Zootropolis (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) Running Time: 109 minutes approx.
For many people Disney represents the embodiment of the idyllic fantasy world of princes and princesses, music and magic, and happy ever after. But if we look beyond the twee, sugary aesthetic they do occasionally face up to the harsh realities of the world in their films – via a perky anthropomorphic rabbit of course.
Zootropolis is where all animals can be what they want to be in life and where the divide between predator and prey has long been eradicated. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit and the first ever to join the police force but is treated like a joke, immediately put on traffic duty by her water buffalo boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Whilst on her rounds Judy is hustled by two confidence trickster foxes Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and Finnick (Tiny Lister).
After abandoning her traffic duties to make an arrest, Judy is fired for insubordination but sheep Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate) speaks up for Judy and insists she take on the investigation of a missing otter, Mr. Otterton, one of 14 predators to have recently disappeared. Since Nick was the last one to see him, Judy blackmails him into her with the case.
Disney might be warriors when it comes to protecting their copyrights, even they are not immune from it themselves. In the US and other territories this film is called Zootopia but in Europe, existing ownership of that name forced the change to Zootropolis. While the dialogue has been re-dubbed to address this, you can still see the characters’ mouths saying Zootopia.
Anthropomorphic animals are essentially Disney’s trademark ever since its legendary founder Walt Disney introduced a certain mouse to audiences back in 1928, so on that front Zootropolis might seem to be just a superficial update of that premise. Except it is more than that, standing tall as another example of using this formula to comment on modern day issues in a way that is universally palatable.
The central and most obvious themes are discrimination and stereotyping, a recurring motif being many larger animals looking down at the smaller ones, establishing the mindset that being big or having certain other attributes is the sole key to success. Indeed a hierarchy is presents in all employment situations, where the larger animals all have rank over the smaller ones.
Judy refuses to see her species, size and upbringing as a handicap and aces her way into the police force where she is met with immediate resistance from her towering, bulky – and predator – co-workers. Similarly Nick being portrayed as a conman and trickster is an aphorism based on the “sly fox” idea, while the outcast nature of the animal is as much a hindrance for Nick as it is for Judy.
But it is not just Judy who gets to dispel and subvert these preconceived manifestations – one lead sees Judy and Nick end up before a dangerous gangland boss named Mr. Big, surrounded by giant polar bear henchmen. Yet Mr. Big himself is in fact a tiny mouse, parodying Marlon Brando’s much-aped Godfather characterisation. An obvious joke but this is aimed at kids while catering to the adults too.
And this is another area where the film scores highly, by not patronising the younger audiences by being overly didactic yet has enough gags and references that adults will get a kick from. For example, their version of the DVLA is manned by sloths, a not so subtle swipe at the apparent slow service provided by this establishment, but manages to eke out some very painful (if you’re impatient) laughs.
Perhaps more subtle in the inculcation stakes is the cause behind the disappearances in relation to the rise of predators regaining their savage instincts and attacking other animals. Here a misunderstood comment from Judy engenders a wave of fear towards all predators in Zootropolis, and suddenly they are all viewed askance, even if they show no outward hostility.
America may not be the most tolerant nation towards Muslims at the moment, and if this inference is correct as to the subject of this plot development, then Disney deserve kudos for taken such a bold stance, especially for a family targeted company that usually avoids such political allusion.
For the most part however this is a film that sets out to provide the audience with fun and adventure and it does just that. The gags are usually on the safe side of trenchant for universal appeal, perhaps a little obvious for the older viewer but within this context there is no need to judge this by such lofty standards.
The characters display little physical touches to satirise their human side while staying true to their animal foibles too – Judy pounding her foot in frustration a’la Thumper is one such example. Nick acts cocky and cool, creating a persona that might not work with another animal, while Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K Simmons) likes to exert himself by rearing up and shouting very loudly.
Visually this is every bit the eye candy spectacle one expects from Disney, who has embraced the CGI technique yet manages to retain a cartoon quality to the overall veneer to prevent things from looking too clinically overproduced. Backgrounds are rich in depth with little quirks and motifs to reinforce this as a domain for animals, right down to the bespoke details of ordinary items to suit each creature.
Whether the intent is to preach or to entertain, the latter will always outshine the former, even if one is of an age to notice the former more. Having banged heads with PIXAR over the past few years as the kings of animation (Studio Ghibli notwithstanding) it seems Disney is starting to find its own footing again and Zootropolis is further evidence of this.
The question is, will the inevitable sequel continue this run of success or will it be another case of lazy cash-in-itus?
English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
English 2.0 Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital
Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan 5.1 Dolby Digital
English HOH, Spanish and Portuguese Subtitles
Research: A True-Life Adventure
The Origin Of An Animal Tale
Zoology: The Roundtables
Z.P.D Forensic Files
“Try Everything” Music Video by Shakira
Rating – ****
Man In Black