A tiny female wants to be a cop, but it takes the intervention of a politically correct mayor to make her one.
She’s harassed on the job, and has to remind others than while it’s OK for her to refer to someone like her as “cute,” for others, that’s out of bounds.
Her first big case sees her profiling the guy she comes to depend on for information. “You’re not LIKE them” doesn’t let her off the hook.
And she’s not alone. Businesses can refuse to serve “his kind,” and do. And in that big case, fear of “the other” is what the master villain is relying on to climb to power.
This is Disney’s “Zootopia,” an election year social satire dressed up an an animated children’s cartoon. It has sexism, stereotyping, discrimination and the politics of fear as its central motif.
The Hollywood Reporter calls it “crisply relevant,” and The Wrap notes the “fortuitously” timely release, just when as America puts its “biases under the microscope.”
Actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who voices the bunny cop Judy Hopps in the film, is more blunt.
“It’s a very ballsy movie, for Disney. And it makes me even more proud to be part of it.”
Directors Byron White (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck It Ralph”) are no strangers to films with potent social undercurrents. But even they are startled at the coincidence of releasing a film about tolerance and those who attack it for the purposes of seizing power by preying on the fear of the masses during the explosively divisive 2016 election campaign.
“It’s oddly timely,” Moore says. “You cannot plan that. A very strange lining up of things.”
But are they worried that the film will draw fire from the same crowd that attacked Pixar’s “Wall-E” for its anti-consumerist/pro-environment message? It’s a bit of a coincidence that the movie’s most overt expression of prejudice is an ice cream shop that refuses to serve a seemingly sweet, fatherly fox, an ice cream shop run by elephants.
“Bring it on,” Howard chuckles, when asked about possible conservative backlash. But “We don’t like movies that tell you what to think,” and he’s certain they haven’t gone that far with “Zootopia.”
“If people are going to turn a story about a fox and a rabbit becoming friends into something with an agenda that they see as evil, what are you gonna say?” Moore adds.
Goodwin, a native of Memphis and star of Disney-owned ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” was drawn by a script that offered her the chance to play “an action hero, a BUTT-kicker, who is GIRLIE. She’s kind, and generous and unCOMPROMISINGLY good. And responsible! And she doesn’t have to, by the end of the movie, become jaded or cynical.”
But she was stunned by the movie’s ambitious and very adult subtext, about prejudice. She was voicing a cartoon character who has a journey of self-discovery. She’s discriminated against, but Judy Hopps has “the same preconcieved notions about others” that “we ALL do.”
The turning point, for those about to see the film, takes place in a press conference where Judy and her informant/assistant, the con-artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) crack a case and meet the press to talk about.
“We focused on the press conference scene, because that’s where she starts to figure things out. Her prejudices had to be unknown to her. In fact, she had to be self righteous, right from the beginning of the movie, about NOT holding pre-conceived notions about other animals. The press conference scene was very difficult to record because I only had my voice to express myself, so
I made her a bit nervous so that I could let her racism sneak through the cracks unintentionally.”
Moore insists that “Zootopia” “doesn’t have an axe to grind or a political agenda to push,” that they “told a story from the heart.” But he will confess to a little concern. “You can’t control what people are going to say.”
Goodwin is more blunt.
“It’s so facsinating to me to realize that this movie, written years ago, is talking about these things that are in the national conversation in an election year. That means this is something we SHOULD have been talking about a LONG time ago.”