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ZOOTOPIA (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Clark Spencer
Story by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, 
Jared Bush, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, 
Joshie Trinidad, Jim Reardon
Screenplay by Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Directed by Byron Howard,
 Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman,
Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong,
Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Shakira

Disney’s Zootopia is the latest from the main mouse studio to anthropomorphize animals and have them burrow into our hearts.  Jason Bateman stars as fantastic fox Nicholas P. “Nick” Wilde opposite the real star of Zootopia, Ginnifer Goodwin as Zootopia Police Department’s first bunny rabbit officer Judy Hopps.

In a world where predator and prey have put aside their differences and mostly live in peace side by side in the city of Zootopia, some mammals have gone missing and Judy sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery in fear of losing her job.

The resolution and detail of the best animation technology and talent in the world is on display here with Zootopia, as the Disney machine keeps on rolling.

Zootopia is a funny movie but not without drama, as the city of Zootopia is revealed to us as a whole new world where animals dominate!

Cleverly, the movie sets us up with young bunny Judy in a school play that reflects the rules of the new society we are introduced to in Zootopia. If only more fantasy movies gave a wink and five minutes of exposition at the top we’d all leave the theatre a little less rattled!

Sure, that’s for the kids who will no doubt be watching this over and over on iPads in the backseats on road trips, but for an adult, the explanation serves to rationalize our own obsession with scooping up Zootopia toys from the aisles of Target. We adults will be able to say, “I love THE MESSAGE Zootopia has to teach kids, that we can all GET ALONG”, in the same breath as we snatch the last plush Judy Hopps off the shelf—leaving a snot-nosed kid in a carriage crying because we took his favorite new toy.

Moving on, Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) is mocked by her parents and her 237 rabbit siblings that she wants to become a police officer. These jobs are typically occupied by bigger, stronger species. Through pure will and determination she trains her way through Police Academy (in a Full Metal Jacket montage) and earns her stripes to move away from her parent’s carrot farm in Bunnyburrow to the big city to be assigned to Zootopia Police Department.

Her police chief is Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a buffalo that assigns her to parking duty instead of the missing mammals cases doled out to the other members of the squadron.

While out on parking meter duty she encounters a grift by foxy Nick Wilde (Bateman). He turns a super popsicle into hundreds of tiny popsicles for the rodent set with his tiny partner Finnick (Tom Lister, Jr.). This becomes the basis of Judy and Nick’s friendship, for when she needs help with solving a case, who better to partner up with than a sly fox that knows how to work the system?

Judy’s adjustment to the big city isn’t easy but she ends up earning her hero stripes as she learns the way of this very big world. Zootopia itself is broken up into a few different districts, all with different climates like a frozen city, a jungle city and a city-city. Nick and Judy traverse all of Zootopia proper to get to the bottom of the big conflict, the missing mammals, and meet all sorts of funny and interesting animal friends along the way.

What we’ve grown to love from Disney movies throughout the years are the great characters and personality traits of different species of animals. Cleverly, cameos and small parts are true to both animal form as well as the actors that play them in Zootopia. Alan Tudyk plays Duke Weaselton—a reference to his character Duke of Weselton from Frozen.

If you’ve caught the Zootopia previews at the movies these past months, you are already familiar with DMV worker Flash the Sloth (Raymond S. Persi) and his co-worker Priscilla (Kristen Bell). The joke from the preview works just as well in the feature no matter how many times you have seen it.

Dispatch Officer Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) is great comic relief as he obsesses over pop star Gazelle (Shakira) and her dance with Gazelle phone app. Tommy Chong makes an appearance as a chilled out yak named Yax that’s surprisingly able to provide some key answers to Judy. “Dave’s not here”!

Accomplished voice actor Maurice LaMarche  plays a big role but one that borders on being a spoiler if I go into it too much. Let’s just say that the part is equal parts Jabba the Hutt and The Godfather…on scale!

Besides the brilliant acting, the set design and overall look of this movie is amazing. It is a wonder how far animation can go these days, rendering fine detail of multiple textures on animal hair to the tiniest texture details (one close up shot in IMAX 3D of Judy’s police badge comes to mind). Truly the best animation studio in the world outdoes itself every time. That’s not to say that I expect anything less from Disney studios or Pixar, it is just wholly satisfying to enjoy these stories even more as the years go on. We know that Disney knows heartwarming stories, but every year the animation somehow gets better and better.

Zootopia has is a nice break in concentration from superhero movies and also a great lead-up to next month’s The Jungle Book. Bateman takes the cool fox reign from Clooney for the time being and Judy Hopp’s small town bunny becoming big city cop story is one for kids to enjoy and look up to for years.

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