I think we all thought the same thing when we saw the hilarious Sloth trailer for Zootopia/Zootropolis: “No way, is Disney about to get good again??”
Well the answer to that isn’t quite yes, but it’s not totally no either.
Zootopia (why did they call it Zootropolis in the UK? I’m sticking with the topia version) is set in a world full of anthropomorphised animals who live in harmony with each other – or at least, predators don’t eat prey. Other forms of societal injustice like wealth gaps and social status are very much in evidence. Hey! Just like our world, right??
Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) – a determined bunny with a strong sense of workplace equality – cannot wait to leave behind her stick-in-the-mud parents, who *scoff* own a successful carrot farming business in a backwater town, so that she can become the first bunny cop ever posted in Zootropolis.
But hold on – bunnies can’t be cops, right? They’re too cute, too small, too nice to handle the disenfranchised toughs of the city. But gosh, we hope she makes it; what could be worse than not living in the glamorous, wonderful big city and achieving the job of her dreams? Because of course, that’s what equality means. It means getting the job you want and leaving your less ambitious parents in the dust. I think.
You cannot avoid the strange pressure of Disney’s social message in this movie. Mercifully, that message loses a bit of steam as the narrative begins to take shape, and Zootopia actually succeeds in being a fun, believe-in-yourself, make-friends, don’t-judge-others story that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside – see what I did there?
Judy Hopps struggles as she tries to achieve her dreams of doing real police work, and picks up an unusual partner along the way. Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, who really nails it) is a sly fox making a remarkable living through underhanded conman antics. In Zootopia’s kid-friendly world, this of course takes the shape of ice lolly racketeering.
Together they pick up the trail of several missing animals and uncover a worrying mystery in the process – what’s going on in this fair city of animalistic harmony?
It’s good fun. Nice jokes (including a bizarrely daring animal ‘naturist’ spa), a social message that (eventually) doesn’t bash you over the head, colourful and imaginative settings – I really loved the cable car in the jungle district, would love a ride on that! – and an actual plot with proper twists to boot.
Idris Elba isn’t great as the Bull police chief, JK Simmons does a fair job as the Lion mayor of the town, and Jonah Hill Clone #3 (Nate Torrence, next in line after Josh Gad and the man himself) provides something close to comedy as an overweight Cheetah receptionist.
It does feel like Disney are overcompensating for their history of too-skinny princesses/heroines who appear to have low life ambitions, but if kids leave feeling encouraged to just have a go at things they’d previously thought were impossible, that’s not a bad thing in my book.
Worth a watch, pretty enjoyable if you pretend Shakira’s ‘Gazelle’ isn’t in it, and I expect we’ll see a couple of reasonable sequels fairly soon too.