Zootropolis [2016]

zootropolis

In a world where mammals co-exist in a seemingly harmonious and modern society, Judy Hopps (Goodwin) the first rabbit police officer, teams up with a fox con artist (Bateman) to uncover a dark conspiracy.

Director:Byron Howard & Rich Moore

 

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons and Jenny Slate.

Following hits such as Frozen (2013) and Big Hero 6 (2014), Zootropolis/ Zootopia (depending on which country you watch it in) continues the trend which has been dubbed as the “resurgence” of Disney’s quality and box office takings.

Like some it’s recent brethren, Zootropolis is evidence of Disney’s new cultural and self-awareness; even though it contains cute and marketable characters, the setup which riffs on Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon (1987), somehow lacks the traditional sweetness of its past outings, but does bear them in mind nevertheless. After all, Nick Wilde (Batemen) does look suspiciously like the titular character in Disney’s Robin Hood (1973).

Indeed, the concept of Zootropolis is quite a leftfield idea for the studio. The multiple rules and systems of this furrier world are explained in the immediate, if somewhat wobbly exposition sequence at the opening of the movie; however, when the action shifts into the titular city, with views of each appealing,colourful and imaginatively quirky district, it starts to find its feet.

The characters are attractively realised, but the settings are the true evidence of the filmmakers’ thoughtfulness and dedication; amongst the innovations are a drying system for water-prone animals and a specialised system to deliver food up to a giraffe’s mouth. Additionally, a particular chase involving diminutive rodents is a kinetic and amusing sequence to watch.

There are also alternative spins on technology, social media and cultural brands (Judy’s iPhone logo is a carrot with a bite taken out of it) meaning that the composition of this world is exciting, vibrant and remains ripe for re-watches and further development in potential sequels.

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Zootropolis’s Mayor Leodore Lionheart (JK Simmons)

All of this ensures that there is a fresh, modern (and dare I say it, almost Dreamworksian) feel, with its quick fire grasp of modern society and prolonged references to The Godfather (1972) and Breaking Bad; this isn’t to say that Disney was old fashioned and hadn’t used anthropomorphic animals before now, but as history has shown us, it plays things safer with broader, less offbeat stories, and without the presence of such meaty subtext.

Much has already been said about Zootropolis tackling of very heavy themes; the age old division between predator and prey plays a big part in its exploration of prejudice, racial and class divides, feminism, the War on Drugs and even the hyperbolic flame-fanning of the modern media. Many of these are extremely evident, such as the poignant moment on a subway train where a tiger sits next to female rabbit, who then moves her infants further away; others such as when Judy criticises Nick for ruffling Dawn Bellwether’s (Slate) wool, are more subtle but nonetheless effective.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t flaws in the established premise. The directors do try to address them by revealing flip-sides to many of the messages and situations, yet these aren’t always obvious or clear, and all these facets and points of view run the risk of making the movie a bit too muddled.

Furthermore this focus on themes and ideas overshadows the growth of characters and the movie’s overall emotion; some story beats feel a tad worn and the movie sags slightly in places because of it, threatening to lose its overall definition by trying so hard to cater to its allegorical premise.

Humour could have compensated for this loss, but for the most part it is sporadic, especially in the first third of the movie and it could have been a lot sharper. Having said this, the movie does achieve some belly laughs at many various points.

Nevertheless, Judy’s resourcefulness and perseverance make her a suitable role model for children, and her platonic relationship with the wily Nick is something that mainstream cinema could do with more of, instead of overly familiar love subplots which are repeatedly shoehorned in.

With a suitable range of talented vocal work, this is a very entertaining movie, even if it is somewhat uneven and lacking in solidity; kids may not see all of the allegory past the plethora of bright, fluffy characters and imaginative gags, but then again, they don’t have to.

Slyly witty, Zootropolis is a rare and admirable (if not overly memorable) attempt by Disney to try and discuss some very pressing topics in this fun and compelling animated outing.

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