Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons & Jenny Slate
Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Disney Animation Studios have prided themselves as being the makers of dreams, the explorers of creativity and the bringers of magic over the years. Indeed their core-animated filmography is known as ‘The Disney Animated Classics’, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) all the way up to last year’s awesome Big Hero 6. And in many ways these beginning and end bookends, tell a story wholly appropriate in starting off this review of the house of mouse’s latest work. Disney for years was best known for their hand drawn works, with only the occasional foray into the digital but in the early noughties, starting with the mixed received Dinosaur (2000), Disney Animation Studios embarked into the world of CG Animation. It was a slow progression, with the likes of Chicken Little (2005) and Meet The Robinsons (2007) going down as lesser Disney efforts but since 2010s Tangled the studio has had a handle on the format and seemingly improved with every foray into computer animation. So it is, that with Zootropolis (known as Zootopia in the states), Disney Animation Studios have got to the point that they are now knocking on their CG animation masters brethren Pixar’s door!
Zootropolis tells the story of aspirational rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who aspires to be the first ever rabbit policeman. Through training and determination she achieves her dreams and heads to the big city of Zootropolis, however once there, she lands traffic warden duty (oh joy). But as a big case, of 14 missing individuals, comes calling, Judy leaps into action and, alongside streetwise fox Nicholas “Nick” P. Wilde (Jason Bateman), she finds herself involved in the heart of a case that could have huge implications for her and the city. Zootropolis, for this writer, came with no expectations but from beginning to end is a flooring animated picture that offers practically everything you could want in a family film.
Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, with a screenplay by Bush and Phil Johnston and 7 individuals credited to the story, this could have been a case of “too many cooks” but this broth is far from spoiled, it is bubbling, warm and tastes beautiful. Zootroplis is a delightfully written piece of animated filmmaking and will appeal to any age group, with some references for adults to the likes of Breaking Bad, Hollywood film noir and Chinatown and some gleeful action for the kids. This is a film that, like The Lego Movie, Rango and Big Hero 6, is loaded with references and innovation and it is a film that deserves the utmost love in return. The story subverts and often openly refers to Disney convention and cliché, offering an unexpected final twist and even the Shakira sing song at the end (she plays pop star Gazelle in the film) is fun enough.
The animation is of course sublime, and the various animal characters are charismatic and varied, with the buzzing opportunities the film exudes leaving the door welcomingly open for sequels. The city of Zootropolis itself is an outstanding creation, being a diverse setting, segregated into desert, snow, rainforest and city sectors, with equally impressive citizens and lifestyles. However for all the visual grace and pretty scoring by Michael Giacchino, it is the ideology that strikes at your core the most efficiently. In a world that we all can regularly feel is broken and more politically turbulent than ever, Zootropolis tackles this very notion in unpreachy fashion. Filled with heart, the film is a timely stance on racial, social and gender equality and how we should never let prejudice rule, nor let it flourish in times of crisis, nor let powerful people cause such injustice (why hello there Donald Trump). This narrative punch makes an already exciting and fun investigative yarn, even more excellent and creates even stronger connections to the vast array of characters.
Goodwin’s Judy is a perfect protagonist and a wonderful example for children, offering a feministic determination and imagination and she meshes wonderfully with Bateman’s charismatic Nicholas P. Wilde, another fine example for kids. Both are imperfect but learn from those very imperfections to make themselves true heroes and each develop as deep and superbly structured characters. The voice work is enthused across the board and makes these animal characters even more lovable, with so many characters fizzling with energy from Idris Elba’s all business ZPD Chief Bogo to J.K. Simmons’ temperamental Lion mayor Leodore Lionheart and his suffering assistant mayor Dawn Bellwhether (Jenny Slate). And kids will love the antics of the adorable tubby desk officer Benjamin Clawhauser the Cheetah (Nate Torrence).
For all its successes, it is pretty hard to find a flaw in what is an often emotive (Nick’s backstory), regularly hilarious (a trip to a naturist club) and absolutely inspirationally motivated film. True some may think the closing Shakira track is a tad much, as well as the odd reference may be but there is nothing here that up skittles a joyful and wild adventure. Plus, we dare you not to laugh at the sloth scene, which has to be one of the most hilarious sequences in an animated film in years. Zootropolis is a winner and shows that Disney Animation Studios is still the king of the animated jungle.