Zootopia (2016) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast (voices): Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Tommy Chong, Kristen Bell (cameo)
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Screenplay: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Review published February 23, 2016
Judy Hopps (Goodwin, Walk the Line) is a bunny rabbit from farm country who always wanted to be a police officer in the big mammal-filled, melting-pot metropolis of Zootopia, where all of the animals have given up their predator/prey ways in order to live in harmony and can be what they really dream to be in life -- at least, that's the ideal they strive to achieve. She ends up getting her wish when she's hired as the first rabbit in the new-look ZPD (Zootropia Police Department). Not being a large or sturdy mammal, she isn't taken seriously, relegated to the somewhat thankless token role as meter maid.
Nick Wilde (Bateman, The Gift) is a sly fox in town who spends all his days working on big cons, including fleecing bleeding-heart Judy from a bit of money he parlays into much more. Eventually, Judy leans on the highly connected Nick in order to provide information on an actual criminal case she stumbles into involving a missing otter, and after a run-in with her tough-as-nails boss, she ends up having to solve it within 48 hours, or lose her job. The investigation leads to uncovering a much bigger story involving predators going back to their old ways and causing a state of fear once again among the overwhelming majority populace of prey that leads to an increasing level of mistrust toward whole groups of animals who've done nothing wrong.
Zootopia is a Disney animated buddy-comedy feature with much more serious themes on its mind. Its intent is to work in metaphors on how everyone, no matter what you look like or from what walk of life, should strive to get along. It also looks at racial profiling and prejudice, suggesting that we shouldn't judge types before getting to know them. In some ways, it will remind older viewers of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in its tale, with its detective story plot and message of tolerance, though without the live-action human component that made the Robert Zemeckis flick unique for its era. It is also about scapegoating order to keep people in fear so that they will hand you over more power. Whether it's Muslims or minorities in the inner cities, it's a tactic that's been used as long as media has been around, and this family film seems willing to tackle such weighty issues even at the cost of easy, breezy fun.
The jokes are mostly what you'd expect from a film with anthropomorphic animals, with lots of clever allusions to the various traits we all know about certain species, and a good deal of puns. One of the bigger gag set pieces involves following a lead at a 'naturalist colony' where the animals can be free of their clothing, much to the unease of Officer Hopps. Another one involves a need to run a plate at the DMV that is completely run by sloths (a bit of satire toward the government-run department, no doubt), who an impatient bunny with a deadline isn't too fond of waiting for. There are also a slew of inside jokes and easter eggs that should please Disney-philes (you'll have to read fast to catch most of the fake titles sold by a street seller of pirated videos).
Zootropia is colorful, well animated with a varied array of well rendered characters, nice voice work, and enough good humor to recommend, but it does lumber in the second half, when the heavier themes begin to encroach on the light build-up. I'm all for social commentary in films; I gave Wall-E some high kudos for doing just that. But Zootopia's tone does become inconsistent as a result, and though the many credited writers try to keep the gags zinging and the pace zippy, the film does lose begin to experience a high degree of drag when the story wades through deeper waters, which unfortunately is most of the last forty-five minutes. While I agree with the themes against prejudice, profiling and scapegoating that the filmmakers are trying to impart, it's not altogether successful in marrying sugary sweet comedy with the more potent medicine underneath. Like going to a real zoo, it's fun to see such beautiful creatures, and with such variety, but the nature of why they're there can leave a bitter aftertaste when you stop to think about it.
©2016 Vince Leo