PLOT:In a world where all mammals live harmoniously together, the city of Zootopia is the scene of a rash of disappearances, all predators. It's up to rookie cop Judy Hopps and her hesitant pseudo-partner Nick Wilde to figure out who's behind the kidnappings.
REVIEW: ZOOTOPIA couldn't be coming out at a more perfect time. Fresh off the national conversation about diversity at the Oscars while a rich demagogue looks to grab the Republican nomination by using fear and blatantly prejudiced ideas, here comes just the animated movie we need to put a spotlight on the folly of prejudice and the positives inherent in embracing other cultures/species/genders/sexes, etc. Plenty of animated movies are about the importance of community and the ignorance of judging a book by its cover, but few have done it in so clever and accessible a way as ZOOTOPIA. And, wonderfully, the film does so without being preachy; the lesson is a part of its story, so you can't miss it or ignore it.
But delivering a genuinely heartfelt message isn't alone what makes ZOOTOPIA such a splendid picture. It satisfies every requirement of a good animated movie: It looks absolutely great, it has lead characters everyone will love, the voice casting is spot-on and it creates a world you'll want to revisit again and again. I'm hoping they make, like, four more ZOOTOPIA movies, because I really can't wait to delve even deeper into the city's many neighborhoods. When it was over, I wanted to rewind it and watch it again.
And it could have been so easy to make a lazier version of this. The movie's set in a vast metropolis populated by talking animals, and personally my first instinct is to wonder if there's any blood left in the talking animal subgenre. A rabbit trading barbs with a fox? What is this, the 80s? But ZOOTOPIA eschews easy jokes and lame puns in favor of making its characters actual characters as opposed to schticky, one-note bores who spout pop culture references. Similarly, its story isn't just a clothesline on which to hang a series of feeble comedy bits meant to appeal to the easily-amused; it sets up a compelling mystery that holds our attention and allows the characters to operate logically and intelligently. In fact, there are moments when I thought ZOOTOPIA might have outsmarted itself by focusing too much on its central mystery, which might turn off the kiddies who actually are only entertained by song-and-dance numbers and fart jokes. But, too bad; there are plenty of those movies out there already.
Taking place in a world where animals big and small have set aside their differences and decided to live in harmony, ZOOTOPIA focuses on rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who leaves her country bumpkin lifestyle to pursue her dream of being a police officer, and despite he parents' fear of the big city and the constant refrain of "you're just a bunny" (she's the first such animal to be in the department), her perseverance pays off, landing her in an otherwise tough squad of elephants, wolves and water buffalo. Relegated to dishing out parking tickets by her stern commander (Idris Elba), Hopps eventually stumbles upon a clue that could solve the department's biggest case: the disappearance of a dozen predatory animals from the city. Judy enlists the help of a scheming fox named Nick (Jason Bateman) to help her after she catches him in the midst of several dishonest ventures; he'll be a guide of sorts while she navigates the city's frequently rough terrain.
Not unlike the plots of noir classics like CHINATOWN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, it's eventually revealed there's a much larger conspiracy at play than previously suspected, and the deeper Judy and Nick go, the more corruption and danger they encounter. There's also a ticking clock to beat, as Judy has only been given 48 hours to solve the case or she'll be fired. In their travels, Judy and Nick - initially at odds - become loyal friends, but even their solid friendship encounters rough patches when they find their prejudices aren't entirely diffused. Hence much of the second half of the film is devoted to teaching them - and us - a thing or two about the dangers of presuming you know someone just because of their background or - let's just say it - race.
The movie certainly gives you plenty of food for thought, but it also simply delightful to look at: Zootopia itself is a marvel. Separated into sections like Tundratown and the Rain Forest District, directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, along with their animators, haven't just created one visually-lush world but several, and the movie wisely allows us many chances to simply gaze at their lovely creations. Many times I wanted to pause the movie so I could take in every last detail. There are a handful of chase sequences that are pure cinema, including a hilarious one in Little Rodentia, in which tiny mice scamper about while the comparatively gigantic Judy attempts to arrest a fleeing suspect, and a somewhat scary one among the tree branches of the Rain Forest District. I saw the film in 2D and it looked fantastic, and I can only assume it's terrific in 3D.
Goodwin and Bateman could not be more perfectly cast as the idealistic young bunny and the cynical fox, respectively. I found myself thoroughly rooting for these two, and a tender moment between them toward the end brought a smile to my face that was 100% sincere. I demand to know what they get up to next. The rest of the cast is just as good, with Elba, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk and Jenny Slate all just right for their parts. (Elba is a real stand-out, especially when he gets to flex his comedic muscles.) Everything else, from Michael Giacchino's lively and entertaining score to the intricate sound design, is tops. Front to back and all around, ZOOTOPIA is a massive achievement.
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