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Zootopia Movie Review

Zootopia: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Zootopia is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Zootopia (2016) movie poster Zootopia

Theatrical Release: March 4, 2016 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore; Jared Bush (co-director) / Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston (screenplay & story); Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee (story)

Voice Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nicholas P. Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Officer Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Tommy Chong (Yax), J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton), Shakira (Gazelle), Raymond Persi (Flash), Della Saba (Young Judy Hopps), Maurice LaMarche (Mr. Big), John DiMaggio (Jerry Jumbeaux Jr.), Katie Lowes (Badger Doctor), Jesse Corti (Mr. Manchas), Tommy "Tiny" Lister (Finnick), Josh Dallas (Frantic Pig)

Buy Zootopia from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Instant Video

It is tempting to invoke the word "renaissance" when describing the current state of Disney Animation. The studio enters Zootopia, its 55th animated classic officially,
on a streak of three consecutive critically acclaimed blockbusters, the past two of which have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Arguably their weakest work of the past several years was Frozen, which also happens to be one of the most watched and beloved films of the century.

After a period of uncertainty and creative disappointment left Disney Animation trying to reestablish its identity and model itself after the suddenly more popular competition, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter came in to head a second animation division. The results have been encouraging, with Disney both embracing its tradition of fairy tale musicals and also succeeding with creative original storytelling on less conventional films like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. It is quite possible that today's children will grow up judging all other animation by the love they felt for these movies, much like '90s kids continue to hold up the products of the studio's last renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King) as the medium's finest masterpieces.

Based on its so-so teaser trailer, Zootopia seemed to pose a slight obstacle to Disney extending their winning streak. After all, this is an animated film about talking animals, the most common kind of animated film there is. Even in establishing the universe as a human-free zone where animals are fully anthropomorphic did little to distinguish or inspire. Fortunately, Zootopia joins a newer tradition of misleading Disney trailers. This is not the generic, broadly appealing, pun-laden comedy advertised, but a creative original tale that is driven by strong characters and surprisingly heavy on social commentary.

Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to graduate from the Zootopia Police Academy in Disney's "Zootopia."

The protagonist of the film is not the Jason Bateman-voiced fox the teaser pitched, but Judy Hopps, a bunny who dreams of becoming the first rabbit officer of the Zootopia Police Department. First, an expository stage play explains that predator and prey relations have evolved, with animals becoming domesticated and finding harmony among them. Still, Zootopia is not without prejudice and crime. Judy (voiced by "Once Upon a Time" star Ginnifer Goodwin) is not as large or nimble as her fellow recruits, but she proves herself on the unforgiving obstacle course and becomes an officer. Unfortunately, her trailblazing only gets her assigned to meter maid work. No matter how much enthusiasm Judy brings to the task, parking tickets make for soul-crushing work, even while easing her parents' fears.

Anxious to work on something of greater significance, Judy does get her buffalo boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to reluctantly allow her to try and solve one of fourteen missing animal cases.
Judy has just 48 hours to find Emmett Otterton (an obvious nod to Jim Henson's 1970s TV special) or else she's fired. She has virtually nothing to go on, but for Nick Wilde (Bateman), a sly hustler of a fox who crossed paths with her the day before. Nick, whose rackets include turning elephant ice cream into overpriced "pawpsicles", is condescending towards Judy, but when she calls into question his lifetime of not paying income tax, he reluctantly tags along on the investigation.

Zootopia unfolds as a mystery procedural, as Judy and Nick traverse the varied terrains of Zootopia to crash the place of a mouse gangster modeled after Don Corleone, drop in at a DMV hilariously run by sloths (whose slow speech and movements give the film by far its biggest laughs), and uncover corruption and conspiracy.

Ambitious rabbit Judy Hopps teams up with sly conman fox Nick Wilde to investigate an otter's mysterious disappearance.

This is not your run-of-the-mill talking animals picture, so throw out any comparisons you may be tempted to make to films like DreamWorks' Madagascar, Blue Sky's Ice Age, and Disney's own dud Chicken Little. Zootopia is an extremely clever film that plays like something aimed at adults but without any clearly objectionable content. Imagine a coherent Inherent Vice in which the role of Doc Sportello is shared by a spunky rabbit and a sketchy fox. It's much better than that sounds, I promise.

The product of seven credited writers, Zootopia does not hide its relevant commentary much. The prejudices Judy faces as a rabbit can easily be read as any preconceived notions society holds towards any marginalized group. Nick has his own demons, his kind being forever eyed suspiciously for their predatorial past. The police force is a boys' club and Judy struggles to be taken seriously, as does the sheepish assistant mayor,
who is literally a sheep. You've got to wonder if this topic resonated especially for the two females among the seven scribes. The lesson conveyed by the film, in contrast to the play-it-safe wisdom of Judy's parents, is to keep trying, and that is more or less the refrain of the film's one big musical number, a film-closing anthem performed by a pop star gazelle voiced by Shakira that will test the memories of Golden Globe voters ten months from now.

Yes, Zootopia will age, its references to head-swap apps and the newfound obsolescence of CDs destined to make it easily identifiable as a 20teens movie. But as someone who appreciates the late-'80s sensibilities of Oliver & Company, I see nothing wrong with a studio forgoing timelessness once in a while. Certainly, the movie does more than enough right to ease any minor concerns you might have. Like paying delightful, unmistakable homage to The Godfather and "Breaking Bad." The film's closest kin in the world of CG talking animal 'toons may be the inventive western Rango, whose throwback noir vibes it slightly echoes.

A slow-moving, slow-talking DMV employee sloth ironically named Flash gives "Zootopia" its biggest and most drawn-out laughs while aiding Judy and Nick.

You kind of wonder if this will be more appreciated by adults than kids, the way that Rango and The Emperor's New Groove were. But based on the way they've been marketing their films, it seems like Disney just wants to get people in the theater and is confident they'll leave happy with what they got, even if it wasn't what they expected. (Don't believe me? Go back and watch those misleading Frozen and Tangled trailers!) I think that confidence is well-placed in Zootopia, a consistently entertaining and intelligent caper that is different enough from everything else the major animation studios have been offering. It's also better than what the others have been offering, including four of the last five Pixar films.

Oh, and save yourself some time by not doing what I did and waiting for the sloth-paced end credits scroll to finish. There is nothing of note at the end, save for some nature sounds over the closing logos. That is as uncharacteristic of a modern Disney Animation effort as is the lack of a short film playing before the feature.

Buy Zootopia from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / Instant Video

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The Zootopia Shop is open at Disney Store. - Check out a metropolis of toys, plushes and more.

Related Reviews:
Disney Animation: Big Hero 6 Frozen Wreck-It Ralph Winnie the Pooh Tangled The Princess and the Frog
Now in Theaters: Hail, Caesar! | Recent Animated Movies: The Good Dinosaur The Peanuts Movie Anomalisa Inside Out
Disney Animation: Bolt Meet the Robinsons Chicken Little The Emperor's New Groove Oliver & Company
Foxes: Fantastic Mr. Fox The Fox and the Hound Life with Mikey | Rabbits: Who Framed Roger Rabbit Watership Down
Animated Animals: Rango The Wild Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Alpha & Omega Horton Hears a Who!
Ginnifer Goodwin: Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed March 4, 2016.



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