Zootropolis review

We bring good news. If your offspring have just made you watch Frozen for 87th time this week, salvation is nearly at hand in the form of Disney’s latest. For those deep in that particular icy circle of hell, Zootroplis:  a) will be blessed relief; b) is very, very funny; c) packs in the sort of background gags and in-jokes that will reward repeat adult viewing; and d) appropriately enough for a film about animals, widdles all over Frozen.

We’ve often argued here about the need to change our scoring system for Pixar / Disney movies but, with very rare exception, the quality of their output is exceptional and, remarkably, is getting smarter. After Inside Out distilled huge amounts of psychology into a colourful, kid-friendly 90 minutes, Zootropolis takes on bigotry and stereotypes and does it brilliantly. And all within the confines of a cracking little crime thriller.

From a young age, rabbit Judy Hopps (Goodwin) has had one ambition: to be the first rabbit police officer in Zootropolis, a city where all animals – from predators to those with a more traditional edible role – live in relative harmony. An eager student, Judy finishes top of her class at the police academy and finds herself heading to Zootropolis and, thanks to a police chief (Elba) who doesn’t really know what to do with such a diminutive officer, straight into a role as… a parking attendant.

Happily, Judy accidentally stumbles into the case of a missing otter which, for various reasons, she’s got 48 hours to solve or she’ll be forced to quit. And, with no help forthcoming from her fellow officers, she’s forced to team up with Nick Wilde (Bateman), a streetwise con-artist fox. Somewhat inevitably, the two rapidly discover that there’s something far more sinister going on in Zootropolis…

While there have been hints of the film’s bigger theme throughout the early scenes – including Judy pointing out to a new colleague that “only a bunny can call another bunny cute” – it’s at this point that the film really hits its political stride. The otter is one of several missing predators and it appears that these former “savage” creatures may be reverting to type, causing consternation and suspicion – and old school prejudice – among those formerly known as prey. It’s a neat, furry and easily digestible explanation of modern politics, terrorism and scaremongering: should you have need to explain what’s happening at a Donald Trump rally to a six-year-old, well, it would appear that Uncle Walt has you covered.

In addition to this astute and depressingly timely lesson, Zootropolis is packed with brilliant jokes, great cultural references (including a very funny Frozen gag) and well-observed parallels – you may have already heard about the sloths as DMV staff. The voice cast are excellent, particularly Bateman (effectively revisiting his early career-making turn in It’s Your Move), and Goodwin who brings a little more nuance than you might expect to what could have been a standard Disney, do-good bouncy lead, but with the likes of Tommy Chong (as a stoner naturist yak), J K Simmons (as the city’s mayor), Idris Elba, Alan Tudyk, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer... well, it’s no wonder the director called it a “menagerie of talent”.

If you thought Tangled was great, and Frozen was superb, and Wreck-It Ralph was brilliant and Big Hero 6 was terrific and charming… well, you know where this is going. Zootropolis is yet another classic.

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Neil Davey is a freelance writer who specialises in things you can do sitting down, such as travelling, eating, drinking, watching films, interviewing famous people and playing video games. (And catching the occasional salmon.) Neil is the author of two Bluffer's Guides (Chocolate, and Food, both of which make lovely presents, ahem), and, along with Stuart O'Connor, is a co-founder of Screenjabber. Neil also writes / has written for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Square Mile, Delicious Magazine, Sainsbury's Magazine, Foodism, Escapism, Hello! and Square Meal.

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