‘Zootopia’ is Disney fun, with a message

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It may be approximately the 321st Disney movie about talking animals, but the film is exhilaratingly fresh: an irreverent product of our current era and an unmistakable satire of race relations.

But with “Zootopia”, a thoroughly engaging new film from Walt Disney Animation – a studio that knows a thing or two about cuddly, anthropomorphic critters – this familiar narrative approach gets a jolt of new, culturally relevant life.
Small: seemingly inconsequential little scenes – a amusing faux bloodletting in a kiddie talent show at the opening; a wee creature saved from being squashed by a giant runaway doughnut – that foreshadow large and consequential plot twists later on.
The Zootopia cast also includes Shakira as Gazelle, Octavia Spencer as Mrs. Otterson, J.K. Simmons as Mayor Leodore Lionhearted, Tommy Chong as Yax the Yak, Nate Torrence as Benjamin Clawhauser, Jenny Slate as Assistant Mayor Bellwether, Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton, Raymond Persi as Flash and Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as the voices of Judy Hopps’ mother and father, Bonnie and Stu.
The screenplay was written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. 108 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. She bests elephants and rhinos to make it to the top of her class at the academy and become the first rabbit on the force. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. She is, after all, only a meter maid and seemingly way out of her depth. I loved its hero, eager rookie cop Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), and her foil, the con-artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). He’s arch and worldly.
From the flotilla of tiny financial experts who stream out of Lemming Brothers Bank to the eye-popping train ride through the terrains of Zootopia to that mob-boss shrew (who looks and sounds a lot like the title character in “The Godfather“), there’s an attention to inspired detail here that’s very much in keeping with the standards set by Disney and its cousin, Pixar.
As to jokes, the picture is overflowing with them.
“I think all of the messages, the brilliance of Disney is that it is about the human dynamic”, she explains.
But there’s seriousness here also.
Combining a surprisingly sophisticated conspiracy subplot (who abducted the missing animals?) with unexpected plot twists, insightful character studies, energetic pacing and even a very amusing riff on “The Godfather”, “Zootopia” has plenty to appeal to both kids and adults. The self congratulations are earned.