Posted on March 2, 2016 at 10:00 amA-
|Lowest Recommended Age:||Kindergarten - 3rd Grade|
|MPAA Rating:||Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action|
|Profanity:||A few schoolyard words|
|Alcohol/ Drugs:||Animals are drugged, making them violent|
|Violence/ Scariness:||Action-style law enforcement peril and violence, chases, bullies, some injuries|
|Diversity Issues:||A theme of the movi|
|Date Released to Theaters:||March 4, 2016|
|Date Released to DVD:||June 7, 2016|
Simmer down, out there. In this, the craziest of all political moments in US history, some people are going to tell you that Disney’s adorable “Zootopia” is full of subtext about issues like immigration, sexism, terrorism and the role of law enforcement. There are references to current ways of talking about issues of trust and finding a balance between autonomy and community, but if there’s subtext in this bright, wonderfully imagined Oscar-winning story about animals of all sizes and appetites living together, it is Isaiah 11:6: the lion shall lay down with the lamb.
Of course that depends on which lion and which lamb, and, in this movie, it also depends on a farm-town bunny named Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants more than anything to be a cop in the big city of Zootopia. There’s some skepticism; rabbits have never been in the police force, which is made up of bigger, more physically powerful animals. But Judy has studied more and worked harder, acing her police academy studies and even mastering the obstacle course. She arrives ready to arrest lots of bad guys, only to be assigned…parking duty. Undaunted, she is determined to be the very best meter maid ever, so resolutely honorable she even gives herself a ticket.
And Judy is so observant that even on parking duty she notices details that could lead to clues about the city’s biggest crime wave, the disappearance of 14 of the city’s citizens, including, most recently, an otter whose devoted wife (Octavia Spencer) is frantic with worry.
A con artist fox (Jason Bateman, perfectly sly as Nick Wilde) may be able to provide important clues. Judy forces him to help her by threatening to turn him in, and our team is on the case. They may appear to be misfits — predator and prey, law-breaker and law-enforcer, cynic and optimist. But it turns out they are a very good match.
Bateman gives Nick’s voice a sardonic, superficially laid-back but really checking out all the angles tone, and Goodwin brings intelligence and integrity to Judy’s enthusiasm. They complement each other perfectly and their growing appreciation, understanding, and friendship is believable and heartwarming. Other outstanding voice talent includes Jenny Slate as a sheep who is the over-worked and under-appreciated deputy mayor and Idris Elba as a cape buffalo police chief.
The world of Zootopia is wonderfully imagined and the animators have a lot of fun with the drastic scale and biome differences in the Zootopia population. Investigations and chase scenes take us through a variety of ecosystems, from Tundra Town and Sahara Square to the Rainforest District. Like Gulliver or Alice in Wonderland, Judy’s proportionate relationship to the immediate surroundings and characters varies wildly. Her pursuit of a weasel thief (Alan Tudyk) goes through a rodent-occupied area where she is as tall as the buildings and has to step around the cars. And she has to find a way to tuck parking tickets behind the windshield wipers of vehicles that are sized for tiny mice and towering giraffes.
Alert audience members will enjoy marvelously understated and witty details, from references to “The Godfather” and “Breaking Bad” to a Department of Motor vehicles staffed entirely by sloths — one, named Flash, gives new meaning to the corny mug on his desk that says “You want it when?” There are some sly pokes at cultural touchstones, with an app featuring a beloved pop star (voiced by Shakira), a “Lemming Brothers” bank, and even a call-out to Disney’s own unstoppable “Let it Go” powerhouse, “Frozen.”
Judy’s irrepressible optimism and equally irrepressible determination make her an endearing heroine, and Nick’s thinly disguised longing for a reason to believe in her keeps him skeptical but not cynical. The themes of predators and prey finding ways to live together peacefully — and the fear and selfishness that threaten that peace — is a graceful context for their learning to trust one another. Disney has created a film I’ve already seen twice and a place I will happily return to again any time.
Parents should know that this film includes law enforcement-style peril and some violence. Characters are drugged and become aggressive and violent. A character is a con artist who cheats, lies, and steals.
Family discussion: Why didn’t Judy’s father want her to join the police force? How did being bullied affect Nick’s choices? How can we make it possible for everyone to be able to follow whatever dreams they have?
If you like this, try: “Over the Hedge” and Disney’s animal-populated version of “Robin Hood”