Zootropolis (PG) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Byron Howard/Rich Moore, USA, 2016, 108 mins

Cast (voice): Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons

In keeping with its admirable themes of cultural change, Zootropolis has undergone a title makeover prior to being unleashed in the UK (it’ll be known as Zootopia elsewhere). Initially it appears that fact might well be the most intriguing thing about Byron Tangled Howard and Rich Wreck-It-Ralph Moore’s animated menagerie story, with a familiar tale unfolding, one focused on a cute critter heading out into the big, bad world in an attempt to overcome limitations placed on them by their small-town community.

However, Zootropolis quickly evolves into something completely unexpected; a noir mystery adventure, featuring well-drawn central characters, and a plot with more subtext and resonant, responsible themes than most films you’re likely to see in 2016.

Ever since she was a little rabbit, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has wanted to be a cop, with her propensity for the darker side of life all too evident in her overdramatic blood-letting performance in the school play. Her dreams come true when she’s qualifies to walk the beat in Zootopia, an animal melting pot, in which predators and prey share the same living space, with the instinct to adhere to the food chain a thing of the past.

That is until an Otter adds to the growing list of missing predators, and sure that’s she’s got what it takes to solve the case, Judy is given two days by her doubting Police Chief (Idris Elba in bison form), or she quits the force and returns home with her cotton tail between her legs.

From the outset, Zootroplis feels like it’s going to be littered with Disney tropes and drowned in saccahrine. Pop songs are used to externalise plot and character, with the film’s only real misstep manifested in the form of a Taylor Swift style Gazelle, who sings lyrics such as “I won’t give up, I won’t give in, I’ll try anything, yadda yadda yadda”, you get the point.

The film really finds its feet when Judy hops to the big city, and Jason Bateman’s cynical fox, Nick Wilde is introduced. His patented everyman sarcasm and likeability helps to round Goodwin’s work, and the two become a double act that you’d happily watch beyond this outing. Judy joins the likes of Roger (it seems the species is perfectly suited to noir movies), Bugs, and the Cadburys Caramel bunny as successful big-screen rabbits, and Nick is the best Disney fox since Robin Hood, or even the duplicitous waistcoat wearing Pinocchio baddie, who helped to establish the very stereotypes that Zootropolis is trying to subvert.

And that’s where the film excels, in its desire to be relevant, to tap into societal issues which are prominent today. There is a strong anti-bullying message, which results in a moving series of flashbacks, and both as a self-contained story and barely hidden subtext, Zootropolis is also about the global movement of people and the prejudice against outsiders.

But that’s not to say this is a contemporary Rudyard Kipling moralistic lesson, because there are some serious laughs to be had, with lols ranging from jokes about literal elephants in the room, and lines such as “he’s the opposite of friendly……he’s unfriendly”, to the stand-out sequences of sloths running the DNV and our detective duo prompting a “dog howl” in order to create a diversion.

First and foremost Zootropolis is a riveting little mystery story, one that takes precedence over action set-pieces and wise-cracks, and that has an air of old-fashioned charm about it in the same way that made Big Hero 6 such a triumph. It’s a film about everyone, for everyone, and everybody should see it. Well, maybe not Donald Trump.

Review by Matthew Rodgers