Zootropolis, Zootopia… Despite the renaming malarkey for the European market – and the awkwardness that could have ensued – Zootropolis‘ release into the cinema wilderness this year was anything but collared, as it sunk its teeth into more than $1 billion at the box office, making it the highest-grossing original Disney story ever. And what a story – despite its simplicity, by maintaining the rich seam of detail and social commentary that has become a hallmark of Disney, Zootropolis truly delivers for both children and adults alike. Plus, animals talk – and that human desire to anthropomorphise anything and everything possible in order to make it cute and relatable is slaked.
Judy Hopps, rabbit and wannabe police hotshot, is our protagonist. From her buoyant disposition, to the gift of multiple cotton-tailed asides that the subject of rabbits can provide (“I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but we are good at multiplying”), Zootropolis hinges on the likability of its leading lady. Gloriously intoned by the effervescent Ginnifer Goodwin, there was a danger that Judy Hopps could have been a little twee – after all, she’s obsessed with making a difference and possessed of a huge amount of positivity – but her impressive force of will and shrewd intelligence prevent this.
Hopps is met, paw to paw, by the wily fox Nick Wilde. In the same way that Judy is a fluffy “dumb bunny,” Nick is a “sly fox,” and yet the subtlety of their characterisation allows these facets to work in harmony with others and never overpower the characters as a whole. Nick is a wisecracking cynic who talks a big game, but underneath it all he just wants to be trusted and loved – this is Disney, after all. Speaking of, the famed animation studio do give good fox with Nick an ode to that other tasty fox, Robin Hood – even down to his clothing colour scheme. Jason Bateman is also an inspired choice for his voice, bringing sangfroid and swagger to this small-time hustler. The two are a winning combination to power Zootropolis, naturally complementing one another’s attitudes (cynic vs. optimist) and skillsets (predator vs. prey).
Hopps and Wilde are joined by a delightful cast of supporting creatures, well-chosen and well-drawn – both literally and figuratively: Flash, the ‘fastest-working’ sloth in the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) with a penchant for speeding; Clawhauser, the fat and flamboyant doughnut-loving cheetah cop (his “O.M. Goodness!” exclamation is a personal favourite); Finnick, the unexpectedly street-wise and ‘mature’ fennec fox pal of Nick’s; and Assistant Mayor Bellwether, who brought in “the sheep vote” for Mayor Lionheart.
Aesthetically, the animation is as stunning as ever. Vibrant colours abound, with beautifully detailed and fully-conceived mini climates for each district of the sprawling city and its inhabitants’ various needs. The technical skill is superb too, with Disney breaking new ground (obviously) with their iGroom fur-controlling tool. Individual strands of hair were created and manipulated – even the film’s smallest rodents beat the hair count of Frozen’s Elsa and her fabulous plait (480,000 vs 400,000). The characters’ fur is tangible, itching to be touched (more on that later), and even though Judy may not appreciate the thought, she is one fluffy bunny.
The pop-culture and in-house Disney references throughout the film are also seriously on-point: I never anticipated the day I would see this bastion of family-focused entertainment reference Breaking Bad. The idea, too, of the city’s crime lord and mafia head honcho being a) a tiny – if vicious – shrew, and b) a dead ringer for Vito Corleone, was a thrill for cinema buffs everywhere (“You come here unannounced on the day my daughter is to be married… You disrespected me, you disrespected my Grandmama… ”). As the studio moves with the times, his spoiled daughter Fru Fru is also enjoyably Jersey Shore in both look and sound. We also get innumerable Disney-on-Disney mentions, the most notable being weaselly Duke Weaselton and his pirate DVDs, with titles such as Wrangled, Wreck-It Rhino, Pig Hero 6, Meowana and Floatzen 2 (plus a ‘Weaselton/Weselton’ gag, à la Frozen). Judy also has a delightful foot-tap homage to Bambi’s Thumper, the last high-profile bunny from Disney, all the way back in 1942.
There is also much fascinating subtext to Zootropolis. It’s a feminist piece – Judy’s ‘bunnyhood’ makes her an unexpected and underrated member of the ZPD – the first of her species in fact – who obviously could never possibly hope to manage more than her first assignment of parking-meter duty simply because she is small, cute and fluffy. The comments on social stereotypes and relationships between differently-perceived societal and indigenous groups are clever, too: Judy corrects Nick for calling her “cute” as it’s only acceptable for other bunnies to do so (otherwise, is deemed patronising and insulting). Nick himself meanwhile struggles with society’s expectations of him as a predator, and therefore inherently untrustworthy – he is muzzled as a young cub by a group of prey animals when he tries to join their Junior Rangers troop, and deeply wounded when Judy whips out her Fox Repellent spray, demonstrating that she too can still fall victim to her deep-seated childhood prejudices. Tackling the social construct of wearing clothes is also a stroke of genius, when Judy and Nick visit a nudist club during their investigation and are horrified at observing animals in their natural state – and especially in revealing yoga poses.
Zootropolis manages to have simple, inspiring messages for children, which it neither rams down the audience’s throat nor condescends to adults with – personal goals can be achieved through hard work, and you should never be afraid to dream big or allow yourself to be limited by others’ perceptions of you. Standard Disney then, but they’re always clever enough to package it well – and differently – each time. For those interested by the ‘Disney Princess’ quandary too, there’s no Nick Wilde saving the day here. Zootropolis is 100% about teamwork, and if anyone is doing any saving it’s Judy, bringing out the best in Nick and others, as she smashes through rabbit glass ceilings and subverts expectations. Give that gal a carrot.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 9…
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2016
20 – The Witch
19= Son of Saul
19= The Hateful Eight
18 – Midnight Special
17 – American Honey
16= Embrace of the Serpent
16= Captain America: Civil War
15 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 – Creed
13 – Hail, Caesar!
12 – The Revenant
11 – Weiner
10 – Everybody Wants Some!!
9 – Zootropolis
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2016 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2016!