If you go in expecting yet another gooey Disney animation film, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Zootopia—a play on zoo and utopia—is a city where animals, both prey and predator, live in great harmony. Or at least they seem to.
It takes a young, driven, honest new cop recruit Judy Hopps (Goodwin) to inadvertently discover—through her personal and professional journey—that things are far different than how it looks.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Hopps grows up in BunnyBurrow with the single dream of becoming a top cop to 'make a difference in the world'. Refusing to be a carrot farmer, she trains hard at the academy with students several times her size and physical strength. It's here she figures out that it's not always might or force that wins the race, but knowing when to do what with what you have and giving it your best. Hopps embodies the spirit of a 'trier' who 'doesn't know when to quit'. From being condemned to be a failure by teachers, peers and parents alike, Hopps graduates at the top of her class.
The film then follows the unlikely pairing up of rabbit and fox (Hopps and Nick Wilde)—Hopps has grown up being told to fear foxes by her parents, even been given fox-spray, fox tazer gun etc. when she moves to Zootopia, while Wilde has given up his childhood dream of being a boy scout and ends up becoming a proverbial sly, local con artist.
The film delivers a larger message about taming the 'savage', animal self and depicts how it's not size but the mind that rules. For instance, in the story, it's not just the predators who turned savage but an otter too, and the local mafia king, a small rodent named Mr Big, commands an army of bodyguards comprising bears.
Humour is sprinkled well. While rapidly calculating Wilde's tax evasion figures, Hopps makes a dig on rabbits being good at multiplication, or when a sloth named Flash who works with the city's department of motor vehicles gets hauled up for over-speeding (in the film, sloths are shown to speak and move in excruciating slow-motion.)
Singer Shakira as the sleek pop-star Gazelle makes a statement on the role of popular celebrities in society and the use of the mobile to capture evidence in crime a marker of information becoming democratised today.
While the film is about breaking stereotypes—'anyone can be anything they want to be' is Hopp's constant refrain—Indian references are shown in a forgivable humorous cliché: a yak with an elephant's memory chants 'aum' manning the reception of a spiritual retreat, while a lady elephant called Nangi (voice of Gita Reddy) teaches yoga with an Indian accent to other naturalist (unclothed) members.
The film is a reminder that while real life is messy and harsh, dreams and perseverance must fire existence. While fear thrives on dividing and ruling irrespective of communities or identities, love must heal all fractures.
The charm of a good animation film is to be able tell complex tales or even make subtle political statements (like in this case) in an entertaining, endearing way, appealing to young and old alike.
Walt Disney's 55th animated feature film manages to do all that in 108 minutes. And, it comes with a happy ending.
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Shakira