ZOOTOPIA is the 55th film from the “Disney Animated Classic” series, which these days is confusing when all of the Disney animated films blur stylistically. What began with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DRAWFS in 1937 was once a transparent string of traditionally animated films that wove a rich tapestry of magic right through to the “Renaissance” era of titles like THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN and THE LION KING (to name some). And then things got digital and computer animation changed the game. Suddenly Pixar arrived on the scene and Disney found themselves producing alternative animated films that were no longer categorised alongside the classic titles that preceded. Therefore none of the Pixar films (TOY STORY, THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE, INSIDE OUT etc) are classed as “Disney Animated Classics”. But hey, that crap is for the aficionados and all that matters is the quality of the product.
ZOOTOPIA is exceptional. Set in a human-less society where animals are cultured and civilised, the film tells the simple story of an audacious young rabbit, Judy Hopps, who defies the odds to become a qualified police officer – an occupation typically given to the largest creatures. She ignores her detractors and pushes forward with a steely determination, only to be faced with further discrimination with in the force itself. When she inadvertently crosses paths with a charismatic street hustler she finds herself at the centre of the city's biggest investigation. Without any support from her colleagues or loved ones she sets about solving the case and proving that anything is possible.
The first thing that struck me about ZOOTOPIA is how terrifying this concept is. I am sure the exclusion of humans is merely a means of telling a fun and fanciful story, and yet with a few discrete comments within the film it could be assumed that the animals rose up and destroyed mankind. The characters are referred to as “evolved” and similarly to PLANET OF THE APES we are reminded that they were once wild. In fact their primitive history of being “hunters” and “prey” makes the timeline and the fate of humans ambiguous. But hey, I'm sure that Disney would rather us accept this as a alternate universe and so we'll just ignore the horrifying implications.
This is perhaps the most “adult” film I have seen from Disney's Animated Classics series. The plot structure and narrative are derived from adult-orientated genres and various winks throughout the film reference some very mature media. There's a BREAKING BAD reference that, while predictable, defied belief. I kept thinking to myself “There's opportunity here but there's NO WAY they're going to reference it... hang on, WHAT? THEY JUST DID!”. And good on them. Kids wont get that stuff and it gives the grow-up audience something extra tasty to chew on.
The script is on-point for the entire duration of the film, from a hilarious opening sequence right to the zinger of an end-scene. The dialogue is smart and punchy and every scene is riddled with solid gags that never inhibit the narrative. The characters are wonderfully conceived with immaculate attention to detail and perfectly paired voice talent. With so many creatures from the animal kingdom occupying the screen, the writers have ceased every opportunity to be clever and outrageous, and the seemingly infinite range of species has given them a powerful platform to address some very serious and topical issues.
Bigotry, intolerance, racism, sexism, discrimination and injustice are all themes that are blatantly laced throughout ZOOTOPIA, and yet despite these issues being obvious, the film never comes across as overtly preachy. It holds a mirror up to our face and reminds us of our own senseless nature... yet it does so with intelligence and fancy. It also addresses media manipulation and fear-mongering, and to be honest I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed that a light-hearted family film would be so intrepid. From Disney of all people (the makers of SONG OF THE SOUTH... sorry, I had to reference it).
You wont hate your own human existence after seeing ZOOTOPIA but you might question your own fallacies for a moment... and that can't be bad.