The latest feature from Disney Animations Studios, whose recent revitalisation has brought us such hits as Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, Zootropolis (or Zootopia in the US) is rollicking entertainment with a side of ripe social commentary.
Ever since she was a little bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has had big dreams of becoming a police officer, much to the nervous worry of her parents. When she passes the Academy top of her class, Judy arrives in Zootropolis – a bustling city where anthropomorphic animals live in harmony – only to be disappointed when she’s placed on parking duty by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba).
Hustled by wily fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) on her first day, Judy takes matters into her own hands, boldly volunteering to lead an investigation into the unusual disappearance of Emmit Otterton – even if it means blackmailing Nick into lending his cunning skills. As the two set about piecing together the puzzle, it soon becomes clear that something more sinister than either of them could have imagined is at work. Rich with colour and endless imagination, Zootropolis brims with wit, heart and exhilaration. The film boasts many of the elements audiences have come to expect from Disney’s output (smart Easter eggs, striking animation and a chipper pace), but also delves much deeper, promoting but not overdoing themes of inclusivity and empowerment, many of them through Judy herself, whose commitment despite her small size and upbringing is inexhaustible. The script, written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston, emulates that of an old-school detective procedural, with the quick-witted repartee between Judy and Nick and a lightness of touch maintaining an appealing sensibility throughout.
And the laughs come thick and fast, the best embedded into the heart of the narrative. Visual flourishes are at every turn, from the different sized doors on the train to how Judy’s ears are used to reflect mood. The animators have fun adapting current pop culture trends to fit an animal-based environment, where every species from elephants and rhinos to sloths are awarded a moment to shine. The latter, in particular, receives the film’s most accessibly comical moment set inside a DMV office that may only last minutes for audiences, but takes hours for the characters involved.
As wonderful as the other components are, the real success of Zootropolis hinges on the ability of its voice actors, which is second to none. Goodwin as the intrepid, incessant Judy is a match made in heaven, while Bateman’s droll, sardonic vocals have never worked as well as they do here. Lively support comes from Jenny Slate as Assistant Meyer Bellwether, Elba’s Chief Bogo and a scene-stealing Alan Tudyk as a weasel. The biggest setback is the soundtrack, which is overtly loud and pop, and features Shakira in a role that screams of nothing more than merchandising opportunities. However, aside from those minor pitfalls, Zootropolis is a real delight – an entertaining and endlessly inventive comedy and something with more insight than anyone could have anticipated.
The 2016 Glasgow Film Festival takes place between 17-28 February. Follow our coverage here.
Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens