There’s a rumour that Disney has been poaching talent from Pixar ever since they officially bought them. And to me it was just that, a rumour. Until I saw Zootopia: A Pixar movie without the Pixar logo.
Zootopia (2016) is a Disney animation comedy/noir/family/drama film directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. It stars the voice of Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, a small town rabbit with big city aspirations. After becoming the first rabbit police officer in the titular Zootopia, she gets roped into a conspiracy with wily fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) that threatens to destroy the city from within.
Now lets get the first obvious positive out of the way – the animation is gorgeous. Unsurprising considering the studio behind it. But less obvious is the wonderful sense of imagination mixed in with the stellar visuals. Zootopia, as a city, has to accommodate many many different sizes, climates and breeds of animal, and the designers have accomplished this in both a practical and amusing way. The city is broken down into twelve burrows, representing twelve different climates, and while I would have liked more exploration of the different environments rather than the three/four we see in the film, all of them are still distinct, visually interesting and beautifully animated. Simply put, the design and animation of Zootopia is a feast for the eyes and showcases a level of imagination that I never experienced in Frozen or Tangled.
But the world would be wasted if it wasn’t filled with interesting characters and a compelling story. And this is where the Pixar DNA is most apparent. Not only are the characters well-rounded and darn likeable, the plot feels straight out of a golden age Pixar film. Its interesting, unique, imaginative and far more intelligent than almost every other recent animation. And on top of that, there is so much clever subtext in Zootopia regarding racism, stereotypes and discrimination that this film feels almost necessary in the current world climate we live in. Impeccable cultural timing. And not only that, but the message and metaphors are told in such a simple yet clever way that many of the kids going to see this film are likely to understand. And if Zootopia can make even one kid reconsider how they treat the odd student in their class, or how they mock someone with different coloured skin, then this film becomes an achievement far beyond being simply a good movie. And that deserves praise.
I’ve never seen Ginnifer Goodwin in anything prior, but after seeing Zootopia I hope to see a lot more of her. She embodies the aspirations and excitement of Hopps perfectly, making the character far more than the walking-talking metaphor she could have been. Jason Bateman is just as good. While his voice is far more distinct, he’s still hilarious, touching and just the right amount of sly to be likeable. On top of that, the chemistry he has with Goodwin is infectious, making their gradual friendship feel genuine and completely earned.
Despite all the praise I have heaped on this film, its not perfect. There’s a number of logic leaps, and the final villain lacks any defined motivation, feeling as if they exist for the simple fact of having a villain. But regardless of those minor quibbles, Zootopia is the best animated film since The Lego Movie and deserves to have every young impressionable mind see it. If Disney really is poaching Pixar’s talent, I’m totally fine with it if it leads to more movies like this.
General Audiences: Must-see
Film Buffs: Recommended