It is the mark of any good animated feature that the viewer forgets they are watching a “cartoon.” Pixar does this with amazing regularity, as does Studio Ghibli. However, Walt Disney Studios got there first, with Uncle Walt churning out animated films that tugged the heartstrings and featured stunning stories.
Walt’s films made us all forget about the unreality of singing mice and evil stepmothers who really were witches. We believed the stories being told implicitly.
(While we are waxing lyrical about animated features that make us forget that the universe we have entered is full of cartoon animals, the 2011 animated feature Rango was not produced by Disney or Pixar, it was a joint effort from several studios that included Paramount and Nickelodeon. This film was also a cartoon but one for the older audience members.)
With a staggering nine writers credited for creating the story and no less than three directors, Zootopia should have been 2016’s biggest flop. There are too many cooks and then there are way too many cooks, both of which normally spoil any broth.
This is not the case with this brilliantly told tale of a rabbit daring to dream of becoming a police officer in Zootopia. Judy Hopps, played by Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin, leaves her parent’s farm and graduates as valedictorian from the police academy.
She is made the Zootopia meter maid and a chance encounter with a robber turns her career around. But it is not easy. The beleaguered bunny has to fight Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) every hop of the way. Judy enlists the aid of conman fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and together they solve the mystery of the missing mammals.
There is something here for a wide range of audience members. Themes include moving away from home for the first time and daring to chase your dreams. The dangers of stereotyping and the animal version of racism is also broached.
Over and above these lofty lessons provided by the nine writers on the film is the story. It keeps things interesting enough that even at a staggering 108 minutes, the film never drags.
The voice acting and the film’s three directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush (who are, incidentally three of the nine names associated with writing the film) manage to keep the action rolling, the story moving and still make the characters interesting.
There are a couple of pretty decent plot twists and a plethora of sight gags, jokes and ironic moments. Zootopia is, in essence, a product that could be seen as nigh on perfect.
Some gags are comprised of the filmmakers trotting out film tropes for a giggle. The tiny Mr. Big, an animal with enormous muscle to enforce his orders appears to be a shrew or a vole, both of which are very, very small.
The film is rated PG, no doubt for some of the more white knuckle antics of the film. Add to the frantic action some transformation scenes that might frighten the younger members of the audience and the rating makes perfect sense.
What makes Zootopia work so well though is the story. It cracks along and works so brilliantly that it is easy to forget we are watching cartoon animals. The dialogue as well as the action moves the audience into a place where the animated bunny and her friends cease to become a factor.
There are some brilliant cameos in the film. Keep an ear out for perennial stoner extraordinaire Tommy Chong, the delightful Alan Tudyk and the Oscar winning J.K. Simmons to name but a few of the familiar voices in the film.
Zootopia earns a full 5 stars. This is a Mary Poppins film – practically perfect in every way. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and really deserves a look, or two…or more. This is just one great big bit of fun that should not be missed.