Directors: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer
The premise for Zootropolis, Disney's latest animated film, is hardly a world-beater: a country-bumpkin rabbit comes to live in a city populated by jungle animals.
It sounds like the sort of cartoon scenario we've seen a thousand times before – not least in DreamWorks' Madagascar franchise.
As it turns out, however, Zootropolis is a colourful, creative and charming film, full of wit and invention.
In keeping with the recent Hollywood mini-trend of focusing on female leads, the heroine is the ambitious Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, who best known for playing Snow White in the live-action fantasy TV series Once Upon a Time). She is first bunny admitted to the Zootropolis Police Department.
“This has been my dream since I was a kid,” she says, although her appointment causes much mirth among the rhinos, lions and other more imposing creatures squeezed into police uniforms.
With 14 mammals missing across the city, there's a big case to crack – but Judy's bullish chief (The Wire and Luther star Idris Elba) puts her on traffic duty. But when she meets a sly con-artist Fox called Nick (Arrested Development's Jason Bateman), who has been running scams since he was a cub, she finds a partner who, reluctantly, helps her understand the laws of the concrete jungle.
Written and Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, Zootropolis, like all the best animated movies, works on several levels. The love/hate relationship between Judy and Nick drives the film but it is the rich layer of humour that cushions the story. With pop-culture nods a plenty – from The Godfather to Breaking Bad – the film is packed with clever references and sight gags, including a web browser called 'Zoogle' and a cab company named 'Zuber'.
It isn’t all pastiche, though. There’s a particularly brilliant sequence in which Judy and Nick meet a Department of Motor Vehicles employee called Flash (Raymond S. Persi), who is a sloth who lives up (or down) to his species title rather than his name, working in an agonisingly slow manner. In a format where high-speed antics are de rigueur, it’s heartening to see a well-worked gag that doesn’t rely on frenetic energy.
The film is not perfect – the inclusion of singer Shakira, who voices a singer called Gazelle, is a gratuitous exercise in shoehorning in her music.
But with Goodwin's upbeat chatter and Bateman's wry cynicism leading from the front, Zootropolis rarely lets you down. And with two Oscar-winners also in the cast – JK Simmons (Whiplash) as the puffed-up mayor, Octavia Spencer (The Help) as a distraught spouse – what more can you ask for from a Disney cartoon? A real treat.