Zootropolis (2016)

aka Zootopia

2016 #116
Byron Howard & Rich Moore | 109 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

ZootropolisDisney’s 55th Animated Classic is their second highest-grossing ever, the 25th film to take over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, which makes it a hit of Frozen-sized proportions (at least financially — parents must be glad there’s no Let It Go-esque earworm involved). That said, I’d perhaps argue it’s a Disney movie aimed as much (perhaps even more) at the studio’s adult fans as its child ones. But I’ll come to that in a bit.

Set in a world of anthropomorphised animals, Zootropolis introduces us to Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a small-town bunny who joins the police force in the titular big city,* the first rabbit to do so. Despite there being a spate of mysterious disappearances across the city, Judy gets lumped with traffic duty, where she soon encounters small-time con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). That association comes in handy when she manages to get assigned one of the missing person animal cases and notices that Nick may have been a witness to the abduction. Soon, the mismatched pair begin to uncover an aggressive conspiracy…

Disney animations may be best known as musicals based on fairytales, but they certainly don’t make up 100% of their Classics line, especially in recent years. I think Zootropolis may be the first time they’ve attempted a neo-noir crime thriller, though. And I bet no one ever thought they’d see a Disney film with a sequence set at a nudist resort. Or in a drugs lab, for that matter. Or one with a substantial parody of The Godfather and clear references to Breaking Bad. And you thought Inside Out was clever for having one line from Chinatown

Once you factor in the many references to discussions that currently dominate social discourse — there are abundant riffs on the language of real-life concerns about race, gender, and sexuality — you begin to see how Zootropolis could be seen as a Disney film that’s primarily aimed at adults. Those concerns ultimately become thematic points so large that they cross the line from being subtextual “one for the adults” asides into being textual “vital to the plot” tenets of the film. So given the genre trappings, nudist resorts, drugs labs, parodies of 18-rated media, and very grown-up thematic points, you do have to wonder if Zootropolis functions better for adults who like Disney films than it does for kids who like Disney films. That sounds like a criticism, but it’s only one to an extent, because the kind of adult this notion supposes the film is aimed at is… well, me.

However, that’s not to say kids can’t get enjoyment out of it: there are plenty of colourful characters and locations, relatable situations, cross generational humour, and a moral lesson young’uns will understand. There’s the DMV sequence, for instance, which is grounded in an adult experience but so funny it must cross over. Considering all the praise I’ve heard for that one scene, it’s also a feat it lives up to the hype. It’s gorgeously animated throughout, bolstered by a world that has been magnificently realised, with all the different themed districts of the city. (After all the Disney movies that have had contrived TV series spin-offs, this is a film that actually feels like it deserves one. The setup is obvious — a police procedural — and the world the film suggests is big enough to warrant it. Heck, it practically demands it — there’s so much more of this world, you want to see it explored.) Michael Giacchino’s score is different too: memorable and fun, in part thanks to using a cornucopia of unusual instruments to provide a ‘world music’ sound that’s in-keeping with the movie.

If I had any problem it’d be that the story takes a little while to warm up, really coming alive (at least for me) once it gets stuck into the main investigation. That’s not to say the first act is without its merits (there are both amusing and awe-inspiring sequences there, plus some moments that are nicely paid off later), but the film’s need/desire to establish the familiar “you can be whatever you dream if you just try” moral message makes it take a little longer than might be ideal. Adults will probably guess whodunnit well before the reveal, too, but that doesn’t mean the journey getting there is any less fun.

There’s a quote on the cover of Zootropolis’ US Blu-ray that calls it the best Disney movie in 20 years. As much as I liked Bolt and Tangled,** and Mulan and The Princess and the Frog, and, yes, even Frozen, I think Zootropolis is at the very least a contender for that crown.

4 out of 5

Zootropolis is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

It placed 15th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

* I watched a US copy of the film, so I have a question for anyone who watched it in the UK: we all know they changed the title from Zootopia to Zootropolis, but did they actually change the name of the city in the film too? That’s a lot of redubbing if they did… ^

** Both co-directed by Zootropolis’ Byron Howard. Developing a pretty good track record, that man. ^

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