[Screen It]


(2016) (voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman) (PG)

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Computer Animated Dramedy: The first bunny cop in a city filled with various anthropomorphic animal species must contend with a con artist fox while trying to solve a series of missing animal cases.
Judy Hopps (a rabbit voiced by GINNIFER GOODWIN) has long wanted to be the first bunny cop in Zootopia, a metropolis filled with various anthropomorphic animal species who dress and behave like humans. Hired by Mayor Lionheart (a lion voiced by J.K. SIMMONS) and Assistant Mayor Bellwether (a sheep voiced by JENNY SLATE), Judy is dismayed that the only officer who seems happy to see her is dispatcher Benjamin Clawhauser (a cheetah voiced by NATE TORRENCE). Things get worse when Chief Bogo (a water buffalo voiced by IDRIS ELBA) assigns her to meter maid duty, all while the rest of the cops go off to solve crimes, including a rash of missing animal cases.

While performing her parking enforcement duties, Judy comes across Nick Wilde (a fox voiced by JASON BATEMAN) who initially appears to be a caring dad, but in reality is just a streetwise con artist. She ends up needing his help when Chief Bogo -- upset about an unrelated incident Judy was involved in trying to nab Duke Weaselton (a weasel voiced by ALAN TUDYK) -- gives her 48 hours to find Mr. Otterton, the missing husband to Mrs. Otterton (a river otter voiced by OCTAVIA SPENCER), and if she doesn't, she'll be fired.

Nick ends up helping Judy meet a number of interesting characters, including Flash (a sloth voiced by RAYMOND S. PERSI) who works at the DMV, and Yax (a yak voiced by TOMMY CHONG) who runs a naturalist animal camp, although the fox isn't happy about running into a crime boss, Mr. Big (a shrew voiced by MAURICE LaMARCHE), who he wronged in the past.

During their investigation, not only do Judy and Nick come across the missing animals, but they also learn that those carnivores have mysteriously returned to their savage and uncivilized states. As they set their initial antagonistic differences aside, the bunny and fox do what they can to solve the matter before time runs out.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
As most kids spend their younger years playing with toys and giving voices to their stuffed animals, dolls, action figures and such, it's no surprise that they're drawn to movies and TV shows that feature talking, non-human characters. Off the top of my head, I don't recall what animated film first featured a talking animal, but it must have blown the minds of young viewers back then. And that's not only due to bringing such otherwise inanimate or non-human characters to life up on the screen, but also in showing the kids that they weren't alone or weird in providing the vocal work since those characters apparently really could talk.

Since then, countless movies have been released featuring such chatty non-human characters in various forms of anthropomorphism. While many have been good to excellent -- think of the Pixar films -- others have been mediocre to bad and have all but been mostly or completely forgotten in the annals of time.

Thus, when a new one comes out, it really needs to go above and beyond the simple act of having talking characters who don't stem from the homo sapiens line. And not only does it need to entertain kids, but it has to do the same and sometimes more for their parents and other non-related adults.

While its early March release date had me wondering if it would be able to pull that off, Disney's "Zootopia" does that and then some. Playing equally well to viewers of all ages, featuring well-drawn characters (literally and figuratively), providing plenty of laughs, and inserting societal messages without ever feel preachy or heavy-handed, it's the best film so far of 2016 and should easily be at or near the top of the list for Best Animated Film come award season next December and beyond.

On its most superficial and kid-friendly level, it's about a young rabbit (terrifically voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) who lives in a world apparently devoid of humans but filled with a menagerie of animals who otherwise behave, speak and even dress like people. From the time she was just a little bunny, she's had to contend with bullies (lesson one) and being told not to dream too big and just accept her lot in life (lesson two).

But she's always wanted to be a police officer, and despite the long odds due to her comparatively diminutive size and the track record of no rabbits having ever served before, she enters the police academy and eventually graduates as a full cop to work in the titular metropolis.

Her dreams seem dashed, though, when her gruff police chief boss (Idris Elba) assigns her to be the local meter maid and then fires her for going above and beyond her limited call of duty in capturing a petty thief (Alan Tudyk). As the third lesson plays out, happenstance provides her the opportunity for a second chance in solving a missing animal case.

The only problem is she's given just 48 hours to do so and her unofficial partner is a streetwise con artist fox (a perfectly cast Jason Bateman for the related vocal work) who she must force to assist her. Along the way, they eventually figure out what's been happening, only to have her say something that's misinterpreted and results in species profiling (yet another lesson).

All of those lessons might make this sound like a school project, but directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and co-director Jared Bush -- working from a screenplay penned by Bush & Phil Johnston -- handle it so well that such thematic elements seamlessly blend into the rest of the material to such a degree that most kids won't even notice and few, if any adults will mind.

Along the way, the myriad of comedic elements (be that a spoof of cop movies, mismatched buddy flicks, "The Godfather," "Breaking Bad" and what really makes the DMV the closest thing to torture this side of you know where, and much, much more) will make this offering highly entertaining for teens and adults.

The computer animation is colorful and lush to behold, the character are fun and funny to watch, the vocal work is terrific, the story is always engaging, the tempo never lags, and the various messages and lesson hit just the right notes. All of which means this is a pretty terrific flick.

While real life zoos sometimes struggle to find a balance between entertainment and enlightenment for kids and adults alike, this latest offering in the ever-growing pantheon of talking animals flicks finds the perfect balance. As a result, "Zootopia" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 18, 2016 / Posted March 4, 2016

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