Who are animated feature films for these days? Traditionally seen as children’s entertainment, the higher quality entries in this genre have hit a sweet spot with enough sophisticated jokes for parents to enjoy, coupled with cutesy animation to delight children. Disney’s latest film, Zootopia achieves this, though it seems to skew more adult in its content, if not its characters. Somehow, Disney has managed to pull off a hard-boiled police procedural thriller about political corruption starring an adorable, large-eyed bunny.
Within the world of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) knows this to be true all along. She’s a plucky bunny from a humble carrot-farming family, who sets her sights on life in the big city of Zootopia, making the world a better place as a police officer. In Zootopia, the predators and prey live together in peaceful harmony — civilized, clothes-wearing city dwellers.
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Judy struggles with the typical problems of any recent graduate in a new city — dumpy apartment, entry-level job, disapproving boss (Idris Elba), over-protective parents. But Judy is a “try-er,” as her mom says. A bright-eyed overachiever, she strives to leave her mark on the police department and do the right thing.
So Judy throws herself headlong into an investigation of missing mammals, specifically one Emmet Otterton, with the aid of wise-cracking fox Nick (Jason Bateman). Their search leads them through the seedy underbelly of Zootopia, tangling with the diminutive mole Mr. Big — a mob boss surrounded by polar bear thugs. This leads them to questioning his jaguar limo driver, discovering a secret prison for predators gone savage, and uncovering a grow-house/drug operation run by rams (including two named Walter and Jesse — the little ones probably won’t pick up on that Breaking Bad reference).
All the dark, crime-themed material is balanced out with a heavy dose of cute furry friends, and the incongruous pairings are often quite funny (especially a tiny bat-eared fox with a voice much larger than his stature). And as the heart of the story, Judy’s boundless enthusiasm and can-do attitude keep the story properly on message.
But for all the substantial themes throughout Zootopia, the film maintains a lighthearted and entertaining tone. Bateman is a standout voice performer as the sly-talking hustler Nick, running a popsicle scam, who is eventually softened by the earnest goodwill of Judy. The animation is top notch too, combining cute and cartoonish character design with lifelike realism.
Voices: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, JK Simmons.
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 108 minutes. Rude humor, action. Playing at area theaters.