Young female from a hick farming community has a dream to go the Big Smoke, become a police officer and make the world a better place. Everyone scoffs: she’s too small, too weak, no-one with her background’s ever done it before. Even her loving parents think she’s getting ideas above her station and letting herself in for disappointment and sorrow.
Needless to say, this being a Disney movie, she doesn’t give up and eventually overcomes all obstacles through courage, determination and idealism, with a bit of help from affirmative action and anti-discrimination policies, it must be said.
If this story was made with a human cast, it’d be a typical ho-hum modern PC morality fable about inclusiveness and acceptance of difference. But the characters are all animals, and their differences are much more formidable than those with which the human race struggles. The central character, Judy, for instance, is a rabbit who can barely see over her desk at morning muster. No wonder her chief – a big muscly moose who obviously works out – is skeptical about her potential as an enforcer of the law.
The parallels with modern America are obvious: somehow the animals have managed to work out that they should all strive to live together harmoniously, suppressing their natural ‘speciesism’ and predatory instincts. Just as with the human race, they don’t always succeed, and the results here are utterly hilarious.
Rookie cop Judy gets assigned to parking duty at first, but soon gets wind of a dastardly plot to undermine law and order in Zootopia by turning predators savage again, thus causing fear, hatred and suspicion among the prey. The set-up allows for visual and verbal comedy aplenty, such as when a sombre reference to ‘the elephant in the room’ turns out to be a literal sight gag. The scene where Officer Judy needs to get a rego plate check in a tearing hurry only to find that all the counter staff at this particular bureaucracy are sloths is a masterpiece of witty scripting and comic timing. This is another of those brilliant movies they make these days for kids, but with an eye to attracting the adults who pay for the tickets. I feel a bit dodgy going on my own, so I’m grateful to friend Deb who alerts me when she’s on kid-movie duty with her grandchildren.
As usual, (like when we went to see ‘Minions’ and ‘Sean the Sheep’) Deb and I laughed ourselves silly at the sly pop culture references which the kids don’t get. The Mister Big of crime in Zootopia turns out to be Don Corleone in the form of a tiny weaselly creature who chides his fearful petitioners for their disrespect in a Marlon Brando voice on his daughter’s wedding day. There’s no explaining that to the young ‘uns.
There’s plenty of funny action to keep the kids enthralled, but I suspect they’ve been spoilt by the sheer excellence of animation these days, so that they don’t understand the finer points of what’s happening here in terms of the filmmaking art. When I was a kid, cartoon animals were essentially human characters labelled animals. Here, although they are dressed and walk about like humans, they still look sheep, or giraffes, or wolves or whatever, and to a certain extent still behave like them. Pursued by the baddie’s wolf henchmen, Judy distracts them by emitting a loud wolfish howl. The wolves can’t help themselves and all start howling. Eventually they stop, embarrassed by their reversion to instinct. ‘I didn’t start it!’ says one, desperately seeking to offload the blame.
This is the funniest movie I’ve seen since Sean the Sheep. I can’t think of an equally funny recent adult comedy.