This year, Disney had a surprise hit with CG-animated feature Zootopia, a buddy-cop movie set in a modern metropolis populated by animals. We follow Judy Hopps, a determined bunny police cadet who moves to the big city to start her career.
On paper and from the early trailers, Zootopia really didn't seem like much with the whole animals-acting-like-humans thing having been done many times before. Watching the film, however, you realise that the marketing just didn't pick the right angle to sell this one. Instead of going for a generic approach, why not couch the film in a Lethal Weapon-style 80's cop movie type of thing? Judy (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is one of the most endearing animated characters Disney's created in a while and just when her overwhelming positivity starts to get a little much, she has to deal with the cruel real world and Nick, a sarcastic fox con artist. Judy is first dismissed by the police force as a meter maid because of her small size compared to other animals, a job she effortlessly excels at, before being put on a case which turns out to run deeper than just finding a missing person.
Or, in this instance, a missing otter.
Judy and Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman) are an extremely likeable mismatched duo in this and the sharp script manages to make them sound and feel more human than the human characters in most animated films these days. The story is one that has plenty of clever twists and turns to keep both kids and adults entertained and fascinated throughout but it's also one that tackles some serious themes like profiling and greed. It's refreshing to see a Disney film with morals beyond the usual "be yourself" or "love conquers all" clichés. Zootopia also has a great sense of humour and some terrific action sequences so it's unlikely anyone would be bored sitting through it. This is a fresh, gorgeous-looking and well written movie with a solid cast that includes Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons among others. Could have done without the sing-along at the end and maybe a more unpredictable final twist but it works fine regardless.
Disney really brought their A game with Zootopia: a fun and smart film with an effective upbeat message but also lots of heart, laughs and even some dark moments. The best thing about it is it doesn't talk down to kids and handles grown-up themes in a palatable way leaving you wanting to see more adventures with those characters.
One of this year's best surprises.