“No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you.”
Disney animation is on somewhat of a hot streak as of late, with recent hit films such as Big Hero 6 and one of our personal favourites Wreck-It Ralph. The company’s latest addition is Zootopia and it shouldn’t be taken lightly or just simply referred to as another Disney movie; we believe it to be one of the very best the company has ever produced.
Welcome to the world of Zootopia, where mammals have evolved and become intelligent creatures. Introducing our protagonist Judy Hopps; a bunny, who after facing her own real life prejudice, has a dream to become a police officer. To discuss the plot much further would take away the great narrative that follows. Suffice to say, at first glance this film appears to be a simple parable about bullying, but it soon develops into literals of predators and prey, and how they have learnt to overcome their differences and live in unison. In doing so, the story becomes a rather clever tale of coexistence.
But rest assured it’s a classic Hollywood set-up. What follows is a solid buddy cop film paired with the always charming Disney flare. It also contains a noir-like detective mystery element, very reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The main plot is advanced through the communication of its characters, similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and for us, this form of storytelling just doesn’t get old.
Its noir stlye isnt the only more adult leaning aspect, this film carries many underlying themes. One of its strongest is the aforementioned prey vs predator element, which would be impossible to then not make comparisons to real-life controversy. Racism is featured throughout, with every animal having tribal mind sets, proving just how flawed we all are. These themes flood in from false paranoia and social clichés. The film doesn’t patronise its viewers (young and old) nor does it offer easy answers, but paired with strong messages of companionship and overcoming bigotry and ingrained preconceptions, there are several life lessons to be learnt.
However, it can be said that under the weight of all these themes, questions and messages the film does falter slightly, constantly trying to juggle them all and still retain its family friendly fun core.
But what a fun core it has.
Firstly, let’s look at the look of the film. The city of Zootopia = Utopia, it’s the perfect dream-like world that encompasses everything. It houses humanized creatures of all sizes in business suits and casual attire, they are perfectly dressed in both clever and humorous outfits, not to mention how cute it all is. All this is thanks to some fancy (and we would assume very expensive) computer equipment, it looks fantastic. This may well be the fluffiest film you have seen since Monsters, Inc. The animation looks superb, with full close ups of the various animals that only further reveals just how alive and lifelike the animals look. Action sequences are cleverly put together and feel fresh playing up the different sizes and abilities of the animals. It is all just a joy, we had similar reactions here when watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
And it doesn’t stop at the animals. The titular city of Zootopia itself is stunning, with an ingenious blend of design elements that remind us of Futurama, which is possibly the greatest attribute of the film. The design is very well thought out, and everything has a reason to exist and makes sense in its context.
And of course we must briefly mention the all-star cast. Idris Elba continues to add to his ever growing list of voice acting roles with another terrific turn as stern police chief Bogo. The always loveable Jason Bateman is here with a brilliant Bill Murray-esque delivery and Alan Tudyk has a small part with a spot on Steve Buscemi impression. In fact everyone involved puts in a good performance, including pop star Shakira.
There are Easter eggs a plenty here, ripe for the taking; with links to various well known film and TV franchises, such as Breaking Bad (bet you never thought you’d see that embedded in a Disney film). Some of them are purely for humour whilst others are clever satirical puns, such as a character asking “who still uses CD’s?”
Zootopia’s end result is quite an in-depth look at what happens between people and their different cultures. Sensitive issues are handled with care, tackling prejudice, political incorrectness and the discourse of racism, without preaching or becoming a rant. We feel it’s fairly important that kids will see, hear and learn several important ideas and concepts, that if not included in this Disney film, they may have never considered them.
However, this is still Disney. It’s a film for everyone, so let’s lighten the mood. Another reason this film sets itself aside is similar to what made Frozen so well received. It challenged the typical tropes.
***Frozen Spoiler Alert***
Such as the romantic twist, that “Prince Charming” isn’t always the guy you believe him to be. In Zootopia, as opposed to the ideal that all your dreams will come true if you just believe, is now that if you actually want your dreams to become reality, you best get out there and work as hard as you can.
This is a reason to take kids films seriously; beautiful designs, clever plots, and emotions running wild in contemporary culture and politics. It poses humorously clever wit and charm with questions like “are foxes trustworthy?” and “are sloths really that slow?” If you’re looking for fun, it’s here. If you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, it’s here. For the older audiences there will be a lot more for the taking if you choose to look deeper, and much like Wreck-It Ralph, you’ll be left with an ending pop song that you won’t be able to get out of your head.