Disney’s latest movie about a city full of animals results in probably the most human film you’ll see this year…
The first glimpse of Zootopia we had was unusually not a trailer but a clip of the movie, in which a bunny cop and her fox partner visit the comically-slow sloths at the animal city’s DMV. It was a great laugh, but it gave the impression that the film would merely be a fun if familiar runaround with cute anthropomorphic animals. Once you see the movie, however, you realise that it is far more than just that.
In a civilisation of evolved mammals, ambitious Judy Hopps’ arrival in Zootopia sparks a string of deep-seated prejudices between the animals. As you might be able to deduce from this synopsis, as well as being a frequently hilarious animated comedy, at its heart Zootopia is a tale about racial tolerance and acceptance. Occasionally things get very on the nose in terms of relating to current affairs – at first it’s a little jarring for a Disney film to be so topical, but it is entirely welcome. Congrats to Disney for using their status to teach kids a very timely lesson that you shouldn’t be governed by prejudice and small-mindedness.
I have to emphasise, though, that there is much more to the movie than a political statement. The realisation of Zootopia is full of wit and humour, while the fact that the city is split into different ecosystems allows for a breadth of fantastic animation. The story is a clever parodying of the police procedural and buddy cop formula and the script is packed with snappy, quotable dialogue. Unusually for the Mouse House, there is also a healthy dose of meta humour, with some very up-front references to themselves in the form of animal-based parodies of their films (even ones that aren’t out yet, like Mewana!), The Godfather and, weirdest of all, Breaking Bad.
But what makes the film work so well are its characters. They, Judy in particular, are some of the most human you’ll see in a modern animated movie. Again, the expectation going in is that Judy will be a fluffy character who is there to look cute but actually this is an image Judy actively fights against. Likewise, foxy Nick Wilde joins other memorable characters like Flynn Rider as one of Disney’s best loveable rogues. Also watch out for fun roles for Idris Elba and JK Simmons.
On the whole, Zootopia is another hit from a revitalised Disney who seem to have an admirable new mission to break down their old tropes and serve up some more down-to-earth lessons. Just as Frozen said that it takes time to fall in love or Inside Out said it was OK to be sad sometimes, Zootopia warns kids that achieving your dreams are hard – but if you really work for it, you might just do it.
It just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or a film from its trailer, or an animal by their basic nature.