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Zootopia

aka ZoomaniaZootropolis

D: Byron Howard, Rich Moore / 104m

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Maurice LaMarche, Shakira

Appearing out of nowhere to grab over $970 million worldwide, Zootopia is yet another reminder that when Disney gets it right, Disney gets it right and then some. In terms of Disney animation only The Lion King (1994) and Frozen (2013) have taken more money at the box office, while in comparison, Pixar have only one movie, Toy Story 3 (2010), that’s been more successful. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Zootopia isn’t as good as its success at the box office suggests. But the answer to that is: yeah… right.

Like so many Disney characters, Judy Hopps (Goodwin) is a bunny with a dream: to be a police officer working for the Zootopia Police Department. Despite no rabbit ever having even tried to join the ZPD, and despite the fears and worries of her parents (Hunt, Lake), Judy excels at the training academy and graduates top of her class. But when she arrives in the great city of Zootopia – where predator and prey co-exist in harmony – she finds that her presence isn’t exactly welcomed, by her fellow officers, and in particular, by her boss, Chief Bogo (Elba). While the rest of her colleagues investigate the separate disappearances of fourteen different animals in mysterious circumstances, Judy is given Meter Maid duties.

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While making the most of this change of fortune, Judy meets Nick Wilde, a fox who proves to be a hustler. Judy wants to arrest him but Nick is too smart to be caught so easily. But when Judy promises to find one of the missing animals, an otter called – appropriately – Otterton, and Chief Bogo gives her just forty-eight hours to do so or she’ll have to resign, a clue leads to Nick being coerced into helping her look for the missing otter. The trail points to the involvement of the local crime kingpin, Mr Big (LaMarche), and a mystery involving the missing animals that sees them reject their peaceful lives and revert back to their primitive, predatory ways. Judy and Nick locate the missing animals and believe they’ve found their culprit, but in the aftermath, the pair fall out over something Judy says at a press conference. Judy resigns from the ZPD when she realises that she’s inadvertently made things worse – prey animals have less trust now in their predatory neighbours – and she returns home. But a revelation there sends her back to Zootopia where she seeks Nick’s help in solving the mystery of the “savage” animals for good.

The first thing to know about Zootopia is that it’s a Disney movie through and through. There are the usual themes of tolerance and understanding, and overcoming prejudice, as well as a mismatched couple who learn to respect and trust each other, but thanks to a confident, engaging script by Phil Johnston and Jared Bush, these themes are given a spirited polish and never once feel tired or laboured. The cleverest idea the script gives us is a central female character who has a dream that isn’t based around some old-fashioned romantic notion; instead, Judy’s ambition is to make a difference. She’s perhaps the first Disney character (male or female) to be both completely self-aware and selfless at the same time. Goodwin portrays her with such a delightful sense of sincerity tinged with playfulness that you can’t help but smile at the character’s naïvete, and cheer when she proves herself to the surprise of everyone around her.

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Johnston and Bush’s script also gives us a great co-star and foil for Judy in the form of wily fox Nick Wilde. As played by Bateman, Nick is the kind of schemer the actor has portrayed several times before, but here he ups his game to make Nick both cunning and contrite at the same time, a neat trick that becomes more evident as the movie progresses. Like Goodwin, Bateman gives a charming, entertaining performance that benefits the movie greatly, and they share an enviable chemistry considering they’re giving vocal performances (and may not have even recorded their scenes together).

As usual with Disney – at least Disney under the leadership of John Lasseter – there’s a wealth of riches to be had, with moments that are among the finest of any animated movie made. From Judy’s carrot pen, to Nick’s son, to an app that lets anyone appear in a video with Gazelle (Shakira) (Zootopia’s leading songstress), to the Don Corleone-inspired Mr Big, to the naturalist club run by Yax (Chong), there are moments to treasure, as well as in-jokes for those paying close attention (Tudyk plays a crooked weasel called Duke Weaselton; in Frozen he played the treacherous Duke of Weselton). All of them, however, are overshadowed by one sublime moment of animation genius: the reaction of Flash the sloth to one of Nick’s jokes. This moment alone makes the movie worth seeing, and is one of Disney’s finest eleven seconds.

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Visually the movie is stunning, with levels of detail and colour that are continually arresting (no pun intended), providing a rich palette for the eyes that never stops being entertaining. The sequence where Judy chases a fleeing Weaselton into Rodentia (unexpectedly) foreshadows Captain America: Civil War (2016) as she goes from one of the smallest animals in Zootopia to a veritable giant when placed amongst the denizens of that particular area. It’s an example of just how inventive and effortlessly thrilling the movie can be, and the humour that threads itself throughout the screenplay matches that invention, with jokes at every turn and enough visual gags to keep everyone happy, young and old alike.

Zootopia‘s central storyline is enhanced by its timely message of tolerance and understanding (a message Disney have been “timely” with for decades now), and its mystery is satisfying up to a point (attentive viewers will spot the movie’s villain from the moment they make their appearance), leaving the characters to take centre stage and provide the audience with one of the most enjoyable, satisfying and rewarding animated movies of the last few years. It has a sweet-natured tone that can’t be resisted, and does everything it can to give its audience a good time, something it never fails to do.

Rating: 9/10 – animated movie-making of the highest order, Zootopia is a funny, sweet, charming, beautiful to look at movie that never puts a foot wrong in its mission to entertain; with Disney making a movie that’s this good, the competition – Pixar included – must be wondering just what they have to do to topple the House of Mouse from its (currently) well-deserved pedestal.

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