Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Disney has always been at the forefront of imagination, especially when it comes to the animated genre. Pixar Studios also deserves major credit, but Zootopia (opening today) is not a Pixar film, but a straight Disney release. Usually we chuckle (or in some cases, marvel) at how they conceptualize whole universes working in the craziest of places: The under-the-sea utopia of The Little Mermaid, the circle-of-life societal structure of The Lion King, the intricate detail of A Bug's Life, what goes on when we're not around with The Toy Story movies, or even more recently, how video game characters live and interact in Wreck-It Ralph. But very rarely is Disney's imagination matched with an even deeper metaphoric - or dare I say, adult - meaning. Zootopia is one of the more insightful and sharp films to come out of Disney in a long time, and perhaps maybe their most daring social commentary ever.
Oh and by the way, it's also laugh-out-loud funny. Most animated films are judged on how they can keep the interest of both children and their parents, and Zootopia will not disappoint either age group. It is a story taking place in and around a thriving metropolis known as "Zootopia," where humanoid animals of all shapes, sizes and species co-exist in harmony. But underneath the surface of this perfect world, Zootopia faces the same sort of challenges and issues that us humans do. Certain species are judged and have to overcome the preconceived notions of others. Some are separated - segregated - based on their status. There is corporate greed, and corrupt politicians. And more recently, there is strange phenomenon occurring where certain animals - for no know reason - are reverting back to their rabid, natural state...or in other words, they are turning back into "animals."
Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young bunny from a small rural community. Her parents - carrot farmers - avoid the big city of Zootopia like the plague, and are made very uncomfortable by the motto "anything is possible" there. Judy wants to become a police officer in the big city, but no bunny has ever been made a cop. Her loving, but small-minded parents urge her to be content with the carrot farm that is her birth-right. Part of what makes Judy want to go into criminal justice? She is bullied by some locals, and in one altercation is swatted across the face by a male antagonist. Scratches are visible on her face.
That's not territory we usually see an animated film go into, let alone Disney.
Judy does leave to pursue her dreams and becomes a cop, facing prejudices along the way. Her boss, the ox Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn't want to give her a real chance, but she inserts herself into a case of a missing otter that has gone rabid. While on the job she runs into a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who is a con-man just trying to make a buck on the streets. Foxes in Zootopia can be thought of as any number of minorities, who have been cast aside and held down for centuries. Needless to say, Nick and Judy form a very unlikely friendship as their investigation leads them closer and further into the crooked politics of Zootopia.
In addition to the deep significance found in the story, this is a bright, funny, smart, sly movie, rounded out by a cast of amazing voice- talent and animators. JK Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate are among the lent voices, with a few stand-out performances like Nate Torrence (Wade from the under-rated HBO series Hello Ladies) as the Police HQ receptionist Clawhouser, and Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) as a - what else? - free-spirited hippy yak, named Yax.
But not so fast....literally: The funniest and most memorable sequence in the movie deals with a bank ran by a bunch of slow-moving sloths. The comedic timing in this scene, and the animation, make it hands-down the funniest sequence in an animated film, maybe ever.
You don't go to see an animated film - especially one released during the hellish winter months - and expect so much. Zootopia is already on the short list of best films of the year, animated or otherwise, and deserves to be seen by everyone, regardless of species.
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Adventure
Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Tommy Chong, JK Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Shakira, Maurice LaMarche
Directed by Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), and Jared Bush (first-time feature film director)
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