Can the fox and the rabbit be friends? The wildebeast and the lion? The sheep and the tiger?
That world, Disney’s latest animated film suggests, would have to be a “Zootopia.” And it is. Until the preconceived ideas the majority of animals, “prey,” weigh on how they treat the minority amongst them — the predators. The beasts turn savage as they turn on each other in this timely cartoon about prejudice, sexism and the politics of fear.
It’s the story of a rabbit with a dream. Little Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin does the voice) grew up on the carrot farm, but longs for life in the Big City. She wants to be a Zootopia cop, the first leporidae on The Force.
“I’m gonna make the world a better place!”
Her fellow cops are all rhinos and tigers and bears. The chief (Idris Elba) is a water buffalo.
“Just quit and go home, fuzzy bunny.”
Fresh out of the Academy, Judy has to content herself with writing parking tickets in the many neighborhoods of Zootopia — Tundra Town, Sahara Square, The Rainforest District, and others.
Until critters go missing. They’re all predators. And there’s evidence that they’ve drawn blood. In a city where 90 percent of the population is prey, that’s worrying. Judy, being a token rabbit on the force thanks to the Mayor Lionheart’s (J.K. Simmons) intervention, is given a chance to crack the case.
Her street-wise source? Nick the fox, a cynical hustler with all the sneering contempt Jason Bateman can give him.
“Somewhere, there’s a toy store missing a stuffed bunny.”
Judy is no better. She gives the fox the benefit of the doubt, but finds herself profiling the con-artist. Rabbit and fox have to get over their stereotypes of each other’s “kind” to crack this case and save a city whose fabric rips at the seams when the whole predator-prey peace breaks down.
The animators give us a wholly-realized world, a city centered around the fancy fountain that was once the watering hole where this animal kingdom rapprochement was first reached. Mass transit connects neighborhoods where critters keep to their own kind — or genus. Polar bear mobsters serve as enforcers for the mob boss, Mr. Big.
A hippy yak (Tommy Chong) runs a “naturalist” yoga club. Whoa. Naked prey? Sloths run the Division of Motor Vehicles. Hah! The biggest pop star is a wiggly/jiggly gazelle voiced by Shakira.
Just watch out for the Zuber drivers.
The movie’s message about tolerance and not pre-judging others sings, and the many chases, interrogations (a weasel ably voiced by Alan Tudyk) and narrow escapes pay off.
The movie’s only real drawback is as obvious as every TV commercial and theatrical trailer produced for it. It’s a comedy that only rarely hits “hilarious” and suffers from too many dead zones between laughs.
It’s hard comic concept to sell, hard to boil down into normal animated film length and just as difficult to deliver laughs through.
But it’s filled to the brim with cuddly, cute animals that small children will love. And if you’re up for letting a cartoon broach a delicate, complicated subject with your 10-and-unders, you’ll appreciate this sneakily audacious film for its ambition and timely, pointed good intentions.
MPAA Rating:PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action
Cast: The voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Shakira, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer
Credits: Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, script by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. A Walt Disney release.
Running time: 1:48