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domingo, 27 de março de 2016

Zootropolis is the Chinatown of talking animal films - review

Disney's ridiculously inventive anthropomorphic animation could be the most existentially probing family film ever made
In the new film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, the animal kingdom has evolved into an animal republic. Welcome to Zootropolis: a glinting, Corbusian utopia where the old predator/prey distinction no longer applies. 
Giraffes and big cats stand happily side by side on the escalator. Hamsters and wolves share a morning commute. The lion doesn’t just lie down with the lamb, they run for City Hall on a joint ticket. It’s the diversity dream come true.
Or is it? The film’s trailers promise a peppy, Richard Scarry-toned escapade, with bunny police officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) teaming up with streetwise fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to track down a missing otter.
But as the investigation draws Judy and Nick into Zootropolis’s underworld, the film’s shadows lengthen, its ears prick up, and we find ourselves unexpectedly – but by no means unwelcomely – in the twilit domain of film noir. Think Busytown by way of Chinatown. It’s almost certain to be the most existentially probing talking animal cartoon of the year.
It begins in bright sunlight, with Judy fulfilling her childhood ambition of becoming Zootropolis Police Department’s first ever rabbit recruit. Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), her sceptical buffalo superior – and in one scene, the deliverer of a spectacular Frozen diss – puts her on parking meter duty. And it’s here she crosses paths with Nick, a wily conman whose morals are even slacker than the tie around his neck. 
Like Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs., albeit considerably cuter, Judy and Nick make a hilariously strained but effective double act – not least thanks to Goodwin and Bateman’s tremendous vocal work, which trips along with the effortless swing and snap of great bebop. 
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Bateman, who’s still riding high from a career-topping performance in last year’s psychological thriller The Gift, slips into the role in that delicious way only an ingenious piece of against-type casting can. And Goodwin gives Disney a non-regal heroine for the ages: naive but quick to learn, impulsive and lightning-witted. 
She’s first able to exercise her talents in a cross-town chase on the (literal) tail of a weasel shoplifter, which is one of the many opportunities the film gives its artists to let their imaginations run wild. Each district of Zootropolis is modelled on a different habitat, and springs from a mishmash of real-world influences: for instance, Tundratown is Moscow’s Red Square crossed with Seattle’s Pike Place Market. 
Judy’s pursuit takes her through Little Rodentia, a mousey enclave with toy box-sized tenements and a monorail that might have been engineered by Hornby. The film’s vision of a place where lemmings and elephants live comfortably cheek-by-toe is so whirringly inventive, and so crammed with visual puns and goodies, you just want to climb inside and see how it ticks. 
Perhaps that alchemy of heart and wit is rooted in the film’s directing team. Byron Howard is a long-time Disneyite, who worked as an animator on Pocahontas and Mulan and co-directed Tangled, while Rich Moore is a graduate of The Simpsons and Futurama who joined the studio to direct Wreck-It Ralph. A soon-to-be-legendary sequence with the all-sloth staff at the Zootropolis equivalent of the DVLA strikes a perfect balance of both – and features a character, Flash, whose facial expressions I’d bet are at least partly modelled on Disney head honcho John Lasseter.
Chief Bongo (Idris Elba) in Zootropolis
Chief Bongo (Idris Elba) in ZootropolisCredit: Disney
When Judy and Nick’s investigation gathers pace, it becomes clear this idyll isn’t as frictionless it’s cracked up to be, and is still riven deep down by inter-species fears. (The film’s original American title, Zootopia, has an ironic tang its British replacement lacks.) 
You could read a blunt racial equivalence into this – and there are moments in which the film openly invites us to do so. (“Go back to the forest, predator!” a sheep shouts at a cheetah. “I’m from the savannah,” comes the weary reply.) But the allegory is far from rigid, and one of the film’s great strengths is the trust it puts in its young audience to decode its complex, nuanced message about the value of difference.
“Turns out real life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker,” Judy sighs after a few days on the beat. “Real life is messy.” Yes it is – and all the more funny, chaotic and beautiful because of it. So too, in the best possible way, is this film.

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