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Thursday, 17 March 2016


(PG) ★★★★½

Director: Byron Howard & Rich Moore.

Cast: (voices of) Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Shakira.

"He's behind me, isn't he?"
THERE are moments in Disney’s latest animated classic-in-waiting where you have to remind yourself you’re watching a kids movie.

It’s as if the directors and the seven people credited with the story decided to see how many “grown-up” ideas they could throw at the script before people would notice.

That seems the most reasonable explanation for this wonderfully smart piece of computer animation, which is basically a police procedural about racism and prejudice peppered with references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad.

To put it in a more child-friendly way, it’s also the tale of a rabbit and a fox who team up to find some missing animals while learning lessons about being true to yourself and good to others, filtered through a Looney Tunes lens and references to Frozen (and there’s a decent Let It Go-style uplifting number called Try Everything to boot).

This multi-layered delivery makes it excellent entertainment for all ages – in fact, the only criticism is the film seems to pander more to the adults than the young’uns at times.

Goodwin voices Judy Hopps, a country-born rabbit following her dream of being the first of her species to become a police officer in the big city of Zootopia – an animal-built city where predator and prey live together in something close to harmony.

Hopps crosses paths with con-fox Nick Wilde (a perfectly cast Bateman), who may be the key to finding a missing otter and helping Hopps keep her badge.

The Disney team has created a compelling world that begs for sequels – the credits roll leaving you wanting to spend more time in Zootopia and its rural surrounds because it feels like a functioning place and not just an excuse for a barrage of animal gags (although I can’t help but wonder what the carnivores eat if it’s not their herbivorous neighbours).

Within this world, Judy and Nick are fascinating guides – the courageous yet naive rabbit and the cunning but cynical fox make for a great odd couple pairing that deserve more than one movie, mostly because they are well-rounded and nicely developed characters.

But will the kids like it? There are long stretches that feel better suited to the older audience, not because of “adult themes” but because how many kids watch detective dramas? You could hear the younger children squirming in the audience, waiting for the next big action scene or joke involving a sloth.

There are a couple of good scares in here too, and coupled with the sleuthy plot and its anti-prejudice undertones, it’s enough to keep the very young ones away. But the reality is this is a kids movie that will grow with the kids – they will find more to appreciate and understand with every viewing, which is the sign of a truly great family film.

Zootopia is a surprisingly sharp examination of racial profiling, prejudice, equality and stereotyping, and how often can you say that about a kids movie? It’s also the latest in a strong run of animated movies from Disney, who churned out a lot of average fare in the ‘00s but have delivered a quality streak (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now this) since the turn of the decade.

Adults and children alike should walk away impressed by this fun yet thoughtful adventure.

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