Due to Australia’s archaic film release schedule, a review of Disney’s “Moana” will not be posted this week. In its place, please enjoy this review of another film from Walt Disney Animation Studios released earlier in the year.
“What if humans never existed?” That’s the premise put forward by Zootopia, an animated feature set in a civilisation inhabited by walking, talking, fully-clothed mammals. Ironically though, it says more about humankind than any other film in recent memory.
Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who has dreamed of being a police officer ever since she was a child. Trouble is, Judy is much smaller than many of her animal counterparts, and her over-protective parents would rather she became a carrot farmer. Nonetheless, Judy enrols in the police academy and becomes the first ever rabbit to be recruited by the Zootopia Police Department.
Judy’s dreams of solving cases and catching criminals are soon brought crashing down when she learns of her first duty – parking inspector. Her spirits are further dampened when she falls victim to a hustling fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), and again when she receives no thanks for arresting a petty thief. However, Judy is given a chance to prove herself when she takes on the case of a missing otter, one which is far more complicated than it appears.
Truth be told, the plot is the least remarkable aspect of Zootopia. As a detective caper it’s quite clever, but there are too many clichés and predictable moments. It puzzles me that a film with seven screenwriters – among them Oscar-winner Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and former-Simpsons writer Jim Reardon – should have such a weak storyline. Then again, maybe it was a case of too many cooks…
Anyhow, Zootopia holds up much stronger in other areas, particularly with regard to humour. The film (thankfully) avoids animal-related puns, instead letting the audience laugh at visual gags and the absurdity of the world that the film-makers have created. Watch also for the references to other Disney films, as well as parodies of more adult-oriented entertainment like The Godfather and Breaking Bad.
But where Zootopia comes home strongest is in the message it conveys, and it is a powerful one. The struggles the characters face mirror those in our own society, especially so given the state of politics in America at the moment. Exploring the theme of racism by applying it to a group of animals may seem childish, but maybe it needs to be. Moreover, the film recognises that the ideals of harmony and diversity may be difficult to achieve.
As for the rest of the film – well, this is Walt Disney Animation Studios. The voice-acting is superb, the music majestic and the animation puts other studios to shame. In terms of the previous Disney movies, Zootopia isn’t their best film in recent years, but I did find it more enjoyable than I did the Studios’ previous effort, Big Hero 6.
It may not be perfect, but when one considers the central message it delivers, Zootopia is the film that humanity needs to see. More than that, it’s funny, clever and has enough smarts to overcome its otherwise familiar story.
This review was originally published by YO Bendigo on March 23rd, 2016.