Director Byron Howard, a long time fan of Walt Disney Animation Studios' talking-animal movies, like "Dumbo", "Bambi", "The Lion King", etc., became very intrigued with the idea of a mammal metropolis a la New York City. "Zootopia" boasts an unbelievably clever premise, and it's sure to become a classic.
As a young bunny, Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) always wanted to be a police officer. Her mother (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) and her father (voiced by Don Lake), carrot farmers by trade, are not optimistic about her chances to succeed, but they love and support Judy. After graduating from the police academy, Judy makes the big move to Zootopia, where she is assigned to the thankless job of meter maid by her cape buffalo boss, Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba), who doesn't appreciate having to deal with the first rabbit on his squad.
Judy's big break comes when she offers to solve the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Otterton, at the behest of the tenacious and distraught Mrs. Otterton (voiced by Octavia Spencer). Chief Bogo gives Judy 48 hours, and if she's unsuccessful she must resign from the force.
To her great dismay, the only other animal with a connection to this case is Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), the con artist fox who duped her into buying ice cream for his "son" only the day before. Nick is not exactly thrilled to be helping Judy. He, like everyone else, thinks she should pack her bags and go back to Bunnyburrow --- and learn to love carrot farming.
"Zootopia" is one of the funniest and most precious animated films to come along since the "Toy Story" trilogy. Last year's "Inside Out" was marvelous, but a tad more serious. Director Rich Moore characterizes it as a "buddy movie" because of the main relationship between Judy and Nick --- a bunny and a fox. The one-liners fly fast and furious in "Zootopia", with Judy reminding Nick that we --- meaning rabbits --- are great at multiplying when she's roping him in to help her.
Directors Howard and Moore did extensive research into the behavior of animals. In creating a world where both prey and predators get along --- and wear clothes --- the opportunity to tell a story that highlights stereotypes and specific biases is timely.
One of the most hilarious scenes has Judy and Nick kidnapped by a "Mr. Big's" enforcers, polar bears, each larger than the one before --- only to find out Mr. Big (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) is an arctic shrew, one of the smallest mammals alive. This tiny creature is the deadliest crime boss in Tundratown, a la "The Godfather", voice et al --- who has no problems "icing" his enemies. As it turns out, Judy had saved his daughter from a giant rolling donut the day before, so now Mr. Big can't do enough to help the sleuths in their quest.
Filmed in 3-D, "Zootopia" is not only outrageously entertaining, but beautifully animated. The color palettes of this teeming metropolis are stunning, as well as the set designs. I was particularly struck by one sequence in which Mr. Big's limo is traveling along a dark windy road, illuminated only by the headlights. It's a remarkable example of how far the technology has come to create such a realistic and truly exquisite movie experience --- not only for children, but adults as well.
The screenplay by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston is delightful with a great deal of amusement aimed at older moviegoers. One does not need to be a child --- or have a child --- to see "Zootopia"!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
It's still early in the year to be talking about potential Oscar nominees for 2016, but "Zootopia" already looks like the film to beat in the animation category. It is one of the funniest and wittiest films, of any genre, to come along in many years. John Lasseter, the Disney genius behind the "Toy Story" franchise and so many other hits, is executive producer for this raucous, hugely entertaining endeavor.
It began with a slew of writers who collaborated on a purely delightful story about a female bunny who wants to be a cop in Zootopia. Of course, the odds are stacked against Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) because no rabbit has ever been a police officer. Her father Stu (Don Lake) isn't very happy, but mom, Bonnie (Bonnie Hunt), supports her daughter's ambitions.
After graduating from the police academy, Judy confronts a wise-cracking, con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who becomes her closest friend. Her boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) is actually a tough-talking, gruff cape buffalo who is skeptical of Judy, at first, but eventually is won over by the determined bunny cop.
The film is loaded with other voice talents --- well-known actors such as Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Kristen Bell and Shakira, as a gloriously singing gazelle. One of the most hilarious of the voice roles belongs to Maurice LaMarche as Mr. Big, a shrew, complete with "The Godfather" accent made famous by Marlon Brando. Hands down the most hysterical sequence involves Judy and Nick visiting the local DMV staffed by sloths --- you have to see it to believe it.
The behind-the-scenes talent of "Zootopia" includes a tandem of directors known for other hits --- Rich Moore for "Wreck-It Ralph", who also directed 17 "Simpsons" episodes, Byron Howard for the underrated "Tangled", plus co-director Jared Bush for "Big Hero 6".
"Zootopia" is a movie you will tell your friends and family about. It's much more suited to adults than kids, who will like the colorful characters, but adults will appreciate the exquisite set designs, and references to things like rabbits being good at "multiplying", or seeing an elephant who practices yoga. "Zootopia" demands at least a second viewing for, if nothing else, using the pause button to soak in the scenery.
As for Goodwin, her voice performance will move audiences the way "Toy Story 3" did several years ago.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!