“In a scene in “Zootopia,” the heroine, a well-intended bunny police officer named Judy Hopps, condescendingly calls a character of another species “articulate.”
The dubious compliment — reminiscent of a cringe-worthy comment Joe Biden made about then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007, is the kind of sharp-edged, topical joke you might expect from a late-night talk-show host or a grown-up animated show that plays on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block.
Instead the nuanced moment comes smack in the middle of a Walt Disney Animation Studios movie, and it’s not the only edgy reference — “Zootopia,” which opens Friday, also includes sly innuendoes about police profiling and workplace discrimination as well as allusions to grown-up pop culture favorites “The Godfather,” “Chinatown” and “Breaking Bad.”
Yes, the studio known for its fairy tale castles and doe-eyed princesses has sneaked a tart, subtle examination of bias into the middle of a talking-animals movie…
The thoughtful approach seems to be paying off. Critics have embraced the movie, which is rated 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and early box office reports suggest “Zootopia” may open nearly as strongly as another Disney Animation juggernaut, “Frozen,” did in its first weekend…
Female police officers spoke with the filmmakers about challenges they faced — including having trouble finding male officers willing to partner with them. In the case of Judy Hopps, who also faces difficulty being taken seriously as a police officer, animators used small scale to dramatize her struggle, as she struggled to hop up on a chair in the police department.
“We go more species-ist rather than gender-based,” said Howard. “The fact that Judy is actually struggling against this is pretty relatable for a lot of people.”
One dilemma the directors faced was whether to have animals play to or against stereotype. Ultimately they decided on a mix of the two — slow-as-molasses sloths, hilariously, staff the Zootopia DMV in a scene that will resonate for anyone who has ever waited to renew a driver’s license. But Judy Hopps is the opposite of a timid bunny. And some animals — like a fierce, tiny shrew who plays a Vito Corleone type, are an amusing mix of biological accuracy and visual joke.
“For a while we were saying, ‘Every animal should be their cliche,'” Moore said. “But that’s not servicing the theme at all. And then it turned into, ‘Every animal should be the opposite of their cliche.’ It was a journey to get to the point of, the world is not black and white. There’s so much gray.
“So maybe in the world of Zootopia it should be that sometimes they are cliche, sometimes they aren’t. That gives us that gray that better reflects our world. It makes Judy’s struggle and journey more authentic.
Are we just who we’re born to be or do we have control over our destiny…?”