques, the Redemption Era wears its classic influences with pride. It loves and respects the canon. But it is not blind to its flaws, either. The Redemption Era is a Beatles fan who has every album but never forgets that John Lennon beat his wife. It doesn’t simply ignore the more troubling aspects of the Disney canon but makes challenging them a core part of its identity, whether that’s doing a Restoration Era fairy tale with an all-minority main cast or a Renaissance Era musical where the princess doesn’t marry a prince at the end. Zootopia takes this to a new level. Regular commenter Kahnamanko called it the most topical and socially relevant movie Disney has made since their World War 2 propaganda shorts and I think that’s probably true. But does that make it a good movie? Does the simple fact that it’s willing to tackle such a pressing and hot-button issue as racism make it a classic that will stand the test of time? Let me answer that question with a question, do you feel a burning desire to watch any of the following movies; Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Crash or Lions for Lambs? Yeah, didn’t think so. Movies that directly address the great issues of the day are often very worthy endeavours but they rarely end up being particularly beloved movies. Does Zootopia defy the odds? Let’s take a look.