UK Release Date: 25th March 2016
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Writer: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, JK Simmons, Shakira, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence
Synopsis: Peace is disrupted in an animal city when predators go missing and some start to attack prey. A rabbit police officer teams with a fox con man to crack the case.
It seems that Disney can’t put a foot wrong at the moment. Pixar produced one of their best films in years with Inside Out, Marvel is reliably rolling in the box office dollars and Frozen has already become a bona fide phenomenon. Disney Animation’s latest effort Zootropolis, known as Zootopia in the USA, is yet another example of the studio’s boundless animation and inventiveness – a film that combines family entertainment with timely social commentary.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit police officer in the city of Zootropolis, where predator and prey live in peace. Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) gives her small-time work to do, which leads her to cross paths with con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). With the help of assistant mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate), Judy gets the chance to investigate a missing mammal case for an otter (Octavia Spencer). Soon, Judy uncovers a major plot to turn predators and prey against each other.
Zootropolis does an excellent job from the start of creating an interesting world. The central conceit of a cosmopolitan society, in which predators and prey live alongside each other, is a timely one in a society where questions are continuously raised about immigration and integration of other cultures. This is a film with a clear agenda of tolerance, but not one that it serves above all else. Every element of the social discussion is entirely earned by the characters and organically justified by the story. It’s an exceptionally crafted marvel of screenwriting that is very aware of its audience.
Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.
The opening hour, though, is straight animated comedy of the best kind. Ginnifer Goodwin imbues Judy Hopps with the giddy idealism of the country-born young adult driven to the city with the hope of discovering gold-lined streets and big city glamour. The film delicately pricks her optimism with the harsh realities of being a small fish in a big pond, seeing her idealism turn to hopping around issuing parking tickets. When she meets Nick Wilde, voiced with slippery charm by Jason Bateman, their chemistry crackles and produces a collection of very solid laughs.
From there, the plot is very much Disney 101, but there are intriguing elements of crime and mystery at play in amongst the adventuring. Judy gets herself a genuine crime to solve and Zootropolis is light-footed in bringing in tropes and conventions from the mystery genre alongside the animated thrills. Nods to The Godfather and Breaking Bad are obvious to adult viewers, but do nothing to neuter the kid-friendly appeal of the film’s surface meaning.
As the film moves into its final act, the social commentary ratchets up a notch, creating a scenario that is all too familiar, with people’s ignorance and misunderstanding leading them to fear their neighbours simply because they are different. The script’s nods to racism are not subtle, but they are important and timely given the current refugee crisis. There’s even a sly jab at celebrities inserting themselves into world issues, in the shape of Shakira-voiced pop star Gazelle.
Life’s a little bit messy. We all make mistakes. No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you.
Zootropolis is a rare example of a film that is nimbly able to balance important social commentary and kiddie thrills. This isn’t a film that feels preachy and it pursues jokes more than it pursues teachable moments. Anyone who has seen the sloth skit at the centre of the film’s trailer will already have an idea of just how funny the film is at its best and it keeps up that gag rate even as it veers into what might be conventionally considered darker territory.
This might not be a film that boasts the fairytale simplicity of Frozen, but it’s one that foregrounds a moral message that is important for both children and their parents.
Are kids’ movies like Zootropolis still for kids? We discuss the issue on the latest Popcorn Muncher Podcast.
Pop or Poop?
Strong voice performances and a beating moral heart elevate Zootropolis above the usual children’s fare to create an essential film for audiences of all ages. The characters are well-rounded and exist in a world that is imaginative and intriguing, creating the perfect backdrop for a message of tolerance that could not be more appropriate and topical.
Most importantly, though, the film is a lot of fun and boasts a witty script with dozens and dozens of quotable lines. Like Pixar’s Inside Out, it’s a film that’s destined to become an animated classic.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.