Review by C.J. Bunce
Zootopia was the best animated movie of 2016, starring a new heroine named Judy Hopp. Judy is a rabbit (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) who becomes a cop, as determined as any kick-ass heroine ever to make our annual Kick-Ass Genre Heroine list here at borg. Judy perseveres through a boot camp gauntlet at the police academy in the face of those who only want her to fail. But she never gives up. Once on the force, like Charlie’s Angels, she is selected only for light work, like issuing traffic tickets. But she won’t be put in the corner. She takes on the most important assignment in the city, and becomes the heroine we all need. But it turns out there was more than we thought going around in the shadows of the animals-only utopian metropolis called Zootopia.
Zootopia+, a new six-part mini-series of ten-minute short films, takes a look at those citizens Officer Hopp crossed paths with during the movie (internationally it’s titled Zootropolis+). The result is more anthropomorphic fun, all with the same quality as the original and a slate of top voice acting talent.
The first episode begins in a way that will instantly reel in fans of the original. Beginning with the scene where Judy’s parents drop her at the train station headed for Zootopia, the camera homes in on one of Judy’s many little sisters, who has wiggled her way to the top of the departing train. Bonnie Hunt and Stu Lake revisit their voice roles as Judy’s doting parents. Here we get more into a relationship between a middle-aged rabbit couple and maybe why they have so many bunnies. For little kids there’s barely any innuendo–the tone is cute and perfect, although it’s non-stop little animals in jeopardy dodging pitfalls in the style of the fast-paced antics of Aardman Studios’ Wallace & Gromit series. (shiver)
In “The Real Rodents of Little Rodentia,” we revisit a shrew named Fru-Fru, who Judy encounters briefly in the movie. You can guess the reality show spoofed, but Fru-Fru goes head-to-head with cousin Tru-Tru as she tries to select the Maid of Honor for her wedding. You could see an infinite combination of tales as tie-ins or short spin-offs like this for any of Disney’s animated movies. It’s a bit like Star Trek’s Short Treks series, and Star Wars’ new Tales of the Jedi. Zootopia+ takes its lead from the background characters, delivering backstory showing how they got to run into the lead of the original show.
Rodentia pops up in the other episodes, possibly hinting at a feature-length film down the road. The most clever is “The Godfather of the Bride,” featuring the actual Fru-Fru wedding, as her Marlon Brando-as-shrew Godfather “Mr. Big” (voiced again by Maurice LaMarche) recounts (in beautiful sepia-filtered tones) the history of shrews in America in less than 10 minutes. It’s a charming and lovingly produced parody of the second Godfather movie–without the blood and bullets, of course.
In another spoof of a reality show, “So You think You Can Prance,” Idris Alba, Shakira, and Nate Torrence reprise their roles as bull Police Chief Bogo, pop star Gazelle, and desk cop cheetah Clawhauser. And sloth Priscilla (Kristin Bell) joins sloth Flash (Raymond S. Persi) on a slooooow date in the episode “Dinner Rush,” as an otter waitress named Sam (Charlotte Nicdao) tries to wrap up in time for the Gazelle concert (another tie to the other episodes).
But the biggest surprise is the musical episode “Duke the Musical,” featuring Alan Tudyk back as the voice of small-time weasel thief Duke Weaselton. Not only is the Stephen Sondheim-esque song number probably the best Sondheim song you’ve ever heard, the lyrics are sharp and smart, too. And Tudyk does a brilliant job here, supported by hundreds of animators making all six of these episodes look as good as the big-budget original movie.
It’s all over in about an hour, but what a great follow up to a really great movie. Don’t miss the Zootopia tie-in/sequel series Zootopia+ now streaming on Disney+.