ZootopiaDirectors: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Screenwriters: Jared Bush and Phil Johnston

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, and J. K. Simmons,

Jason Bateman – his sitcom was on Fox, he’s produced and acted in films for Fox studios, he played a wolf previously played by a Fox in Teen Wolf Too, and now he’s playing a fox in Disney’s latest film, Zootopia.  Just another example of the lengths Jason Bateman is willing to go to be called, “Foxy.” (Rimshot) Thank you, thank you.  Please, sit down, I have a review to write.

Zootopia is like when you start wondering, “Hey, what if like all of the people were really just animals, man?” which explains why Tommy Chong has a role in this movie. But seriously, Zootopia does take place in a world where animals have evolved beyond their primitive way of life into a civilized form of coexistence.  Now, predator and prey live harmoniously (for the most part) in an advanced society.  Still, one young bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) hopes to advance society one step (or shall we say “hop”) further by fulfilling her dream of being the first “bunny” cop.  Bullied her whole life for being small, Hopps achieves her goal of leaving her hometown of Bunny Burrow to become the city of Zootopia’s first bunny cop, only to discover that the big city is less welcoming than she had originally thought.  In an effort to prove her worth, Judy finds herself teamed up with a sly, con artist fox named Nick (Jason Bateman) who may be her only key to uncovering a major conspiracy.

Zootopia is a colorful, animated Disney film with lots of cute animals and silly moments, but it also has the most progressive message a film of its kind has ever attempted to deliver.  I expected this film to be another cute, touching film that encourages young people to follow their dreams and always try hard.  And it certainly does that, in fact within the first five minutes we are treated to a catchy Shakira song called “Try Everything,” where the singer says, “I wanna try everything/I wanna try even though I could fail.”  But beneath all of that is a pointed and expertly crafted message about the dangers of prejudicial thinking, stereotyping, and institutional racism.  If I taught a sociology course, I would dedicate an entire session to this film.  Not just because of what it says, but how important it is for who it is aimed at.  I can think of dozens of science fiction films that attempt to tackle this subject with aliens and robots, but none of those are suitable for young children.  Zootopia, manages to include some excellent contemporary subtext without being preachy or artificial.  In fact, young viewers will not explicitly understand the depth of Zootopia, and that’s a good thing.  Instead of trying to position a complex issue for kids, this film simply offers parents and adults an opportunity or gateway to begin a conversation with young kids about some societal truths.  In fact like many of the best animated films, there is far more for adult viewers to appreciate in Zootopia than children; for every Bambi or Frozen reference, there is an even better Godfather or Breaking Bad one.

Zootopia is much like 2015 Best Animated Film winner, Inside Out in the best and worst ways.  On one hand, it is a socially mature film dealing with honest and real struggles that young people need to be able to face.  On the other hand, its linear style plot requires characters to travel through multiple microcosms one by one that are all part of one metropolis, which does result in a slight drag towards the middle. Still, Zootopia is a major success with beautiful animation, fun humor, and a strong message. Bring the kids, but also take advantage of this film’s empathetic message and have a timely heart to heart with them about tolerance and acceptance.  A-

Zootopia is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes.