Animal film delivers high-energy humane message

By Tim Pompey
tjpompey@gmail.com

Zootopia

Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Rated: PG for some thematic elements,
rude humor and action
1 hr. 48 min.

It’s been a good year for animation. In addition to Oscar nominees Inside Out, Anomalisa and the very clever and funny Shaun the Sheep, Pixar also delivered a wonderful film, The Good Dinosaur, as a Christmas present.

Which makes what I’m about to say a little painful. The Disney film Zootopia? Not in the same class. Maybe a good almost would be fair. Maybe it’s also fair to say that younger kids will enjoy this more than adults.

Still, as I sat there and hoped to laugh or be provoked by something thoughtful, it turned out that Zootopia was only funny in part and overtly conspicuous in its attempt to promote peace and harmony between predator and prey. Talk about marketing savvy.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young female bunny who wants to be a police officer. A challenge to be sure because she’s quite small and stuck in a town where she’s expected to be a farmer like her parents. Give her credit for pluck. She decides to leave for the big city, Zootopia, and give it her best shot.

When she arrives, she discovers that city life is not quite what she expected, nor is she welcomed at the police station run by big water buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Nonetheless, with the support of sheep Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate), she gets her shot at the police academy and excels. Thinking she’ll be given real police work, she ends up as a meter maid. There she meets the wily con artist, fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and gets schooled in the art of the hustle.

Despairing about ever getting to do her job, Hopps gets a break when Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) begs Chief Bogo to find her missing husband. Again, Bellwether intercedes and Hopps and Wilde get assigned to the case. Turns out there’s more afoot here than kidnapping. Remember the phrase “night howlers” — it’s not what you think.

There are some good moments in this film. The bit with the sloths at the DMV, while admittedly a pretty sharp dig, was also quite funny. I also credit the writers with putting in some interesting twists. The ending is well-played and the final scene ends on a surprising note.

Still, I felt as if I were being “cuted” to death by the old Walt Disney animal kingdom I grew up with as a kid, and that any real bite (pardon the pun) to the story was offset by Disney’s attempt to fill the screen with happy energy and positive role models. There’s not much room for gray in this film. In fact, it’s so colorful, your retinas will probably sting for a few hours after you leave the theater. Is there such a thing as too many rainbows?

Zootopia is geared for children, especially younger children. It is unabashedly glowing in palette and upbeat in its approach. It’s a twofold message about being positive and open-minded. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you prefer something a little more provocative; for instance, the themes about memories from Inside Out, or even the despair and sexuality of Anomalisa.

If you prefer an animated film where your children are filled to the brim with positive energy, by all means, Zootopia is worth viewing. It’s like taking a ride through Disneyland’s Small World. Imagine that for almost two hours. Does it thrill you or make you shiver? Your answer to that question will probably affect how you view this movie.

If you’re a glass-full kind of person, I’m sure you’ll have a blast. If not, then take your kids, go buy some popcorn and sit patiently A happy ending awaits and you’ll enjoy the sloths. Oh, and be sure and stick around for the last scene. That will definitely make you laugh.