Disney’s Zootropolis has a thrilling storyline. Prejudice is turned on its head, and predator turns prey. It stars a gutsy bunny heroine who could give Jason Bourne a run for his money. And it has a soundtrack that propels viewers through a stunning animated landscape, which is as beautiful as it is diverse.
Known as Zootopia in the US, Zootropolis is on general release in the UK this week. We were invited to watch it back in February, at an embargoed preview screening at Vue Piccadilly. I took my four year-old, and we left the cinema buzzing with thoughts and images.
The film centres on Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a tiny rabbit who graduates top of her year in police cadet school, and travels from the safe farming community of Bunnyburrow to help keep law and order in the vast city of Zootropolis.
Zootopia is a land where ‘anyone can be anything’. Animals are encouraged to live as they would like to be, rather than in roles they’ve traditionally been given. There’s even a ‘mammal inclusion programme’ to tackle prejudice. The plot focuses on the tensions involved in living with this diversity. Hopps grows up with a fighting spirit after a nasty run-in with a rabbit’s traditional foe, a fox classmate, Gideon Grey. Despite graduating top of her class in cadet school, she’s ridiculed for being a rabbit cop by members of her new Zootropolis police force, whose other members all seem to be big, hulking brutes like rhinos, tigers, elephants and with a curmudgeonly, magnificent water buffalo (Idris Elba) as Chief.
Hopps is put on traffic duty by Chief Bogo, but after another dust-up with a fox (Nick Wilde this time, voiced by Jason Bateman) the two team up to solve the mystery of why mammals have started disappearing in Zootropolis.
Zootopia works on several levels. It’s set in a land populated entirely by tame animals, which is perfect for very small kids. Talking rabbits? Sheep who staff the municipal office? Sloths working on computers, sooooo slooooowly it’s hilarious? This all reeled my daughter into the film’s drama, and – with the help of steady pacing, a bit of mild peril and vibrant songs – kept her interested right until the end.
And there’s plenty for older viewers, too. In-jokes about other films – Frozen and Tangled especially – highlight what a grown-up, thoughtful story Zootropolis is, in comparison with those offerings.
The plot isn’t complex, but like the best Scandi-dramas it’s multi-faceted enough to leave plenty of room for thought. Afterwards, I experienced something that only usually happens with books, never with a kids’ film: I wanted to go straight back into the story, and watch it all again, from beginning to end. And that wasn’t just because I missed some bits while I was whispering the answers to my daughter’s questions. As well as the plot’s direct engagement with societal questions, Zootropolis was beautiful to watch. Zootopia is split into zones: snowy mountains, arid plains, the rainforest, vast cityscapes. Watching it was a bit like leafing through the best Instagram pictures from your favourite travel bloggers. The casting was impeccable; my favourite touch was the casting of Shakira as Gazelle, a slinky pop star who preaches peace and harmony, and whose hit song ‘Try Everything’ headed a pumping soundtrack that swooped you through the humour, wit and excitement of the film.
A hit, then? Yes, I’d say so. Possibly the best children’s film I’ve ever seen.