Stu Hopps: Judy, you ever wonder how your mom and me got to be so darn happy?
Judy Hopps: Nope.
Stu Hopps: Well, we gave up on our dreams, and we settled. Right, Bon?
Bonnie Hopps: Oh, yes. That’s right, Stu, we settled hard.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure this exchange isn’t what you expect to hear in the first five minutes of a Disney movie. But it is very much typical of Zootopia (or Zootropolis as it was released in South Africa) from Walt Disney Animation Studios. For an animated movie with cute anthropomorphic animals, Zootropolis is surprisingly edgy. It pulls no punches with the delivery of its messages about prejudice and inclusive diversity, among other things. Yet at the same time, these themes are explored without ever succumbing to heavy-handedness.
Zootropolis is massively entertaining – and in a year of Brexit anti-immigrant fear-mongering, and Donald Trump’s racist hate-spewing, it feels like the film should be mandatory viewing for every person on the planet. If only to restore some sense and hope.
Premise-wise, Zootropolis plays out as a mismatched cop-criminal team-up. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a country bunny with dreams of becoming the first rabbit police officer in the nearby city of Zootopia. Unflappably cheerful and ambitious, she makes up for her lacking size and strength through hard work and smarts. Among the police, though, she’s dismissed as a token placement, and she decides to prove herself by solving a case centred on a string of predator disappearances. This forces her to work with con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who has fully embraced the stereotype that his species is untrustworthy.
Many times with animated films, the stars chosen to voice characters may not be the best fit, and are simply there for their attention-grabbing celebrity status. DreamWorks is particularly notorious for this – Shark Tale anyone? With Zootropolis, however, actor and animated animal are perfectly matched. Goodwin and Bateman nail their characters, while in the supporting cast, Idris Elba as a dour buffalo police chief, and Nate Torrence’s blubbery cheetah dispatcher are especially memorable. Then there’s Shakira as pop star Gazelle, with her delightful theme song “Try Everything”, which is clearly Judy’s mantra.
These strong vocal performances are paired with extremely expressive animation, helping to attach viewers emotionally to the characters even more.
Zootropolis deftly juggles action, comedy, mystery and sharply scripted social commentary. The latter is definitely appreciated by adults even if children may not notice it. Kids should still pick up, though, on the positive message about being true to yourself despite social expectation. Judy Hopps is one of the finest underdog role-models to come from Disney in a long time.
Zootropolis ranks among those rare movies you cannot wait to watch again. It’s among the best releases of 2016, animated or otherwise. And it’s out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Time to catch it if you missed it at cinemas earlier this year.
Last Updated: August 16, 2016