Skip to main content

Review: 'Zootopia' — What parents should know

Remember how everyone raved about “Inside Out” for its emotional and social significance?

Well, Disney has upped its game with “Zootopia,” which is far more entertaining to watch while also delivering some intelligent social messages. It’s a movie kids will undoubtedly enjoy — because, hello, talking animals — and hopefully learn a few lessons from. Parents, meanwhile, will either love or hate its overarching social message, but they’ll get kick out of the pop culture references and amusing buddy cop trope regardless.

“Zootopia” follows adorable Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin of “Once Upon a Time”), an ambitious little bunny from Bunnyburrow with a dream of someday being a police officer — never mind that a bunny has never been a police officer before. Judy is determined, and once she’s old enough, she earns her badge and learns the hard way that the other cops don’t take her seriously. While she’s on meter maid duty, she crosses paths with Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a sly con artist fox who knows how to pull off the perfect hustle, even on Judy. When Judy gets a chance to solve the mystery of 14 missing mammals to prove she’s every bit as capable as the other cops on the force, the odds are against her until she turns to Nick for help. You see, in Zootopia, predators and prey animals coexist side by side in harmony, but when that status is threatened, Judy and Nick have to work together to keep Zootopia’s society from reverting back to more savage times.

The official message of “Zootopia” is that anyone can be anything, but its lesson is so much more complex than that. After all, isn’t it popular to tell kids they can be anything they want to be, as long as they put their minds to it? In the real world, that ideal often seems ridiculous to skeptical adults. The story here hints that it’s actually way more complicated than that while still encouraging the idea.

Parents will recognize that “Zootopia” inserts sly innuendo about workplace discrimination and racial and police profiling into its buddy cop comedy. The result is that kids of all ages will, hopefully, walk away with good lessons about tolerance, being open minded, and not judging people by appearances.

Backed up by some beautiful animation, the story is even more powerful. The animal’s expressions and body languages are so humanlike I dare you not to feel empathy for the characters. These animals have jobs, families, and problems, the same as we do.

Because “Zootopia” is a family-friendly animated film from Disney, there’s not much to warn about in terms of inappropriate material. Of course, it’s a bad assumption to make these days that PG means “OK for kids.” Also, no two parents have the same restrictions or values. That said, some of the humor and story in “Zootopia” is obviously geared toward the adults in the audience and will go over the heads of young moviegoers. There are some scenes with wild animals that might scare very young or sensitive kids. There are also car chases, animals threatened with violence, and scenes of peril. All in all, I didn’t notice anything that struck me as inappropriate in terms of language or representation.

The real message of this movie is that change starts with you, and that's a great lesson for kids to learn. “Zootopia” is one of the best, and smartest, animated movies I’ve seen in a long time. Its social messages aside, it was still a whole lot of fun to watch.

Rated PG for thematic elements, rude humor and action, “Zootopia” is now playing in theaters.