Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Voices of: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman
3 (out of 5) Globes
Disney’s 55th toon extravaganza has the brand’s usual uplifting messages: go after your dreams, don’t give up, be kind to your fellow…well, not human, but animal, since it’s set in a world of talking critters. We’re used to Disney homilies. What we’re perhaps not used to is messages that are timely. Despite its good cheer and rampant jokes, “Zootopia” is a big, sometimes messy, sometimes insightful exploration of bigotry, using animals to preach for a more evolved understanding of each other’s innate differences. And it arrives as a war crime-endorsing, Mussolini-retweeting demagogue is exploiting nativist fears on the road to the White House. It’s a Disney film weirdly if accidentally of the moment.
The plea for decency and sanity isn’t subtle, but it doesn’t overly dominate “Zootopia,” which is light and bouncy, by turns delightful and groan-worthy. Ginnifer Goodwin perkily voices Judy Hopps, who won’t let being a tiny bunny keep her from her dream: becoming a cop in the big, bad, multicultural city, where all species semi-harmoniously dwell. No one — from her gruff buffalo police chief (Idris Elba) to a sly conman fox (Jason Bateman) who eventually becomes her co-lead — believes in Judy. As such she winds up assigned to a case no one wants: An otter goes missing, which turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy involving — of all things, in a fizzy Disney movie — the oppression of entire species.
Melding the fun with the serious is usually more Pixar’s bag than Disney’s, their corporate overlords. It often seems like “Zootopia” is trying to be more “Toy Story” than “Frozen”; there’s even a nudge-nudge cheap shot diss of “Let It Go.” It’s edgier than most Disneys, but also not as smooth at integrating commentary into the silliness. The commentary can be rough, in ways both reckless and genuinely cutting. Characters freely discriminate others based on size or innate abilities. One ice cream store features a sign touting the right to deny service to certain species. This melting pot world even has its own form of affirmative action in the controversial “mammal inclusion program.” These are more than mere cute human-to-animal jokes a la the woebegone “A Shark Tale,” though there are some of those, too: “Furs National Bank,” “Mousy’s” for Macy’s, etc.
The something-for-everyone vibe makes for a mixed bag, but "Zootopia"'s analogues for real-life racial strife are less Pixar than the old, 1970s “Planet of the Apes” movies, where the era's civil rights imagery and jargon found its way — often uncomfortably and dodgily — into a story that pitted human against primate. “Zootopia” doesn’t go that far into the brink; it’s still a Disney film after all, meaning it’s building to a utopian dream of togetherness. And it still wants to entertain. It often does. A chase through a tiny “rodent city,” with our heroes stomping about like Godzilla, plays fruitfully with size, and a detour at a DMV populated by sloths enjoyably messes with speed. Perhaps most importantly, you can’t hate on a film that slips in an "Emmett Otter" joke. It can still play like a visually richer, better-written big screen take on the old show “Fish Police.” “Zootopia” is more enjoyable than that, but as a sometimes darkly honest movie about human-like animals, it’s certainly no “BoJack Horseman.”