Whether taken literally or analyzed for its deeper meanings, "Zootopia" should be called "Animal Utopia." Of course, this Disney-produced animated film won't adopt such a literal or even slightly dark-humored title. After all, people hope to find vibrant enjoyment in the visual experience.
This is undeniably one of the finest Disney animated works in recent years, if not the finest. This film, featuring a group of adorable animals as the main characters, relies solely on its rich content to transition from obscurity to being acclaimed universally.
Everyone is talking about it, almost overnight.
Artists are studying how the fur and post-production rendering of the animal characters can evoke a sense of awe and captivation among viewers; technicians are analyzing the lighting effects in the final concert scene; children are laughing heartily at the animals' awkwardness; adults are smiling with a knowing nod due to the clever metaphors that link the animals' characteristics with real-world societal dynamics; enthusiasts are enthusiastically sharing insights about how many different animal species are featured in the film, including the less common ones, like the small creatures that play the role of Italian mobsters. Many young women really wish to marry the fox.
Indeed, the quality of a work is often unveiled through the depth of interpretation it provides. A hallmark of classic works is that they are open to interpretation on multiple dimensions. Moreover, these interpretations often transcend the author's original intent, evolving into a broader world of symbolism.
The reason why "Zootopia" receives such high acclaim is that it caters to people's needs from various dimensions. Children witness the grand adventures of the little animals, while adults perceive satire and understanding of reality. All these elements are skillfully woven into a standard fairytale. So, even if it ultimately provides you with a big, bright, and happy ending, it doesn't come across as childish. Instead, it evokes subconscious hopes for that joyous song and dance. What's more, the endearing and entertaining story and details coexist harmoniously with the more profound meanings, and there is no contradiction between them.
On the surface, "Zootopia" is brimming with unexplored childlike humor and whimsy. For instance, when the train comes to a stop and three different doors open, animals of various heights emerge from the different doors. The director and writers have arranged a special, small door just for the cute little hamster. Every detail makes the audience feel that beneath the grown-up exterior, there's always an indelible sense of childlike wonder. These are all tiny inspirations that initially seem to belong in a child's imagination, and they directly and cleverly infuse the movie with genuine childlike charm. From a deeper structural perspective, what elevates this animation to such high praise must undoubtedly include deeper meanings aimed at the adult audience, reaching their subconscious.
Firstly, it's an exceedingly politically correct work. It emphasizes respect for cultural diversity, criticizes racial discrimination, and desires to promote communication between different groups, among other things. Simultaneously, it uses seemingly cute humor to sharply satirize systemic issues. For example, it portrays civil servants as sloths, where even tearing a piece of paper or stamping a document takes half a day due to their inefficiency. This satirical critique of bureaucratic inefficiency is so precisely matched with this animal, making the mockery both subtle and accurate. Furthermore, the audience can ambiguously understand what each type of animal represents in terms of identity and cultural background.
The choice of metaphors for each animal in "Zootopia" is spot on. Whether it's the personality traits they embody or their physical appearance, every detail is meticulously selected. This results in a portrayal that aligns with the general public's perception of that animal, sometimes with a deliberate twist. Often, this subversion is a well-intentioned attempt to correct misconceptions. For instance, people tend to associate foxes with slyness, and the character enters as a con artist. He tricks a large ice cream to smaller ones to sell to well-dressed hamsters. However, he eventually stops hiding his kinder side, overcomes inherent biases, and becomes a police officer. This internal storyline adheres to a classic American Dream narrative, where characters intentionally conceal their goodness beneath their bad exteriors, a trope commonly found in films and television. So, from this perspective, the success of "Zootopia" is largely because it allows us to look beyond the animals' surface to reach the core of the human world.
If the story had consistently leaned toward a positive message, it would have become dull. What makes "Zootopia" particularly valuable is its openness and confidence in self-mockery of cultural and systemic flaws. It satirizes various political calculations with a cunning sheep and a seemingly leadership-driven yet ultimately ineffective lion. It mocks the media ecosystem's lack of rationality and introspection amid frequent cases. It exposes the surface-level harmony hiding the disdain hierarchy and racial prejudices. All these elements come together to form the "animal utopia," representing the beauty we hope for and diligently strive toward, as well as the dark aspects we strive to discard but can never fully shake off. There's nothing to deny; this is the true nature of the world in which we exist.
So, from this perspective, the adventures of the fox and the rabbit reflect our surroundings and life experiences. They go through all the strata of the crazy animal city, witnessing gentle and cruel beings, discovering life in the light and shadows, understanding how power can distort a life and how prejudice can cause harm. While it may appear to be a wild adventure set in an animal city, isn't it a reflection of our own human world? We're all a bit wild at heart, and this world we live in can sometimes feel like a crazy animal city itself.