Hundreds of years ago, mammals overcame their instincts. Predators and prey stopped feeding on and fleeing from each other (respectively), and started working together. Now, Zootropolis is the centre of a new world, in which mammals of all dietary preferences live and work together in harmony.
Judy Hopps is a rabbit with a dream. In a civilisation founded on (in theory) the principle that no one is limited by their biology, she wants to be a cop. The police of Zootropolis tend to be predators, or very large – bison, rhinos, elephants. A bunny doesn’t really fit in.
She has to deal with prejudice, gruelling physical trials, and disillusionment as she works to track down a missing otter. Her only (reluctant) ally is a small-time fox criminal who would much rather be anywhere else. It’s the perfect set-up for a buddy cop film. Just with animals.
The set-up is extremely contrived, requiring the audience to accept a huge number of things before the actual plot starts – the animals in harmony, the total lack of birds/reptiles/fish. It’s a lot to ask. However, it’s extremely well-presented; the basic ideas are put across quickly, with small-town scenes used to introduce the audience to the basic concepts before anyone actually gets to Zootropolis.
This establishment is made easier by the fact that this is a very pretty film. It’s colourful, with a huge range of different environments and scenes. Every location and character is lovingly detailed and vividly realised. The dark and mysterious jungle is as realistic as the abandoned subway – it’s all consistently gorgeous.
Zootropolis itself, as a city, is the crowning achievement of the film. Tall giraffes and plump chinchillas occupy the same streets, passing through size-appropriate doors and interacting mostly with things on their level while sharing the space. It feels bustly and busy and about as convincing as a mammalian city was ever going to.
In places, Zootropolis is genuinely funny. Disney, for me, is rather more “miss” than “hit” with humour – most of their “comic” characters rely on slapstick and tired, lazy stereotypes. There’s a little of that in Zootropolis, but it’s of a higher standard than the norm, and there are more complicated jokes as well. Very little of the film feels gratuitous – yes, there is frequent use of stereotypes, but it is both necessary and effective, being sort of the whole point of the story.
The plot also works – like the rest of Zootropolis, it’s a little far-fetched, but it all hangs together. Judy and her vulpine counterpart have believable motivations and are sufficiently sympathetic to cheer on. Plot elements and twists are identifiable in advance, but not too obvious – enough to excitedly expect, but not to bore.
All in all, Zootropolis is a solid addition to Disney’s animated stable. It’s fun, exciting, and very polished. I’m sure the inevitable sequels will ruin all of that, but this first instalment is well worth watching.