Rabbit-and-fox pair adds fresh spin to buddy cop genre

Officer Judy Hopps is voiced by actress Ginnifer Goodwin.
Officer Judy Hopps is voiced by actress Ginnifer Goodwin.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

REVIEW / ANIMATION

ZOOTOPIA (PG)

109 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

THE STORY: Animals have evolved beyond their predator-and-prey relationships. Zootopia is the metropolis where they live and work together. But when animals go missing and return to their feral state, panic threatens to tear society apart. Idealistic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first bunny to make it as a cop, has to solve the case with some grudging help from wily fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour movies, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat (2013). To this list of famous film buddies, add a rabbit and a fox.

Among the things that the film gives a fresh spin to is the well-worn genre of odd-couple buddy cop movie. Nick might be a small-time hustler repurposing elephantine popsicles for the lemming market, but he is reluctantly roped in to be Judy's partner and even gets a sticker badge.

There is plenty of inventiveness and attention to detail here, from the exuberant script to the lively voice work and the bright and enticing animation.

In Zootopia, an enticingly innovative concept, there are trains with doors of varying sizes to cater to different species and different neighbourhoods from teensy-sized rodent-ville to freezing tundra land.

The animal characters come alive, thanks to the expressive artwork and voice talents such as Goodwin, who brings idealism and determination to Judy, and Bateman, who imbues Nick with dry wit and a soft side.

Keeping the pace zippy is an irresistible sense of fun and humour. There are plenty of animal puns such as a literal take on acknowledging the elephant in the room and visual jokes. Taking a dig at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the United States, which is notorious for being frustratingly slow in its service, a hilarious slo-mo (or should it be sloth-mo) sequence features a sloth ironically named Flash at, where else, the DMV.

For the adults, there are pop culture zingers aplenty - an arctic shrew crime boss named Mr Big, who speaks like Marlon Brando in The Godfather movies; an irritated exclamation of "Let it go", the biggest hit song from Disney's Frozen (2013); and even a nod to meth drama Breaking Bad (2008-2013).

But maybe it would have been better to dial down the meta jokes a little, since the film is already strong enough on its own; playing "spot the reference" tends to take one out of the movie.

For all the animal antics on display here, the movie also gently broaches all-too-human issues of stereotyping, prejudice and racism. This is something worthwhile to chew over, even for younger audiences.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Rabbit-and-fox pair adds fresh spin to buddy cop genre'. Print Edition | Subscribe