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Zootropolis review: anthropomorphic social commentary

March 22, 2016

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Dominic Preston


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Disney’s latest offering is yet another tale of anthropomorphised animals, once again taking a simple story and using it to tackle more complex themes, attacking inequality in a way that isn’t heavy-handed nor too manipulative.

The film opens with a quick explanation that animals have evolved beyond their original predatory instincts and now all live in harmony in Zootropolis. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) wants to be the first rabbit to become a police officer, leaving behind her parents and 275 siblings in the small town of Bunnyburrow in pursuit of her dream.

Her proud parents warn her to stay away from foxes, giving her a fox-repellent spray; the prejudicial subtext won’t be lost on any of the older audience.  But when she bumps into smooth-talking fox Nick (Jason Bateman) his cynical attitude to Zootropolis sobers up Judy’s expectations. The rest of the movie follows an investigation into a missing person’s case, generally following the same structure as any other good crime thriller complete with tense moments, action and twists.

The writers know that a good joke can also have social commentary, as Judy is frequently judged to be too small to be a police officer, while Nick is seen as untrustworthy simply because he’s a fox. The real-world race and gender analogues are mostly clear-cut, as when Judy meets the cheetah police secretary who calls her “cute”, prompting her to reply: “A bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’, but when other animals do it, that’s a little…”

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Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush deliver great chase sequences with fast editing and breathtakingly detailed landscapes and character designs. Every animal has their own style of walking and interacting with the other animals, which adds more weight to the city the Judy wants to protect.

That’s not to say that the movie is too serious, in fact it’s very light-hearted. Filled with jokes and puns, the level of detail and originality is outstanding and may be worth a second view just to pick out the billboards and shop names for their clever word-play.

Zootropolis does start to drag on its way to the final act, when the film quickly resumes the eclectic blend of action, satire and comedy that it started off with. There’s a lot to love here, and the effort to attack prejudice, especially on a level children can understand, is both commendable and welcome.

Words by Sunny Ramgolam