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Front seat: It’s a jungle out there

Front seat: It’s a jungle out there

On the surface, this 3D animated Disney film by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush is merely a kids’ film about anthropomorphic animals living together in a giant sprawling metropolitan city (or an urban jungle if you will), but scratch beneath the hairy skin and you have a reasonably complex drama that tackles important themes such as the cost of racial biases, the value of female empowerment and the meaning of societal privileges.

Certainly, it isn’t easy to pack a nearly two-hour long film with so many themes without it cracking like a peanut under an elephant, but Zootopia manages to pull off the multiple messages with aplomb. If you want your kids to have a sense of equality, understand the meaning of social advantages and grow up with a distaste for prejudice, then Zootopia is good viewing material.

For adults, Zootopia is as good a buddy cop film as I have seen in recent memory. The film stars Judy Hopps as a rabbit named Ginnifer Goodwin who grows up with big dreams that are at odds with her diminutive size. Although society believes that as a rabbit, Ginnifer should train to be a farmer, she wants to become a cop. Here, while playing out the police fantasy as a child, she is bullied by a vicious fox and develops a bias against predatory creatures. Later at the police academy, she is the smallest creature by far, especially when compared to the elephants and lions, but she overcomes her stature and the biases of her fellow students by finishing at the top of her class.

When Ginnifer lands in the big city with hopes of an exciting career, she again has to tackle prejudice. At the police headquarters, Chief Bogo (a giant buffalo voiced by Idris Elba) assigns her to parking duty. While on assignment, Ginnifer comes across a red fox named Nicholas P. “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman), whom she immediately mistrusts because of his race.

Fortunately for the ambitious rabbit, Ginnifer catches a big break when she is about to be fired by Chief Bogo, and is handed a lifeline by Dawn Bellwether (Jenny Slate), a sheep who happens to be the assistant to the mayor of Zootopia, Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).

Partnering with Nicholas, Ginnifer goes on the hunt for several missing citizens, as Zootopia evolves into a compelling cop drama/mystery. Surprisingly, the film takes a thematic turn towards neo noir, at times channeling one of my favourite police dramas, L.A. Confidential. Along the way Zootopia features some humour — the best being a hilarious nod to The Godfather, as well as a couple of engaging chase sequences. I do wish there was more to laugh about in Zootopia though; it is all a bit too sombre.

The animation here is gorgeous. The colours are vibrant, and the creatures are beautifully rendered, featuring both animal and human mannerisms. Zootopia also offers some stylish night sequences to go with the noir. Similarly, the voice acting is top notch, and the chemistry between Hopps and Bateman is excellent.

Slightly disappointing is how neatly the film warps up at the end. Although the mystery is unraveled effectively, ultimately, the conclusion is just a bit too conventional for an otherwise exceptional film.

Rated PG for thematic elements, rude humour and action

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 20th, 2016

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