By Richard von Busack
Prejudice is the theme of Disney’s marvelous animated comedy Zootopia. The sting and spice is visible in a clue in the title—it’s indeed a utopian fantasy of the lion laying down with the lamb, at least for political reasons.
Far out in the sticks, the appealing bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) wants to grow up to be a policewoman. After a bruising stint in the police academy, she joins the force of the city of Zootopia, with its polychrome skyscrapers like a kid’s drawing of Vegas. Thanks to the scornful Chief Bogo (a Cape Buffalo voiced by Idris Elba), Judy is forced to work meter-maid duties. There’s no respect for her, and far less from someone she meets on her beat, an ever-smiling, gently crooked fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).
The plot starts to get thick, and scary in the best Disney manner. Predators are starting to vanish—they’re a 10 percent minority in this peaceable kingdom, where the law of tooth and claw has been superseded. When Judy gaffs up a press conference about the crisis, the city panics at the fear of carnivores reverting to their “biological nature:”A speciesist explanation of the mystery.
Zootopia isn’t about “sorority racism,” to use Chris Rock’s term—it’s about deeper, dirtier stuff, those suspicions and fears way down far in the medulla. And Judy and Nick get along so well that you’d think they’d been the heroes of a dozen previous cartoons. The chases are whirlwind fast—in hot pursuit of a weasel (Alan Tudyk), Judy heads into the rodent town where even the six-story buildings are so small they can be tumbled like dominoes, and cars become roller skates.
Zootopia is not all puns and movie parodies—though a bit about a mole Godfather finds some hilarity, despite the overworked material. It’s outwardly message-y, and for once that’s a good thing, since the film has so much weight in characterization, dialogue and feeling. Zootopia has its meta-side: “Life isn’t a cartoon musical where you sing a song and all your insipid dreams come true.” It acknowledges problems that no bumper sticker can patch over, and yet it leaves room for an exploration of a seriously charming world.