“Zootopia” offers a world where predators and prey live together in general harmony.
When the new animated movie focuses on the critters, it’s a funny trip through the animal kingdom. What slows the ark (oops, make that arc) of the film is a crime story that’s in need of a few more monkeyshines.
Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny whose never let anything get in her way. Although there have never been any bunny police officers in Zootopia, that doesn’t keep her from entering the police academy and earning herself a place on the city’s force. She’s ready to hop into action when a major crime spree breaks out. Hopps burrows her way into the investigation and has 48 hours to solve the case or her dreams of being a police officer end.
The only help she gets is from Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox whose lived his life conning people. Despite some instinctual concerns about working with a fox, Hopps takes the little help she can get.
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“Zootopia” is at its best when poking fun at the crass menagerie of members of the animal kingdom. As Hopps rides the train out of her hometown of Bunnyburrow, leaving her hundreds of siblings behind, the city’s population on a billboard rises at a rapid rabbit rate. Jokes like that are funny.
So is having hamsters and gerbils travel in plastic tubes, a mouse city that is so small it makes Hopps look like a fuzzy Godzilla and everyone who works at the DMV being a sloth. The problem is the script, written by eight different people, doesn’t have enough of that material.
There’s no ignoring the writing elephant in the room. It’s the police procedural part of the film that collars the production. Watching Hopps and Wilde track down clues, investigate witnesses and deal with the criminal element moves at a sloth’s pace.
The funniest moment in the police work is when Hopps’ boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Alba) explains that in the real world you can’t just sing a song and everything works out for the best. He finishes by telling her to “Let it go,” a nice swipe at the massive hit “Frozen.”
A lot of the comedy will be over the heads of children, such as when Hopps deals with the city’s biggest crime boss, a mole named Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche). The “Godfather” parody of Mr. Big’s story will be fun for adults but a likely miss with youngsters.
Much of the humor for the younger audience is based on having animals act like people. There’s just not enough to make “Zootopia” a well-rounded offering.
On the good side, young and old will notice that this is another animated project with a strong female character. After so many decades with damsels in distress, it’s always great when it is the damsels who are causing the distress.
And the animation is beautiful. The city of Zootopia is divided into several distinct regions. This gave the animators frozen landscapes, lush forests and a beautiful cityscape to use. It’s a shame a lot of their work gets lost behind 3D glasses that tend to make the images look dark and muddled.
The film has a few problems, but “Zootopia” works when the focus is on the beastie boys and girls.
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Rated PG (Rude humor, action)
Opens: Friday, March 4