Disney’s latest animation has more names than Snoop Dogg. In the UK it’s Zootropolis, in the US Zootopia, in Germany Zoomania and in China the very catchy Crazy Animal City. So in the interest of fairness, and considering it’s about a rabbit who joins the police, I’m going to call it The Bill-vanian Families.
In the sprawling city of Zootropolis, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit on the police force. She teams up with the crafty fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), and they uncover a conspiracy that threatens to turn the animals against each other. It’s a proper crime plot, playing with cop movie convention and avoiding the usual cartoon tendency to descend into random action (it’s not The Peanuts Movie). Instead we get great jokes, audacious politics and Tommy Chong as a hippy yak. What boar could you want?
The city of Zootropolis looks elephantastic, cleverly designed to accommodate every animal from the smallest shrew to the tallest giraffe. Each one is lovingly animated, whether they’re a mane character or just lion around in the background. This level of detail and pop-literacy rivals Aardman, its reference points ranging from The Godfather to Breaking Bad. But these won’t alienate younger viewers (it’s not Fantastic Mr. Fox), and the chimpressive gag rate is sure to keep everyone entertained regardless of age or species.
Zootropolis is also one of the most overtly political family films I’ve seen, with ideas as bold as its colours. It’s not annoying or preachy (it’s not Happy Feet), but commendably timely in its discussion of tolerance, discrimination and hopportunity. These are big themes for little creatures. The use of topical analogy is closer to The Simpsons or even a Planet of the Apes movie than a Disney film. It’s a kids movie about the powerful preying on fear. You don’t get that in the over-produced Inside Out. Nor do you get DMV humour this hilarious.
A good-natured buddy-bunny cop movie, Zootropolis has as many strengths as it does names. It’s clever like a fox, it makes you laugh as well as think, and it’s Jason Bateman’s best work since Arrested Development. Laudable and loveable, admirable and adorable, Zootropolis is a family film that uses cute animals to talk about human politics. George Orwell would approve. And how many films in the box office top ten can say that? Essentially Officer Down meets Watership Down, this is a wildly relevant movie about the audacity of hop.