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AT THE MOVIES

ZOOTOPIA
(***½)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Screenplay by:
Screenplay by : Jared Bush, Phil Johnston with additional story material from Dan Fogelman
Starring the Voices of:
Ginnifer Goodwin., Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Length:   108 minutes
Released:   030416
Rating:
Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action
"Disney has hit a home run with "Zootopia," a grand entertainment with an ingeniously developed, socially conscious message."

"Zootopia" is visually splendid and creatively alive, but it is a strong, spirited, determined rabbit named Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) who is the film's most invaluable component. Living on a planet where anthropomorphic predators and prey now coexist (mostly) in harmony, Judy has dreamed since childhood of growing up to be a police officer. She faces plenty of adversity from a male-dominated field that has never before had a bunny in its ranks, but she defies the odds to graduate at the top of her police academy. Her capabilities matter none to Zootopia Police Department's Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), who assigns missing persons cases to the rest of the force and saddles Judy with parking duty. When dedicated husband and father Emmett Otterton disappears under questionable circumstances, Judy is given 48 hours to either crack the mystery and find Emmett or agree to resign. Teaming up with wily fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) for the mission, she experiences an education of her own about the dangers of preconceived notions and judging an animal by his or her species.

Disney has hit a home run with "Zootopia," a grand entertainment with an ingeniously developed, socially conscious message. Directed by Byron Howard (2010's "Tangled") and Rich Moore (2012's "Wreck-It Ralph"), the film's significant appeal traverses all age groups, playing like many of the best family films on different levels for children and adults. Non-preachy but refreshingly thoughtful while touching upon timely real-world issues—about sexism, race relations, prejudices and profiling—which go far beyond the usual "believe-in-yourself" morals of most animated features, the film proves to be a useful learning experience. Beyond this, it is also an exceedingly clever, frequently laugh-out-loud comedy (a scene where Judy and Nick visit a DMV run by very, very slow sloths is uproarious) and a takeoff on moody film-noir thrillers (complete with a flurry of film and television references best left for viewers to discover).

Ginnifer Goodwin (2011's "Something Borrowed") irresistibly voices Judy Hopps, a 21st-century heroine who explains that only other rabbits can call a fellow bunny "cute" without it being offensive. One cannot overstate just what a wonderful protagonist Judy is, an ambitious, working-class young woman who leaves behind her small-town life in Bunnyburrow for a destiny she knows in her heart she was meant to fulfill. Hard-working and diligent, spunky and intelligent, not above making mistakes but sure to find her way, she strives to be the best without misplacing her kind nature. Simply put, Judy is an onscreen role model fit for anyone of any age or gender, and she is a joy to follow in the story. Voicing Nick Wilde, a con artist with a soft side, Jason Bateman (2015's "The Gift") is Goodwin's ideal match, sparring prey and predator opposites who become friends while discovering they have more in common than meets the eye. As Bellwether, the underappreciated assistant mayor of Zootopia facing her own workplace challenges, Jenny Slate (2012's "This Means War")—and her white-woolen sheep character—is an energetic scene-stealer.

"Zootopia" is vividly mounted with a breadth of vision worth celebrating. From the miniaturized rat city Little Rodentia to the foggy, snowswept Tundratown to the sultry, wooded Rainforest District, there is a different climate and terrain for every occasion in the eclectic, beautifully imagined Zootopia. The screenplay by Phil Johnston (2011's "Cedar Rapids") and co-director Jared Bush equally excels, developing into a twisty, offbeat investigation into the disappearance of an otter whose wife, Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer), is convinced would not run off on his own volition. "Zootopia" expertly unpeels its narrative and thematic layers while keeping viewers laughing, guessing, thinking and feeling. And though Zootopia doesn’t have the emotional heft of the finest of these animated affairs, it has a gutsiness that’s impressive.

For most of the slowly shifting history of Disney animation, straightforward representation has been offered — different cultures, different settings, different princesses. But Zootopia is a movie about representation, and what it means to face expectations that have nothing to do with your actual identity. Talking animals have come a long way.


ZOOTOPIA © 2015 Walt Disney Studios
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2016 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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