|'It's refreshing to see a family film from a major studio with such an unabashed positive agenda, and it therefore feels at least slightly cynical to criticise Howard and Moore for refusing to tone down their liberal angle'.|
Zootropolis (as Disney's Zootopia is known in the UK) is more than just a return to cute anthropomorphic animals for the animation studio. It's a film about tolerance, diversity, negative profiling and the treatment of minority groups, all issues which resonate clearly with the world of today. Revealing the film's core message is anything but a spoiler, however, as directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore make sure that moral cannot possibly become lost under any layers of subtlety from very early on.
In one sense, it's refreshing to see a family film from a major studio with such an unabashed positive agenda, and it therefore feels at least slightly cynical to criticise Howard and Moore for refusing to tone down their liberal angle. The spectrum of prejudices covered through the film's animal kingdom allegory make it easy to imagine that the city of Zootropolis is a microcosm of modern day America, although in truth it could apply to any number of places. This is a film that will very likely leave a lasting positive impression upon the younger members of the audience; it's just a shame that the adults watching with them will likely feel the harmonious message has been pummelled into them with the delicacy of an elephant stamping on their head.
The story offers a family-friendly take on the buddy movie, with police officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and petty criminal Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) forming a likeable odd couple partnership which, whilst never threatening to truly innovate the tried and tested formula, gets better as the film goes on. The case the pair work on unfolds pleasingly if episodically, only falling apart a little through some lazy deus ex machina in the final act.
Aesthetically, Zootropolis lovingly harks back to the studio's animal-centric classics of the mid-20th Century. Nick in particular is clearly modelled after Disney's version of Robin Hood and is all the better for it. The pop culture references from outside the studio's back catalogue meanwhile are remarkably grown-up and generally work well, although a sequence involving a naturist resort feels uncomfortably ill-advised. A Godfather sequence complete with Vito Corleone reimagined as an arctic shrew is fun, if somewhat hackneyed in its execution. If you never thought you'd see a Disney film with a Breaking Bad parody in it, however, then Zootropolis proves you wrong rather superbly.
"What would Pixar do?" always feels like a slightly unfair question to ask when assessing modern animation, but when John Lasseter's name is listed as executive producer it makes it somewhat easier. As good as it is in many respects, not least in its resolute moral core, Zootropolis ends up continuing Disney's current strong form without ever threatening Pixar levels of excellence.