- RatedPG /GenreAction, Animation, Comedy
It all started with ‘Dinosaur’ and ‘Ice Age’, and in 2003, ‘Finding Nemo’ broke box office records.
Then Hollywood’s love affair with the computer-animated animal kingdom erupted into an endless stampede, whisking in ‘Shark Tale’, ‘Madagascar’, ‘Chicken Little’, and countless others since. With six more animal-led animation features due to premiere the second half of this year, it has all gotten really old, really quickly.
No surprises that when Walt Disney Animation Studios decided to flood its 55th feature film with anthropomorphic wildlife and title it 'Zootopia', some of us reacted with a sceptical “so, what else is new?”
It turns out that a lot is new, actually. In fact, it is almost poetic that Disney teaches us not to judge a movie by its cover by giving us a film that is precisely about discrimination and stereotyping.
With ‘Zootopia’, the folks at Disney breathe life and magic into a worn-out and increasingly shallow genre, turning an animal-populated world into a surprisingly profound metaphor for human society and one of its most troubling flaws.
Combine this with the studio’s technical prowess for animation and knack for humour, and the result is a thoroughly entertaining, incredibly meaningful and extremely relevant film that appeals to all.
PACKED WITH HUMOUR WITH CHARM
In a world where human-like animals of all species live and work together in peace, small town bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer.
Doubted by virtually everyone for her unconventional career choice, the unfazed Hopps emerges as the first ever rabbit police officer and reports for duty at the metropolitan Zootopia.
But in this supposed city of opportunity, Hopps realises that she must continue to prove herself in order to be taken seriously, and an opportunity arises with an assignment to investigate a missing otter. Enlisting the help of con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Hopps is soon exposed to a familiar problem that is much more pervasive than she could have imagined.
As far as movies are concerned, “light-hearted” and “genuinely funny” are rarely the traits associated with films that can pack a punch with serious, no-nonsense messages at their core.
Yet ‘Zootopia’ – a seemingly typical animation comedy geared for all age groups – manages to be all these things at once.
MORE: QUIZ - Find your inner 'Zootopia' character
No surprise that we find an impressive trio sharing the director’s chair; ‘Tangled’ director Byron Howard and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ director and writer Rich Moore team up with Jared Bush in his directorial debut to helm and pen a Disney jewel that is golden from the get-go.
With ‘Zootopia’, it takes mere seconds for the laughter to start. And from there, it almost never stops. Packed to the brim with brilliant references to popular culture and universally relatable real life experiences, ‘Zootopia’ goes all out with poking fun at society and entertainment, not excluding some of Disney’s previous films.
All this humour is elevated with spot-on comedic timing, which materialises from a potent combination of impressive direction, strong vocal performances from the A-list cast, and lovely animation.
The attention to detail is evident not only in the film’s visual splendour but also in the sheer expressiveness of its characters. So fine is the work done by the animators that a number of characters, particularly Hopps, display such easily detectable nuances in posture and facial expression. It is almost as if the computer-animated personas themselves were giving strong performances.
All this comedy maintains a consistently strong rhythm that only ever pauses for the serious moments, which are precisely where ‘Zootopia’ triumphs on a completely different level.
AN INSIGHTFUL BATTLE
At its core, Hopps and Nick’s journey is a very serious exploration of a very serious topic, and one that does not shy away from pointing out the disturbing real-world tendencies that they so obviously represent.
A context of diversity and discrimination is established from the opening moments, and serves as a solid foundation from which the rest of the film revisits the topic at both the individual and sociocultural levels.
Each instance of discrimination and stereotyping is repackaged in a different form of expression, and served up with inadvertence and spontaneity while remaining profound. Each instance sheds an insightful and almost painfully honest light on perpetration, blurring the lines between victim and bully in its diverse pallet of characters.
When ‘Zootopia’ finally drives home its message, it is heavy with the troubles of reality, and yet it never feels preachy.
MORE: Wild Things - 5 things to know about Disney's 'Zootopia'
Such is the film's ability to balance light-hearted comedy with a level of seriousness, maturity and intelligence, that its weakest point – a by-the-book plot – does little to damage the film.
As with ‘Zootopia’s’ prescription for social woes, it has less to do with what the film says verbally and more to do with what it explores and how it explores it.
Audiences of all ages have enjoyed Disney movies for decades. But with ‘Zootopia’ and its aptly timed release in a troubling political climate, what we get is one of Disney’s most entertaining and meaningful films, and arguably its most important one yet.