This review was commissioned by and written for Culture Fly
Disney’s dream factory has historically had a bit of a woman problem. Amongst all their kaleidoscopic imagery of fun and fantasy, the female characters have had narratives that move them from the ‘home’ to a ‘husband’ whilst sporting waists the diameter of a spring onion. Recent films like Tangled and Frozen have made strides to change the status quo but it is Zootropolis, with its inspirational lead character, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), that gives girls a heroine to really root for.
Judy is a resilient, quippy, endlessly positive bunny rabbit who doesn’t want a boyfriend and just wants to prove the doubters wrong. After becoming a Zootropolis’ first bunny police officer, Judy moves from a small town to the big city and has to deal with the reality of the real world, a world where dreams are shattered — her apartment is crummy, her neighbours are noisy and her boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), tries to put her down. Except, Judy is never put down and thinks outside of the box, putting in hard work to better her chances. Goodwin voices Judy with steely innocence playing off Jason Bateman’s scheming fox, Nick Wilde, well. The mismatched pair quibble over the smallest things as both use their ingenuity to get around situations, but where a lesser film would make the pair fall in love, Zootropolis keeps things platonic, treating Judy and Nick as police partners, not life partners.
The actual city of Zootropolis is a dreamscape of high rises, rodent districts where everything is to scale and rainforest tundras that are populated with the corresponding animals. It is a place where predator and prey live side-by-side, it is a city where diversity dreams have come true, but like all good film noir, in the underbelly of that dream is a possible nightmare waiting to roar.
Those nightmares revolve around prey being fearful of their predator neighbours with the filmmakers giving the audience a satirical, hard-boiled crime drama disguised as a cartoon comedy. There are moments when the film lays on its diversity message too thick and the satire is smashed over the audiences’ head as if it was a ceramic sink wielded by Batman, however, its message purporting love over prejudice is a great lesson for children and it comes at a time when the real world is becoming more distrusting. With their 55th animated movie, Disney is giving Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric the middle finger it deserves whilst delivering some cracking jokes.
The story also focuses on workplace sexism with Judy being the only prominent female police officer on the force and she is seen as a lesser, cuter animal. It’s nice to report that the film takes pleasure in busting the ceiling Judy faces and states that diversity of all kinds is what makes life and 21st-century city living great.
Beyond satirical jokes, the film does what Disney does best and brings dreams to life. Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore take much joy in riffing off famous noir and gangster films with a standout sequence paying homage to The Godfather. But whilst the plotting is tidy, it plays second fiddle to the atmosphere and satire, and with Judy Hopps, Disney gives children a character to really admire. It’s about damn time.