FILM REVIEW – ZOOTOPIA. With the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J. K. Simmons, Shakira. Written by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston. Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush. Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. 108 minutes.
In an era where all too many movies are sequels, remakes and reboots, it’s a real pleasure when a movie comes out of nowhere and just hits it out of the park. ZOOTOPIA is an absolutely hilarious animated film that should appeal to viewers of all ages. It even offers up a rich subtext for those who care to look.
Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young bunny who wants to be a police officer. In Zootopia, the multi-environmental city where animals of all kinds live together in peace, some things still hold sway. The police force is a largely macho affair headed by big beasts, like Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), who is a bull.
Judy is relegated to traffic duty, where she comes across a sly fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who is is a con artist. They stumble onto a mysterious plot which is turning some of the upright citizens of Zootopia into feral predators, threatening the whole social structure. The story plays out to perfection, with a few plot twists along the way.
On the surface it provides a lot of laughs. A scene where they’re checking records at the Department of Motor Vehicles–which is staffed entirely by sloths–is an instant classic. Then it’s the traditional buddy movie as Judy and Nick play off of each other and eventually come to trust each other. However if one looks deeper it’s also a sharp satire about making assumptions about people based on what we assume about their “natural” tendencies. Judy and Nick deal with a world where people think that, of course, bunnies can’t be cops and foxes can’t be trusted. When the disappearances and attacks occur, darker assumptions are made over whether someone classified as a “predator” can be allowed to roam free. In this very political season, one doesn’t have to be partisan to hear echoes of the real world here.
Visually, the film is clever and inventive, as we go through the neighboring environments that make up the multicultural (so to speak) city. The expected pop culture references are there as well, without being forced, from an unexpected riff on “The Godfather” to some equally unexpected pokes in the ribs to Disney’s hit “Frozen.” One suspects this is a film that will reward repeated viewings which is just as well, because when it reaches home video, this is one that will be played a lot.
“Zootopia” is everything you could want in an animated film: creative visuals, solid script, engaging characters. It adds up to a movie that, for a change, doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it many times before. We’ve got a summer season ahead of us that’s going to feel like a rerun. Enjoy some originality while you can.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.