Exactly why this latest Disney animated movie is called Zootropolis in the UK but Zootopia in the States, I’m not sure. Zootopia certainly flows off the tongue better. The name change presumably meant more work for the voice actors to record separate lines and for the animators to make the characters’ lips move correctly. Anyway, having seen the film and gotten used to the title, I’m just going to call it Zootropolis, and I hope nobody minds.
The film takes place in a world of anthropomorphic animals (specifically mammals – no birds, reptiles, etc are evident) who have evolved past traditional predator-prey instincts and now live together in harmony. Our protagonist is Judy Hopps, a country rabbit who dreams of becoming a police officer, even though no rabbit has ever joined the police before since the job is associated with bigger, tougher animals. Finishing top of her class through sheer determination, and hired by the Zootropolis police force as part of a pro-diversity initiative, Judy finds herself not taken seriously and assigned to handing out parking tickets. However, with a number of unexplained disappearances occurring around Zootropolis, the police chief agrees to give Judy 48 hours to investigate and find one of the victims – or else, she must resign. Teaming up with fox and hustler Nick Wilde, who provides a lead on the case, our intrepid heroine sets to work.
With its child-friendly cartoon animal characters, this movie may not look like especially entertaining fare for adults. But much like Inside Out, while it will certainly satisfy the kids without going over their heads, it wants to tell a story that will appeal to an older audience and provide an intelligent message. It starts out looking like a simple story about following your dreams – which it is, though without being heavy-handed about it. But the real heart of the matter is prejudice. From the beginning, most of the focus is on how various characters think Judy can’t be a “real” police officer because she’s just a rabbit; even good-natured characters who genuinely wish her well get a bit awkward about it. (For one thing, apparently it’s offensive to call a rabbit “cute” unless you are also a rabbit.) But as the film goes on, things get more complex: other forms of prejudice are expressed, and even Judy herself isn’t entirely innocent. It’s a really great way to show children why prejudice is wrong, and that even good people who would never set out to offend anybody can be guilty of it. Plus, the message is worked naturally into the story, without going out of its way to bash the audience over the head.
I really loved the main characters. Judy is a great role model: she’s intelligent, insanely determined, and when she struggles at something, she wins through by playing to her strengths and doing things her own way. Nick is likeable despite being a conman, and while he and Judy do start off with the familiar ‘reluctant partners’ dynamic, I liked just how quickly they become real friends who support each other. It’s one of the ways in which the story manages to be unpredictable; another is how events that look like the conclusion actually mark the end of the second act, at which point things go off in a fresh direction. Not everything is unpredictable though: once it becomes clear that there’s a central villain involved, I was able to guess who it was.
As well as all this, it’s a very funny film. The biggest laughs in the cinema came when Judy and Nick go to the DMV and are confronted by the infuriatingly slow sloth employees, whose ponderous speech and gradually shifting expressions are a lot funnier than they appeared in the trailer. Mr Big, the Marlon Brando-esque shrew crime lord, is also good for a laugh. I got a giggle out of the references to other Disney films here and there, like when Police Chief Bogo addresses Judy’s protests by telling her that you can’t just sing a little song and have your problems magically fixed, and then ordering her to “let it go”. The designs of the animals are also appealing, and are used effectively: Judy, for example, is much smaller than her fellow police officers, but becomes a disruptive giant when she chases a criminal through a rodent neighbourhood.
Zootropolis is another winner from Disney, definitely on par with Frozen and Inside Out. If you were thinking of seeing Batman v Superman, go see this instead. Rating: 4.5/5.