Dir. Byron Howard & Rich Moore, Script. Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Cast (voices): Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Shakira
Cast: New bunny cop Judy (Goodwin) forms an unlikely partnership with a wily fox (Bateman) to uncover a crime in a city of animals.
My capacity as a film reviewer sometimes gives me a superiority complex; I can spend time trying to scour the depths of world cinema to look for that lightning-in-a-bottle feeling, and claim that I’ve discovered it, but I know deep down that the popular opinion is a much more powerful object than my own. Deep down I know that the Disney formula is the ultimate – frustrating when done safely, yes, but when used originally, like in the latest Disney animated blockbuster Zootropolis (retitled in the UK: its called Zootopia over in the States but they apparently weren’t allowed to use that name due to the trademark being filed by a Danish zoo), it still works down to a tee. And its simply brilliant.
Zootropolis, and I genuinely mean this, is the film every single person who watches it will like (and its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score agrees). You can be 1 year old, you can be 100 years old, there’s something here for you. Because Zootropolis is one of those rare pictures that is not only a typically well put together animated romp, but also a timely, prescient and frightening picture that makes sense of the world we live in in a way none of us seem to be able to do. The skill and craftsmanship that has gone into this is truly stunning – this is the product of a hundred diamond makers, refining their jewel inch by inch.
To put it bluntly, Zootropolis is about prejudice: that thing we claim not to have, but all have somewhere in is, tucked away. And for this to come out right now, when a man carrying a small loan of a million dollars and a hamster that’s been accidentally put in the laundry on his head has been stoking and fuelling those subconscious flames, is not only a mark of real intelligence, but distinguishes Zootropolis as being Disney’s bravest movie in recent memory. Strangely, by anthropomorphising the prejudice and hiding it in the plain sight of a colourful kids film, its themes prove even more cutting. There are a couple of scenes in Zootropolis that got to me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. And that happened to me (and may happen to you) because we know stuff like this happens every day, and its a common part of everyday life. In parts, the social commentary could have been a little bit subtler, but it never weighs the films solid whodunit narrative down.
Jared Bush is the man behind Zootropolis‘s screenplay, and not only does it hit its themes right on the bullseye, all the dialogue is really snappy and playful, being delivered wonderfully by Once Upon A Time star Ginnifer Goodwin (playing rabbit cop Judy with real lightness and enthusiasm) and especially so by Jason Bateman, who is the perfect casting choice as sly fox Nick Wilde. Bateman is allowed to be at his snarky best, simultaneously scheming and devious while also ending up incredibly investing. The rest of the voice cast is full of solid performances also: look out for Idris Elba channeling Luthor in the role of a buffalo chief of police, J.K. Simmons continuing to be omnipresent in every film ever by playing the Mayor of Zootropolis, and an absolutely hilarious scene (which you may already know about) involving some sloths.
As you would expect with Disney, the animation is breathtakingly good to look at and full of vibrancy. Admittedly, some of the plotting does occasionally rely on convenience (but this is a kids film, so I can give that a begrudging pass), but the motives behind it are very well realized, better so than in most movies that pride themselves on their clever narratives. To put it simply, Zootropolis is a film of the moment. While its a definite crowd-pleaser (I seriously can’t see a demographic that will disagree with this movie), there is a rich amount of themes and readings that those looking for them will be able to take – because as much as I may have discussed the theme of prejudice, its one of those that can be taken in other ways too. And if you’re not sold on this even now, there’s a Michael Giacchino score which just slides so nimbly over the whole thing as well. While I’m not going to say Zootropolis is the best film of the year in my opinion, its the most reliable one, and whoever you are and may be, you won’t leave that theatre disappointed.