Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Major Players: Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Out Of Five: Four
Disney’s always stood for traditional values – family, following your dreams, honesty, courage – and they’re always there, especially in the films with younger audiences in mind. But there’s one missing from that list and one that’s become increasingly important in recent months. And now the Mouse House has adopted it as its own. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Disney’s Diversity Movie!
Zootropolis is the city at the centre of a world populated by anthropomorphic animals. Young rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) leaves her home in the country to become the first rabbit officer in the ZPD (Zootropolis Police Department). But the fact that she’s small, female and a rabbit means she’s not exactly welcomed with open arms by water buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Despite being assigned to traffic duty, she still manages to get involved in a missing animal case and, helped by a scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), she’s soon untangling a conspiracy that goes right to the top of the city.
That rather illustrates why Zootropolis is a better choice of name for the film than the alternative, Zootopia, which is being used in a handful of countries. The city we see isn’t idyllic. It’s like any other, a mixed bag of residents, some law abiding, some not. In Zootropolis, there’s a number of different zones, such as the tundra and the rainforest, because different species need different habitats. We don’t see all of them, but the train bringing the young Judy into the city goes through quite a few of them. So hats off to the Zootropolis Train Company for coping with all those climate changes in just a few miles. Forget the wrong kind of snow and leaves on the line. They’re nothing by comparison!
But back to the city. From a distance, it looks more than a little familiar. And that’s because it is. And, although the resemblance ends once we hit the actual streets, it looks an awful lot like the city in Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, all shiny skyscrapers in different shapes and sizes. It goes further. Judy believes that anybody can be anything they want to be, a very loud echo of the Tomorrowland philosophy, although it’s one that Nick tries to deflate as his experience is otherwise. Which one is right? What do you think …….?
In this diverse city, the animals judge and discriminate against each other on the grounds of species. The biggest prejudice is against predators – big cats, foxes, wolves etc – whose instincts have been tamed and who now live side by side with animals they would have preyed upon. Except that the suspicion and acrimony still exists on both sides, because the former predators don’t think much of docile species like rabbits, sloths (I’ll come on to them in a moment) or deer.
Some of the animals are shown as completely living up to their stereotypes and way out in front on that score are the sloths. Yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me. They staff the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and the main man – sorry, sloth – is Flash (voiced by Raymond S Persi). Judy and Nick approach him for some information and he obliges, but it takes all day. Literally. It’s dark when they leave the building. He is, it has to be said, one of the film’s highlights – terribly good natured but desperately and frustratingly slow. He never speeds up for anything or anybody and comes complete with a “You Want It WHEN?” mug. For Judy Hopps, he’s maddening. For the audience, he’s utterly adorable.
How much of that the youngsters in the audience will understand is open to question. There’s a lot in the film that’s aimed very much at adults, and movie-going adults at that. Like the bears scratching their backs with uprooted palm trees. Familiar? It’s straight out of Disney’s 1967 Jungle Book . There’s throwaway references to other Disney films, Frozen especially, and comic books based on other Disney movies. Pig Hero 6, anybody? But biggest and best of all is a prolonged pastiche of The Godfather’s Don Corleone, known here as Mr Big. He’s actually a tiny shrew. Voiced by Maurice LaMarche, he sounds deliciously like Brando but, better still, the animators get the gestures and movements spot on as well. All he lacks is a cat – for obvious reasons!
While the diversity message runs through the film like it’s a stick of Disney rock, a glance at the cast list raises an eyebrow. Fourteen of the 20 significant speaking characters are voiced by white actors. An improvement on this year’s Oscars, I guess…… But that reality of the cast does undermine the premise of the film, putting it in danger of looking superficial and lightweight. In truth, it doesn’t have the thought-provoking, reflective qualities of Inside Out. It is, however, highly enjoyable with plenty of laughs and, despite its limitations for the youngsters, should be yet another Disney hit at the box office. Interestingly, the prospect of a sequel isn’t dangled in front of us. A lack of confidence on Disney’s part? Surely not …..
Zootropolis is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 25 March and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 24 March.