Posted by Khashayar Rahimi @khashayar
Independent Filmmaker, Photographer and Digital Content Creator

Disney’s Zootopia which recently reached $1 billion gross worldwide is definitely one of the most successful animated movies by Disney in the last few years.Before getting to the main subject, I’d like to point out some of the reasons why Zootopia has been appreciated.

In the last few years Disney/Pixar have experienced a fall. After Toy Story 3, we haven’t seen any other elegant movies with amazing ideas and excellent storytelling that is expected by them. Although Frozen (2013) and Inside Out (2015) got so close to bring back the glory but Zootopia is by far the most successful and here’s why.

There are usually two types of films developed by Disney/Pixar:

  • Fairy tale adventures with basic good vs evil pattern, like Frozen, Brave and Tangled.
  • Modern day adventures with brilliant ideas and fantastic character development, like Inside Out, Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy.

Zootopia is clearly categorized in the second group and in fact it is even a bit futuristic. It is happening in a time when animals are civilized enough to form a community and follow the laws of a huge metropolis which the main conflict is forming right here between civilization and savagery. Zootopia is the first and only Disney animated movie to use a classical crime mystery method for narrating its story. The police department and academy in Zootopia reminds us of The Departed.

The movie has chosen a path with detective elements as its main objective and uses fantasy and comedy elements as filling materials which by the way are incredibly effective and well-adjusted. Writers has done an excellent job on creating simple stereotype characters with perfect details and contrasts which results fabulous funny situations, including Mr. Big, Flash, Finnick and Chief Bogo.

At some points there are even some great inside jokes and funny references including the one with Jessie and Walter (Breaking Bad) and where there’s a DVD shop selling Disney’s alternate movies in an animal world! These creative attempts has made Zootopia one of the funniest detail-oriented movies ever! Another important point is the main character: Judy Hopps.

ZOOTOPIA – Pictured: Judy Hopps. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
ZOOTOPIA – Pictured: Judy Hopps. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Judy is an ambitious lady police officer of ZPD who had the dream of becoming a policewoman since she was a kid. She is courageous, smart and hard-working. But even when she finally made his way to the Zootopia Police Department nobody takes her seriously; cause after all she is just a bunny and there has never been a bunny police.

The intention is quite clear here. We got a female character rising against everyone even her parents to prove herself as a successful cop who can help people and reaching her childhood dream. Maybe you think this is not the first time we have a female hero; all the fairy tales from Disney are based on heroines including from Cinderella to Frozen‘s sisters. But there is a huge difference between Judy Hopps and all the previous female heroes and that’s her motivation. Judy is not looking for eternal love or happiness. She is willing to help people in a difficult way. She chooses to break the limits and rise upon a (some kind of) sexist system which is pretty rare in Disney movies.

The writers cleverly symbolized this sexism into a racism by replacing the term “bunny/rabbit” as an animal specie instead of “female/woman” as a gender. There are many references to this symbol including where Nick asks Judy: “So are all rabbits bad drivers or is it just you?”.

Another interesting characteristic which divides Judy from other Disney heroines is that she doesn’t get involved romantically! It may be referred during the movie that there’s a romance forming between Nick and Judy but it’s clearly not love! It’s just a strange complicated friendship which leads to a great partnership.

I think developing a strong heroine with unique characteristics is the most important accomplishment of Zootopia. This is a big step not only in animated films but also in mainstream movies in general. Regarding to the movie’s huge success in both international gross and positive reviews from critics, it’s not unrealistic to say that lead female characters are potential enough to get more attention in movie industry.