When Disney released the first Zootopia teaser, I thought, “Oh, Jason Bateman as a sly, snarky fox? That’s cute.” By its very nature, the teaser didn’t show too much about the characters or the plot of Disney’s latest animated feature; all we knew was clearly spelled out for us:
Much like the reimagining of evolution in The Good Dinosaur, Zootopia imagines a world in which humans never existed. Zootopia itself is a civilized animal metropolis, where mammals big and small go to work, walk on two legs, use technology, and wear pants. And based on the teaser, our story focuses on two particular creatures, so-called natural enemies: a fox and a hare.
Now, when you combine Jason Bateman voice-over with a plucky soundtrack and expository text, one very specific show comes to mind. But as I learned when I got a sneak peek of Zootopia and its inhabitants, the film does not appear to be coasting on the humor or cult success of Bateman or Arrested Development. As it turns out, Zootopia not only brings back the classic Disney animal story, it’s a sort of screwball mystery meets buddy cop comedy… and its true star is Judy Hopps.
Voiced by Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin, Judy Hopps is a small town bunny with a heart of gold and a big dream — be the very first bunny on the police force. You see, in Zootopia, animals just sort of fall into what’s expected of them. The Zootopia police force is populated with massive mammals — rams, bears, and rhinos — while Judy Hopps’ family is still breeding like crazy in her hometown. But she takes the plunge and moves to the big city, only to get stuck with a less than stellar assignment as a mere meter maid. But, because she’s so determined to do a good job, Judy decides to be the best damn meter maid this town’s ever seen! And that’s how she meets fast-talkin’ con man, Nick Wilde.
If Judy is an eternal optimist, hell-bent on proving people (animals?) wrong with a smile and sassy hop, Nick Wilde is the ultimate cynic. Judy first runs into Nick in seemingly dire straits, only to discover he’s created a massive money-making scheme that takes him all over Zootopia. They butt heads immediately, and not just because they’re, well, a fox and a hare. And while Judy firmly believes in the city’s motto, “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything,” she definitely prejudges Nick because he’s a fox. Though she probably has a point (he is wily as all get-out), when the unlikely duo is paired together to solve a crime with a ticking clock, they both learn that the other is much more than they appear. Judy Hopps is not just a naive hick from Rabbiton; what she lacks in street smarts she makes up for in sheer ingenuity, and though she may be small, she is uniquely qualified to be a total badass on the force. And because this is a Disney movie, we have to assume that maybe, just MAYBE… Nick is not as much of a cold-hearted cynic as he’d like people to believe.
The Inhabitants of Zootopia
We’ll take a closer look at how the Walt Disney Animation team created the animals that make up Zootopia’s rich world, but in the meantime there are some other folks in the mix you should meet. Idris Elba lends his gravitas to the film as Judy’s tough buffalo boss Chief Bogo, while J.K. Simmons voices Mayor Lionheart. (Yes, he’s a lion.) There’s a charming cheetah (Nate Torrance), Mrs. Otterton, (Octavia Spencer) who kicks Judy’s big case off, Judy’s loving parents (Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake), Zootopia’s biggest pop star Gazelle (Shakira), the aptly named Flash the Sloth, a Honey Badger doctor (Katie Lowes), and even Frozen‘s Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk).
“In Zootopia, Anyone Can Be Anything.”
The real story of Zootopia seems to kick off when Judy is forced to team up with Nick to solve a crime that takes them through Zootopia’s seedy underbelly. They go off on a quirky caper that includes a trip to the DMV (fittingly run by adorable sloths), a deadly encounter with the mob (plus an incredible The Godfather reference we won’t spoil for you), a chase across town, and a quest to get to the bottom of this hare-brained (sorry) case. Ultimately, no one is who they appear to be, and that’s (probably) the true message of Zootopia. No one is what they seem — don’t underestimate the little guy, give everyone a fair shot, and anyone can change for the better if they put their mind to it. Heartfelt themes ripe for a Disney flick, if you ask me.
While Disney wisely kept much of the second and third acts close to the chest, the characters of Zootopia are certainly promising — especially when you consider the main character is an ass-kicking, fluffy lil underbunny with something to prove. We can’t wait to see her in action.
Stay tuned for more of our Zootopia coverage, where we’ll explore the different cities and worlds within its universe and take a peek behind-the-scenes of the animation, story, and creation of the film!
Zootopia hops into theaters March 4, 2016.
Rachel Heine is the Editor-in-Chief of Nerdist and a big fan of Disney movies, fluffy animals, and Arrested Development. Chat with her about cats and juice and spiders on Twitter @RachelHeine.