Co-directed by Byron Howard (who has talking animal movie form with Bolt), Rich Moore and Jared Bush, the film centres on idealistic bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), who leaves behind her 225 brothers and sisters on her parents' farm in rural Bunnyburrow and heads for the big city of Zootropolis to pursue her dream of becoming a police officer. As the only bunny on the force, Judy has to contend with species-ism from her fellow rhino, elephant and hippo officers and is dismayed when her water buffalo boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to parking meter duty.
Disney’s latest contribution to the chattering critters genre is an utter delight
However, Judy is determined to make an impression and when she gets a lead in a citywide case involving missing animals, she convinces Bogo to give her the time-honoured 48 hours to crack the case. To do so, she enlists the reluctant help of sly fox Nick Wild (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist who's annoyed with Judy for busting up his lucrative lollipops-to-lemmings scam. However, they soon realise that there's more to the case than meets the eye.
The voice casting is sheer perfection, heightened by superlative character design work. Ginnifer Goodwin invests Judy with boundless energy and perky optimism, while Bateman is delightful as the cynical, world-weary fox, with the pair sparking off each other brilliantly, generating the sort of contrasting chemistry beloved of the best buddy-cop movies. Similarly, there are a number of amusingly savvy casting choices in the smaller parts, such as a stoner yak voiced by Tommy Chong or J.K. Simmons (clearly on something of a talking animal roll after voicing the villain in Kung Fu Panda 3) as Mayor Lionheart.
A thoroughly entertaining animated adventure that's a treat for adults and children alike
Even by Disney's usual standards of excellence, the animation is jaw-droppingly beautiful throughout, with Howard and his team ensuring that every frame is packed with the sort of tiny details that will reward multiple rewatches on DVD. Clearly a lot of thought and attention has gone into the world-building, with Zootropolis divided into various species-friendly districts such as Sahara Square, the Rainforest District, Tundratown, and, best of all, Little Rodentia, which allows for a brilliant Godzilla-style set-piece when Judy gives chase to a slippery weasel.
In keeping with the world-building, the clever script has put a lot of thought into exactly which animal matches up with which job, allowing for the inspired gag you've probably already seen in the trailer, where the notoriously slow Department of Motor Vehicles is staffed entirely by sloths, a glorious sequence that's as deliberately annoying as it is hilarious. On top of that, the writers have clearly drawn inspiration from classic detective movies (leading the Telegraph's Robbie Collin to memorably dub the film “a Richard Scarry neo-noir”), so that the city-wide, Chandler-esque plot takes in various seedy districts and dives before opening up into a wider, conspiracy-heavy mystery with echoes of Chinatown or L.A. Confidential.
In addition, the film is packed full of fabulous gags, both verbal and visual (the pay-off to Nick's lollipop scam is wonderful), as well as a multitude of smartly conceived film references for older audiences, the highlight of which is a very funny riff on The Godfather involving a character called “Mr Big”. On top of that, the film manages to deliver important messages about tolerance, acceptance and chasing your dreams without resorting to sugary sentimentality, as well as slipping in a nice dig at sexism, when Judy points out that it's okay for a bunny to call another bunny “cute”, but it’s not okay when another animal does it.
In short, this is a beautifully animated, smartly written and thoroughly entertaining animated adventure that's a treat for adults and children alike. Is a spin-off cartoon too much to hope for?
Zootropolis is released in UK cinemas on Friday 25th March
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