Zootopia/Zootropolis Review (2016)
Disney’s animated arm has been responsible for a number of great films in recent years. From Tangled through to Frozen – there’s a lot to say about the high quality of the content. But here we have something radically different. A new story that’s set in the world of animals – a story that tries to tackle some high concepts while still bringing in the kids. Does it succeed or is it a shambling mess?
Zootopia follows the story of Judy Hopps; a bunny who dreams of escaping her parents carrot farm and making it as a police enforcer in the city of Zootopia. Sadly throughout her life she’s told she can’t do it; she’ll never make it and so the movie chronicles her attempts to overcome these obstacles. Eventually she does reach Zootopia where her considerable success is instantly overlooked by superiors. When she’s given 48-hours to solve a hard case; she ends up enlisting a seemingly sly fox by the name of Nick Wilde to help her navigate the problems she faces.
The film anchors itself to Judy Hopps’ story and lets us follow her from humble cornfield roots through to her arrival in the big city of Zootopia. Her determined nature and never-say-die attitude pushes her to dream of being a police animal – but learns very quickly that getting to your dream and living it are two different things entirely. It must be said though; sometimes the film skirts being almost too idealistic. Judy’s over-zealous nature can come off as frustrating with her character never really getting ground down long enough for the plots emotional shifts to impact on her.
There are moments where Judy feels almost invincible to the goings-on around her. “Nothing slows me down” she cheerfully declares before zooming after a runaway criminal, breaking into a mob-bosses limo and overcoming the odds. Mercifully by the films third act this comes back to haunt her in a big way; I suspect the films writers understood the dangers of creating an impossibly idealistic character and so turned it down for fear of putting viewers off her. I did however feel the pay off to the opening confrontation between her and the bully fox a tad underwhelming.
Thankfully the film doesn’t waste much time in bringing Nick Wilde into the mix – who acts as a comedic foil to Judy’s stern nature. Slotting into the typical bad boy mould, harping back to movies like Bad Boys and Beverly Hills Cops and managing to steal the show with a conveyor belt of classic jokes (The sloth scene in particular deserves mention). He sets up a number of great scenes that play into the movies animal themes and gives Judy a character whom she can hit the entire emotional range with. His own tragic back story brings an emotional resonance that raises him above the typical sidekick fare. I was most impressed with his characters reaction to the big twist; a reaction that was layered much earlier in the film and that feels entirely justified when Judy messes up big time.
The films political message is very heavy-handed – continuously playing up the predators/prey divide; bringing in themes from real life hate preaching, right-wing radio clichés and general false-flag paranoia. It’s a very big part of the movie would feel out-of-place in a film aimed at children if it wasn’t handled so well. Right from the word go, the film addresses the differences in species; with great distrust bubbling under the surface for much of the movies runtime. Small things like Judy’s parents giving her fox repellent (Which later gets called out) through to Judy being continuously undermined by those around her. The truth is the film does a solid job of establishing its message, weaving it through the plot only to then use this as a turning point well into the films second act – turning proceedings on their head.
What up to that point the film treated as background noise becomes very much the momentum into the third act of the film; Judy unwillingly becoming the face of the evil she sought to fight and suddenly those character annoyances that irked the viewer actually get called out. It’s a bold move and one that should be praised; if only because the deep political subtext adds depth to the characters and throws the films status-quo right out the window. There’s a few scenes designed to tug at the heart-strings (One in particular with a side character who suddenly suffers because of Judy’s actions) that bring home how well the plot had been crafted.
And all this without really discussing the animation; which is top-notch stuff. Disney’s improvements in the animation field should be applauded in recent years – faces on characters have small but noticeable reactions to everything. Buildings gleam and the different zones feel distinctive and vibrant as we travel between them. From the sloth’s through to the rats – every species feels unique and vibrant. The soundtrack fits the mood while the voice acting is done brilliantly – something we’ve come to expect from a Disney animation.
Overall there’s a lot to like in Zootopia. The film has a surprisingly stacked plot, interesting characters and enough going on to keep both adults and children entertained. The political undertones may throw some people off but it never goes into a situation where you feel it’s trying to manipulate you openly. It’s fun and going off the sheer number of marketable animals that Disney has on show here – a sequel seems inevitable.
Overview: A Disney classic that melts your cynicism with top quality animation and brilliant jokes. There’s a lot to like in this film and a lot to say about how it handles the themes it throws out.