PLOT In a peaceful animal kingdom, a rabbit and a fox team up to solve a mystery.
CAST Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman
RATED PG (some intense and scary moments)
BOTTOM LINE Disney’s allegorical animated film uses cute animals to tackle some ugly issues. Entertaining and thought-provoking.
Words like “savage” and “cute” take on charged meanings in Disney’s “Zootopia,” an animated film in which predators and prey coexist. In this wildly diverse kingdom, prejudices die hard, which is why sensitivity training is sometimes in order.
“You probably didn’t know,” a rabbit tells a well-meaning cheetah, “a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute,’ but when other animals do it . . . ”
That’s one of the many clever analogies to the human world in this inventive, funny and rather beautifully animated film. It arrives with excellent timing, as issues of race and identity politics continue to make headlines — from Black Lives Matter to transgender rights — and says a little something about nearly all of them. Though its parallels can feel overstretched, “Zootopia” is far more entertaining than the usual children’s fare, and miles ahead in terms of intelligence and craft.
It begins as a buddy comedy in which a rabbit cop, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), teams with a con-man fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), but soon becomes a fuzzy film noir. Hopps and Wilde must figure out why law-abiding mammals are suddenly “going savage” and reigniting old fears among the citizenry. Along the way, our heroes encounter petty hoodlums (Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton), a hippie colony (Tommy Chong) and a Mafia shrew (Maurice LaMarche, doing a pint-size Don Corleone). One of the film’s best ideas, a DMV run entirely by sloths, surely came from someone’s personal experience. It goes on too long, but maybe that’s the point.
“Zootopia” sometimes presses its message of tolerance so hard that the metaphors break down. Should instincts really be neutralized? At what point does an all-equal animal kingdom become an unnatural tyranny? Also, what’s everybody eating? It’s easy to forget these questions, though, when the characters and story are so thoroughly engaging. (The film’s coherence is impressive given the seven-person writing and directing team.)
“Zootopia” could make a great teaching tool, an accessible way for kids to think about fraught issues. In the end, though, what makes the movie work are the highly expressive animation and the terrific voice cast, particularly Bateman as a tough nut with a soft heart. Listen also for Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate and Shakira (as the pop star Gazelle).