‘Zootropolis’ – Film Review

Zappy cartoon caper that elegantly deals with racial, sexual and class discrimination

Who would have thought that the smartest film of 2016 so far would centre on a cartoon bunny? Saying that Zootropolis deals with complex issues of racial, sexual and class discrimination might make it sound like some sort of dreadful, preachy homework film. But its brilliance is in smoothly weaving these messages into the fabric of a film that’s very silly and enormously funny.

The story takes place in an animal world where all beasts talk, walk and generally live their lives in human ways (no humans are mentioned, presumably either never having existed or been driven to extinction). Judy (Walk The Line’s Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of being the first rabbit cop, despite everyone in her life telling her it’s no job for a bunny. She fulfils her ambition and moves to Zootropolis, a super-city where all creatures great and small apparently live happily alongside each other. Her grumpy buffalo boss (Luther’s Idris Elba) assigns Judy traffic duty, but when she gets wind of a possible kidnapping, she investigates with the assistance of con-artist fox Nick (Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman).

That plot works marvellously in isolation, with all the twists and conspiracies of a classic film noir alongside sweet, zappy, buddy comedy. Yet, it’s what comes in addition to that which makes Zootropolis exceptional. Directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) fill the screen with clever sight gags, like lemmings as interchangeable office workers or sloths as unbearably slow employees at the Department Of Motor Vehicles. Then there are all the observations of a society trying to advance itself, but sticking on prejudices that have been held for so long that even those who consider themselves liberal occasionally betray unthinking bigotry. What 2004’s Oscar-winning Crash was trying to say about modern society, with the subtlety of a rampaging elephant, this does on light, elegant, mouse feet. On first watch, Zootropolis is thought provoking and funny. With time, it may actually reveal itself to be genius.