ZOOTOPIA/ZOOTROPOLIS is a pointed but obvious commentary about racism and sexism in supposedly multicultural western society. As such, its trenchant criticism comes at an apposite time in world politics. But it rather wants to have its cake and eat it. And I'm not sure it's any fun for kids. Because, after all, this is a kids animated feature!
The movie comes from directors Rich Moore (WRECK IT RALPH) and Byron Howard (TANGLED). It posits a world full of anthropomorphic animals who live in apparent harmony because they have evolved beyond the predator/prey instinct. This is meant to be a world in which anyone can achieve anything - a spin on the American Dream. Of course, the real world is not, in the words of Captain Bogo, "some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go." In other words, this movie is a clash between those hokey Disney values of yore, and our more post-modern cynical sensibilities.
This clash is summed up by our two protagonists. The first is rabbit called Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to be a policewoman despite her size, sex and fluffy cuteness. She still believes in the Zootopian dream. The comes up against Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) - a fox and con artist who believes that he's going to be judged as sly so he has no choice but to live down to that reputation. Naturally, as in all buddy-cop movies, this odd couple grow to like one another and to help each other solve the case of missing mammals. And, naturally, this involves them discovering that some animals would rather whip up populist anger and fear of a return to the predator instinct than do the far harder work of living in (a creepily segregated) harmony.
This is all good intelligent stuff - and the fact that the fight between a utopian belief in multiculturalism and the harsh reality of human prejudice is never quite resolved - and I think that's maybe the point. But as kids' movies go, I found this to be rather unsympathetic and hard to approach. I would love to hear from parents of very small kids whether they actually got much out of the film or found it too intricate and unfunny. The voice cast is, however, good, with a particularly fine turn from Nate Torrence as Clawhauser, the loveable cheetah at the police reception desk.
ZOOTOPIA is rated PG and has a running time of 106 minutes. The movie is on release everywhere except Japan where it opens on April 23rd and Turkey where it opens on June 10th.