After years playing second fiddle to rival studios, Walt Disney Animation is in its strongest shape in over a decade. Both ‘Frozen’ (2013) and ‘Big Hero 6’ (2016) achieved what so few films are able to do - both were critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and both received Oscars for Best Animated Film. If ‘Frozen’ promised a new energy at Disney, ‘Big Hero 6’ confirmed it, and with their latest animated feature ‘Zootopia’, they’ve delivered a third home run, another instant classic we’d long thought Disney incapable of anymore.
Carnivores and herbivores have found a way to live in harmony with one another, but that hasn’t stopped prejudices between the species. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young rabbit with big dreams of being the first bunny police officer in the capital of Zootopia, but barely anyone believes she can do it. Relegated to parking duties by her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), Judy falls into the path of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a cunning fox working as a con man. The two couldn’t be more different, but when animals around the city begin to go missing, Judy realises that Nick might be her best shot at solving the case and winning her the respect she so badly wants.
From the very beginning, ‘Zootopia’ moves with a breezy and refreshing energy, the world of Judy’s country home and the city itself rendered in giddy, beautiful colour. The concept of a world where animals live peacefully with one another is a lovely one, but it's to the credit of the creatives behind the film that this world feels as complete as it is, the smallest details (such as the extreme height differences between animals) thought through and addressed in witty and wonderfully logical manners. The film looks gorgeous, another significant step for the studio, and the animated performances shed yet another layer of that overacting that has infected any animated film made in the U.S. not produced by Pixar. In fact, ‘Zootopia’ is the closest Disney has come to capturing that unique Pixar flavour, a combination of a believable world, terrific characters and a strong moral message. The themes at the heart of the film are surprisingly powerful and potent, introducing young audiences to ideas of equality and tolerance. Judy’s first instinct is to mistrust Nick because he is a fox, a prejudice she sees as justified while the ones against her for being too small and cute aren’t, but the effect of that prejudice is what drives the heart of the film. The metaphor at the heart of the film could apply to any form of intolerance, from racism to homophobia to sexism. That a major animated film for kids is willing to tackle these issues head on and with this level of maturity is a wonderful surprise and gives great hope for the future. Coupled with the message of female empowerment in ‘Frozen’, this all suggests that Disney is once again as interested in contributing to its audience as well as entertaining them.
Its great comic wit and timing is bolstered by the tremendous detail in the images, so much so that you find yourself taking in as much as possible so as not to miss anything.
And entertaining is very much what ‘Zootopia’ does with aplomb. Its great comic wit and timing is bolstered by the tremendous detail in the images, so much so that you find yourself taking in as much as possible so as not to miss anything. At its best, the film finds delicious correlations between real world bureaucracy and the natural habits of animals, some of which had me screaming with laughter. Dialogue is quick and fast, each character is memorable and distinct, and each narrative twist and turn feels both necessary and thrilling. The rapport between Judy and Nick is also tremendous, helped immensely by the terrific voice work from Goodwin and Bateman. There’s something inherently charming about watching opposites attract, and once again Disney have found the breadth of possibility in a central relationship not built around love and attraction. As Judy and Nick follow the leads in the case, their differing characteristics go from hindrances to vital skills, each seeing the value in one another.
There’s something really magical about ‘Zootopia’. It could be its gorgeous visuals, its fresh and endlessly entreating premise or its genuine moral convictions. More likely, it’s a combination of all three. It left me giddy with glee and already looking forward to diving in to this film again to take in more of its detail, its humour and its heart. It also fills me with joy to see a major studio film aimed at children that’s willing to stand up and speak for racial, sexual and gender equality with such tenderness and clarity. That Walt Disney Animation have now produced three beautiful films in a row is almost too good to be true, and if ‘Zootopia’ is anything to go by, there’s even more magic around the corner. I cannot recommend this film enough - as a die-hard lover of Disney and of animation in general, I could not have walked away happier.