Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Watch Zootropolis online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Over halfway through the Worst Year Ever, there’s a very strong case to be made that Disney’s Zootropolis is the most important film of 2016. The studio that recently brought us Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 has a solid history of animated comedy, but given how their output has always been prized for its timeless quality and universal appeal, it’s surprising for them to make something so timely and topical.
Zootropolis (or Zootopia as it’s known in the States, for complicated rights reasons) is a mammalian melting pot, in which animals, predators and prey have evolved beyond petty primal differences and live together in relative harmony. It’s a metropolis made up of neighbouring habitats in which the scale and habitat can be vastly different from one street to the next, and it’s this environment into which ambitious bunny police officer Judy Hopps (Goodwin) emerges, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Although the city integrates many different species, Judy still faces prejudice from the public and from her fellow officers as the first of her kind to join the Zootropolis police department. She struggles to prove herself when Chief Bogo (Elba) starts her off on traffic duty. When she gets a shot at investigating a missing mammals case, she’s forced to team up with vulpine confidence trickster Nick Wilde (Bateman) on a case whose outcome may threaten their entire way of life.
More than any film since 2014’s Paddington, this is a film that celebrates diversity and tolerance, and in the year we’ve been having, we need that now more than ever. Zootropolis ostensibly a buddy cop comedy featuring talking animals, and it’s really good at being that, but the film’s ballsy approach to prejudice of all stripes, especially for a film about the police, is entirely unexpected.
Even while being raucously funny, there’s uncommon empathy for the characters – with Judy, who has to work hard to get anywhere near her life’s ambition, but also with Nick, who’s less than co-operative, but has also suffered as a result of long-held prejudices. The voice cast is roundly excellent too – Goodwin is irrepressible as Judy, Bateman may well have been born to play a hustling fox, Elba steals the show with his deadpan delivery of some cracking one-liners and there’s great support from the likes of JK Simmons, Jenny Slate, Alan Tudyk and Maurice LaMarche too.
In all of this, it’s impossible to understate how creative the film is with the setting. One early on-foot chase starts out in an environment where Judy and the weaselly perp she’s chasing could be crushed by larger citizens, only to turn them into the monsters of a Godzilla movie when it crosses into the neighbouring rodent district. The film is full of such trippy contrasts, most hilariously in the much-trailed scene in which the manic Judy has to contend with a sloth looking up vehicle details.
If there’s a downside, it’s that we still miss the traditional Disney villain. Films like Pixar’s Inside Out have done away with traditional antagonists altogether and get drama out of misunderstandings between protagonists, and Zootropolis sometimes feels caught in the middle of that progress. There is a shady antagonist behind what turns out to be a big conspiracy, but you might have flashbacks to Big Hero 6 when you see how they try to mislead you about that character’s identity. In keeping with the theme, the why is more important than the who in this whodunnit, even if the reveal has been a little overwhelmed by the higher stakes.
But the way the filmmakers maintain those stakes across umpteen differently scaled settings is impressive and it’s all down to a fiercely funny energy that never lets up until the very end. The film’s mashed-up locale and the characters therein are rich enough to provide about a dozen sequels’ worth of material, which is fortunate because the film’s billion dollar box office success practically guarantees that this will become a franchise.
The obligatory pop number is called Try Everything (sang by Shakira, who voices Gaga-esque pop star Gazelle) and that song title is the film’s mission statement. Zootropolis is certainly of a set with other, recent Disney films, but it’s also the crowning achievement of their whole CG animated renaissance and the funniest film of the year so far. This is astonishingly dense with detail, from self-referential sight gags to moving allegories for current affairs, and relentlessly entertaining for all ages. You’re ready for this, and your kids are going to love it too.
Zootropolis is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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