Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This Disney animated film about an animal society in which predator and prey species live together has some violence and stressful situations that may scare younger children, such as animals going “savage,” attacking, and hurting others, including nearly gouging someone’s eye; some childhood bullying, including an attack on a smaller animal; a somewhat revealingly dressed pop star who has a few dance sequences; a subplot involving a Godfather-inspired character who has his own version of the Mob; and some bathroom humor involving characters being flushed down a toilet.
Disney’s latest, ‘Zootopia,’ pulls together various elements – a neo-noir mystery, a buddy-cop comedy, and timely social themes – into a mostly entertaining animated film. There are some mature politics here, though, and parents may need to address them.
By Roxana Hadadi
Let’s get this out of the way first: Disney Animation’s latest, “Zootopia,” is not the next “Frozen,” and it probably won’t take over the world in the way that “Let It Go” did. But “Zootopia” is instead a surprisingly socially timely, well-developed film that unites disparate threads – from neo-noir mystery to buddy-cop comedy – into a film that will appeal to viewers of various generations.
“Zootopia” is set in an animals-only society in which predator animals like bears, wolves, and tigers and prey animals like rabbits, vermin, and sheep have evolved into living together instead of hunting one another. Their major metropolis, Zootopia, includes 12 unique ecosystems, like a tundra, a rainforest, and an urban environment, where young protagonist Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, of “Something Borrowed”) thinks “anyone can be anything.”
After being bullied in her youth, Judy decides to become a police officer in Zootopia – “I’m gonna make the world a better place,” she proclaims – but while she graduates at the top of her class, she ends up assigned to traffic duty on her first day. Instead of helping crack the case of 14 missing mammals who have disappeared throughout Zootopia, Judy is serving as the most-hated kind of law enforcement – not exactly what she dreamed.
It’s while handing out parking tickets that she runs into the fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, of “Identity Thief”), a cynical con artist who rejects her belief that all animals can live together in harmony. “It’s called a hustle, sweetheart … You’ll never be a real cop,” he sneers, but he doesn’t know Judy. To prove to her doubting family and skeptical colleagues that she’s picked the right career, Judy volunteers to help find one of the 14 missing mammals. With only 48 hours from her boss to crack the case, she needs Nick’s knowledge of Zootopia’s inner workings and underworld – whether he wants to help or not.
Judy and Nick are an unlikely pair, but “Zootopia” does a good job fleshing out Hopps so fully that you can’t help but root for her: idealistic, driven, with a chip on her shoulder that drives her to help the underdog, she’s a perfect hero – until you realize that she has shortcomings, misconceptions, and stereotypes just like anyone else. The same goes for Nick, a character who benefits excellently from Bateman’s deadpan, weary delivery and whose own arc – from disinterested to engaged – is complementary to Judy’s without overshadowing her.
Aside from the characters, the animation is gorgeous, with expressive faces on all the characters and excellent set pieces, including a chase scene that goes into a drastically scaled-down part of the city where vermin live. Judy using their cars as rolling skates while she chases down a bad guy is a particularly enjoyable touch.
Somewhat unexpectedly, “Zootopia” integrates timely political and social themes into its narrative. The friction felt between the disenfranchised prey species and the more-powerful predator species in a society that is built to favor the latter certainly brings to mind questions about race and power that have been in the news over the past few years. And there are specific instances in the film that seem to nod to the obstacles faced by minorities in our culture, such as when Nick goes to touch the hair of a sheep and comments on its texture and shape, unaware that what he’s doing is offensive and unwanted. Older viewers may pick up on the parallels the film presents to our current national conversation, so parents should be prepared to field some questions about police brutality, racism, and the role of mainstream media.
As nuanced as that exploration is in “Zootopia,” there are other elements of the film that feel surprisingly dated, like a subplot lifted directly from “The Godfather” and a character modeled after Snooki from the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore.” Those flaws keep “Zootopia” from perfection, but what it does pull off – from its excellently actualized main characters to how it addresses current politics – is mighty impressive enough.
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