Zootopia review: one of the most satisfying movies Disney has ever made

a still from the film

Zootopia review: one of the most satisfying movies Disney has ever made

Finally, we've got ourselves a Disney film that truly scratches below the surface. That's because if you dig a little deeper, there is wonderfully moral and socially-aware movie behind all the cute animals and witty humour.

In fact, Zootopia may be one of Disney's best offerings ever with the film scoring a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

What lifts the film is that the it includes sly innuendoes about police profiling and workplace discrimination as well as allusions to grown-up pop culture favourites The Godfather, Chinatown and Breaking Bad.

I'm not kidding. Disney, a studio known for its fairy tale castles and doe-eyed princesses has sneaked a biting, subtle examination of bias (like anti-fox bigotry) in the middle of a talking-animals movie.

And it's all thanks to a solid screenplay. Directors Jared Bush and Phil Johnston wrote the screenplay for Zootopia, but a diverse group of seven writers receive story credit, including Frozen's Jennifer Lee, former Simpsons writer Jim Reardon and Josie Trinidad.

The voice casting is pretty spot on too: Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon A Time) voices Judy Hopps, a bunny who gets a shot at her dream of becoming a cop thanks to the city of Zootopia's new Mammal Inclusion Initiative.

Jason Bateman (superb as always) drily supplies the voice of Judy's underachieving nemesis/sidekick, a small-time hustler fox named Nick Wilde; Idris Elba is Judy's boss, the intimidating Cape buffalo police chief; and Jenny Slate is the assistant mayor, a sheep just trying to give another prey animal a hoof up in the world.

It's goofy and joyful. It has an actual message that it's not shy about expressing directly, one that's filled with depth beyond "be nice to each other."

At its core, it's a crime story. About 14 different animals who have gone missing in the film's title city - and Judy Hopps, the optimistic young rabbit (the first of her species on the police force) who tries to find just one of them and ends up stumbling upon a conspiracy larger than she can imagine.

Hopps follows clue after clue, drawing little connections here and there, and when she's truly stymied, she can turn to her best source - and eventual ad hoc partner - a con man fox named Nick Wilde.

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The vocal cast - which also includes JK Simmons, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, and Alan Tudyk - is excellent across the board, with particular props due to Goodwin and Bateman.

An astounding level of detail

The city of Zootopia looks something like a super-sized Disney theme park, with climate-based districts (Tundraland, a rain forest area, and so on) surrounding a bustling central metropolis.

It's all visually rich, especially the downtown area, where a foot chase undergoes a rapid shift in size when Judy pursues a suspect into a smaller-scale rodent neighbourhood.

A mirror to our world

Early in the movie, Judy protests: "A bunny can call another bunny cute, but when another animal does it." She trails off, letting the resemblance to certain human distinctions hang in the air.

The film has great fun skewering stereotypes - including a flamboyant, donut-loving cat cop named Clawhouser (Nate Torrence), and a DMV office run by sloths - something that will resonate for anyone who has ever waited at a government office for official paperwork.

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A lot of the film is similar; holding up a mirror to our own world. Its lessons about tolerance, diversity, and racial profiling may be familiar, but they are delivered with a conviction that is rarely cloying.

The verdict

Unlike the older Disney films that skirted around harsher realities to uphold impractical messages, Zootopia shows a true evolution in the studio's desire to tell young audiences stories that reflect the political zeitgeist.

Disney's movies have been getting better and better undeniably - from Bolt to Tangled to Frozen to Big Hero Six. Princesses are no longer waiting for a prince to come rescue them, giving the old stereotypes a complete miss.

It's delightful to see that Disney is encouraging viewers both young and old to see the world differently and more thoughtfully.

Zootopia is a sure-fire hit. I guess slyness isn't just a fox thing.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Aleesha Matharu

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu