Disney’s noble tradition of cartoon anthropomorphism stretches all the way back to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. So there’s something comfortingly circular about having another bunny – Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rookie cop from the back of beyond striving to make her mark in a mammal-only metropolis – at the heart of its latest animated caper, even if it does owe just as much to DreamWorks and Aardman as it does to such House of Mouse faves as The Lion King and Robin Hood.
The latter, incidentally, was possibly the inspiration for the movie’s male lead, a wily fox – snarkily voiced by Jason Bateman – who reluctantly joins forces with Judy to solve a case involving mysterious animal disappearances. The results take them all over an impeccably realised alt-world that encompasses bustling city, icy-tundra and Amazonian-rainforest zones, not to mention a miniature enclave for rodents that provides the location for one of the film’s most inventive set-pieces.
That these include a subway car chase reminiscent of Speed and a rope bridge escape in the vein of Indiana Jones is testament to the film’s admirable ambition and relentless momentum. It’s so fast-paced, in fact, that there’s barely time to register all the visual and verbal gags that pepper the screen: advertisements for ‘Hoof Locker’ or ‘Urban Snoutfitters’ for example, or a poster for a musical called Rats.
There’s even a meta-gag involving pirate DVDs (Wreck-It Rhino, anyone?) – though perhaps directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore are being a little too self-indulgent when they have Judy’s buffalo police chief (Idris Elba, gruffly warming up for his voice roles in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory) namedrop a certain Frozen ear-worm.
It’s fair to say, too, that a carrot-shaped recording device has rather too much input in a noir-ish plot whose existential quandary (can predators and prey co-exist peacefully?) is the same one that motored the first Madagascar. (It also gives rise to scenes involving snarling, claw-baring beasties that might be a touch too intense for very young children.)
But overall, Zootropolis is a witty, creative and entertaining romp with literally endless sequel potential and the biggest collection of four-legged critters this side of Noah. (The sloths who run the ‘department of Mammal Vehicles’ are… a… scream.) In Goodwin’s Judy meanwhile, it has a heroine so plucky, resourceful and a-doe-rable we can even forgive her when she’s doling out parking tickets.