The last thing you’d expect from a new Disney animated marshmallow is balls. But, hot damn, Zootopia comes ready to party hard. This baby has attitude, a potent feminist streak, a tough take on racism, and a cinema-centric plot that references The Godfather, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. The kids, paying zero attention to such things, will love it. But the grownups will have even more fun digging in.
Our star is a bunny, scrappily voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin: She’s Judy Hopps, whose parents and 225 siblings are having trouble keeping this firecracker down on the farm. Judy has dreams of being a cop and kicking ass in Zootopia, a kind of barnyard metropolis where predators and prey live in segregated harmony. I didn’t say peace; the town isn’t perfect, though the animation is. A tour through the byways of Zootopia is a bracing blend of color and richly detailed design, especially during a chase scene in Little Rodentia where Judy gets to lord it over prey much tinier than she is. Otherwise this bunny is constantly on the defensive, trying to crack the glass ceiling erected by a Cape buffalo police chief named Bogo, voiced with vibrant gruff by this year’s should-have-been Oscar winner Idris Elba.
Bogo and a lot of other male beasts — hippo, rhino and elephant — in this nation want to stop Judy’s ambitions at meter maid. Luckily, Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) has begun a new mammal-inclusion initiative. Judy puts on a brave face. But first day she’s scammed by Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fast-talking fox happily possessed of Bateman’s delicious comic snark. Still, this odd couple makes a dynamite team when it’s crisis time. (Come on, you knew it was coming from the first notes of Michael Giacchino’s noirish score.) Predators revert to nature and go on snarling, violent attacks. Animals go missing. And Judy and Nick find a research facility that jails predators that have “gone savage.” Impressionable tots may hide their eyes.
Directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), along with co-director Jared Bush, who shares screenplay credit with Phil Johnston, know how to keep things light. There’s a nifty scene at a DMV exclusively staffed by sloths. But they also know how to take a deep dive when necessary, especially when certain species are treated as threats and cause public panic. Listen up, Mr. Trump. Like I said, this big-city crime caper puts a lot on its animated plate. Zooptopia takes chances and doesn’t play it safe. Is it too soon to talk about next year’s Oscars?