Disney seems to have created a new golden era in animation. Going back to Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Frozen, Disney has made some high quality entertainment for the kiddies, but also for the rest of the family. That winning streak will continue with Zootopia, Disney's newest gem of an animated feature. It has a huge cast of (all animal) characters that is sure to bring a smile to your face.
In an alternate world of nothing but highly evolved mammals, there is a city where predator and prey now live in harmony. All of the killing instincts have been lost, and now Zootopia stands as a shining example for all creatures. It is run by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), who is a lion, and has a Deputy Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate) who is a little sheep. You know, the Lions and the Lambs lie down together, and all that jazz...
Zootopia has many different neighborhoods, for all the different animals. There is Sahara Square, Tundra Town, Little Rodentia, and much more. There is also the Zootopia Police Force, led by Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Everyone on the force is a mighty predator, but there is one new cadet on the force, Judy Hopps.
Officer Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who comes from Bunny Burrow, and she is the newest and smallest police officer. She grew up small but with big dreams, and her wit and her quickness allowed her to get onto the force. On her first day, a nefarious plot falls in her lap and she does everything in her power to break the case. With the help of a sly Fox, Nick (Jason Bateman), Judy embarks on a quest to not only prove herself but save the residents of Zootopia.
The movie is a visual treat and the comedy is hilarious. All the animal characters are well rendered, and the voice talent for each animal matches up perfectly. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman do the voices just right for eager bunny and the world-weary cynical fox. The storyline takes a common trope of “two very different partners who attempt to work together”, and then it elevates that idea.
There are hundreds of little visual gags, and it could take more than a single viewing to catch them all. For example: Duke Weselton is found to be selling 'knock-off' versions of other Disney classics, such as Big Hero Fish and Wreck-it Rhino. The name Duke Weselton is a call back to the movie Frozen, where Alan Tudyk played 'The Duke of Weselton' (mispronounced as 'Weasel Town'), a little inside joke.
There are some terrific ideas, such as the Dept. of Motor Vehicle workers who are all sloths. There is a dig at Lehman Brothers which becomes Lemming Brothers, LuluLemming's, BearBurry, a Godfather homage, a Cheech & Chong reference, and a funny bit about the names of two henchman named Walter and Jesse, a reference to Breaking Bad. All of the writing is very clever and fresh. The only possible issue is that the plot might become a little too complex for a very young viewer.
The visual of Zootopia is a creative splendor, well designed with all of the various neighborhoods designed for a specific animal type. The screen is always in motion, with a lot of things going on in the foreground and background. This is a case where 3-D does help the viewing instead of turning it into a muddy mush. The backgrounds are lush and full of details that keep the eye interested.
The film effectively plays with the idea of diversity and getting along with others, and overlooking the differences between groups. There is even a funny play on the 'rules' about who can call whom what. Example: The Police front desk Officer Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) sees Judy Hopps on her first day there, and he calls her 'cute.' Judy says "You are not supposed to say 'cute', other rabbits can call each other 'cute', but you are not allowed to."
There is another running joke about famous singers known by a single name. In this case it is Gazelle (played and sung by Shakira, also known by one name). She plays, wait for it, a gazelle. But this character is all over Zootopia as a huge celebrity and trend-setter. It is just another example of what the movie gets right.
I would say this movie was 'cute', but as we all know, that is not allowed...
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Maurice LaMarche, Alan Tudyk, Nate Torrence
Length 108 minutes