What a pleasant surprise it is to see Disney deliver arguably their best film since The Lion King, considering that a low hype factor and seemingly-generic anthropomorphic talking animal plot didn’t exactly suggest a classic. As it turns out, though, Zootopia is a film so clever, charming and delightfully animated you could easily mistake it for a Pixar joint.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is thrilled to become the first bunny rabbit police officer in the history of the city of Zootopia, but as she struggles to be taken seriously by her colleagues, she runs into a con artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who she then blackmails into helping her investigate the disappearance of a local otter.
On paper, that premise may sound fairly arch, but in actuality this is about as Shane Black a Disney film as you could ever make; it melds his crime caper mastery with the animation studio’s signature lightness of touch, and the result is a film that couldn’t be further away from princes and princesses.
Though it’s usually eye-rolling territory any time an animated movie has its characters whipping out smartphones and whatnot, Zootopia makes it work because clear thought has been put into everything; the astonishing number of sight gags will make it a fascinating re-watch (with the benefit of the pause button), and the anthropomorphism feels more pointed because the film so directly allegorises the human experience.
You see, the breadcrumb-following crime nonsense isn’t at all the reason that this film is so engaging; it’s how the movie deals with a broad spectrum of themes and concepts, such as racism, sexism, mental illness, drug use and politics, that’s so astonishing and surprising. Though this could easily end up assaulting the viewer in lesser hands, here it’s perfectly-massaged into the script in a way that’s sweet and entertaining without being overly sentimental, and more to the point, it doesn’t make Judy out to be a perfect paragon of virtue either; she herself is guilty of harbouring her own prejudices. As is true to life, none of us are totally free of it.
Goodwin and Bateman’s excellent vocal work combines with some stunning animation to create two of the most expressive and “believable” Disney protagonists in a long time, and it’s such a joy to actually see a Disney film that so desperately needs a sequel beyond serving the sheer purpose of selling some more lunchboxes. The Oscar race for Best Animated Feature could very well already be over; don’t be surprised if Zootopia steamrolls the competition next February.
Zootopia is in cinemas now