I’ve said before that I believe we’re in the midst of the second Disney renaissance. Since The Princess and the Frog, we have been seeing an incredibly strong stream of Disney animated films, all of which combined good humour with strong stories. However, I have been nervous about a few of these films before I saw them and Zootropolis was the one I was the most concerned about. The last time Disney made a film focusing on anthropomorphic animals with Chicken Little, it was a complete disaster and the initial trailers for this film didn’t inspire much confidence in me. However, after watching it, I have to say that this film has one of the strongest stories in this current Disney renaissance.The film focuses on Judy Hopps, the first rabbit police officer in Zootropolis, the most prominent city in a society comprised entirely of anthropomorphic animals. Because she’s a rabbit she is on the receiving end of discrimination by the chief of police who assigns her to parking duty rather than onto a missing animals case, until she ends up volunteering in front of the wife of one of the missing who tells it to the Deputy Mayor, meaning the chief has no choice but to let her investigate. However, there is very little evidence in the case and Judy has to get the help of con artist Nick Wilde, a fox who is a potential witness to the disappearance. Out of all of the films Disney has made recently, this is the one with the most intelligent themes. The themes in the other recent Disney films have been more simplistic (with the possible exception of Frozen) but here, we’re dealing with themes of sexism, racial profiling and the fear of the minority, with both of the main characters experiencing elements of these. For Hopps, her status as a rabbit and the way she’s treated is very reminiscent of the way women are treated in the police force. The elements of the fear of the minority come more into play at the end of the film, along with the idea that the predatory animals make up the minority in Zootropolis and the prey are the majority. The racism meanwhile comes with Wilder, his status as a fox making the world think that he’s violent and conniving and experiences in Wilde’s youth pushed him into that stereotype (with this revelation being one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film). The attitude towards foxes in general in the world, particularly amongst rabbits (with Judy carrying around fox repellent throughout the film) is brilliant commentary on the way minorities are treated in the real world, with the ending of the film and the culmination of these themes being one of the best seen in a Disney animated film. Considering what’s going on in America at the moment, with Donald Trump being the likely presidential nominee for the Republican party, these themes are incredibly important and Disney handles them here brilliantly. That’s not to say the film isn’t all serious though, as is to be expected there are a lot of jokes in the film. Whilst I don’t think the jokes in the first third of the film are all that successful, which does drag the film down a bit for me, in the rest of the film the jokes are excellent, all of them serving the plot. The jokes aimed more for the adult audience in particular do this, the references in these jokes never detracting from the overall tone of the film, in the context of the characters they are very effective, mainly the extended sequences referencing other Disney films (mainly with Alan Tudyk’s character, Duke Weaselton, being a reference to Tudyk’s character in Frozen) and parodying The Godfather and Breaking Bad.
The characters meanwhile are another highlight of the film, mainly due to the strong voice acting. As Judy, Ginnifer Goodwin does a great job showing the intelligence of the character and her determination in being a police officer, along with the disappointment she feels when she realises that Zootropolis is not the utopia she believed it to be. As Nick Wilde meanwhile, Jason Bateman brings in a great sly charm to the character that lets you know how he became a successful con artist, with this performance providing the basis for some of the best jokes in the film. As the film goes on though and we find out more about Wilde, Bateman’s performance becomes more nuanced as the complexities of the character are revealed, further cementing his performance as the best in the film. The interactions between Judy and Wilde are brilliantly handled as well due to a mix of great animation in the scenes with the two, strong writing and great interplay between Goodwin and Bateman, even if they spent little to no time recording together. Idris Elba meanwhile is good as Chief Bogo, showing his frustration with having to hire Judy and her being on the case, along with having a pretty bitter attitude about Zootropolis as a whole, although there are some comedic elements with the character that are some of the funniest in the film due to Elba’s delivery. Jenny Slate is great as Assistant Mayor Bellweather, although to talk about why would be to spoil the film. JK Simmons as Mayor Lionheart is a lot of fun to watch, the slimy politician angle and his focus on his political career over the safety of others giving Simmons some great moments, even if he isn’t utilised as often as he could have been. Speaking of people not utilised to full potential, Octavia Spencer gives a great tender performance as Mrs Otterton, the wife of one of the missing animals, but she is barely in the film. As Judy’s parents, Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake are entertaining and the concern they show for Judy is strong throughout, even if it is tempered, with the way they don’t want to raise Judy’s hopes and the elation over the fact that Judy was first assigned to parking duty feeling very believable for these characters, with the character arc they go through regarding this and their own prejudices being very well handled. Some good comedic performances are also seen from Nate Torrence (who also has one of the more depressing scenes in the film later on), Tommy Chong and Tiny Lister.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The animation for all of the characters is excellent, the mood of the characters being reflected in the animation in more subtle details in the body language they possess, with the highlight for this being the way Judy’s ears are animated. The action scenes meanwhile are some of the most fast paced in any Disney film, doing a great job of showing how each of the animals uses their physical attributes in the action, whilst the scenes of animals going savage take on this really dark tone that fits the mood of these scenes. The best technical achievement though is the design of Zootropolis itself. The way that each of the different sections of the city is designed is excellent and the way they’re all designed to work off each other is excellent. The background animation seeing the way the other animals interact with each other and the city is brilliantly done and the way the animation highlights how the different animals get around is brilliantly done, with special praise going for the way the smaller animals (such as the shrews, hamsters and lemmings) go around the city. The design of Zootropolis is probably the best design for any environment in any Disney film.
Overall, Zootropolis is easily one of the strongest films to come out of the second Disney renaissance. Whilst some of the jokes didn’t quite work for me, this was more than made up for with incredible animation, strong characters and one of the most mature, intelligent plots that Disney have put into any of their films, live action or animated. If we keep getting films of this quality, the second Disney renaissance will be with us for a while.
My Rating: 4.5/5