While it is somehow released earlier outside US, new Disney digital animation feature film “Zootopia” is better than I expected. It is colorful and spunky with its amusing variation of buddy cop movie conventions, and there are enough funny, exciting moments to support its typical story about one plucky rookie who rises to the occasion while learning some important lessons through a relationship with her unlikely partner.
During the opening scene, we are introduced to a fantasy world where various mammal species are evolved to overcome their biological differences and live together harmoniously in their anthropomorphic modern society. For example, carnivorous mammals are no longer preying on herbivorous ones in this world while everyone is treated as equal society members, and that makes me wonder about whether those carnivorous animals still eat meat. We seldom see them eating something in the film, and my best guess is that they eat non-mammalian animals instead (or do they depend on something equivalent to… Soylent Green?)
Anyway, our heroine is an herbivore, so that matter can be put aside for a while at least. She is Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwind), and this tiny bunny girl has always aspired to be a police officer since she was a child. Although her first days at the police academy are difficult for good reasons, she begins to show her resourcefulness as impressively overcoming many obstacles in front of her, and she eventually graduates as the top of her class in front of her proud parents.
Judy soon departs for Zootopia while her parents and other rabbits give her a hearty send-off, and we soon behold this huge, wondrous metropolis which can somehow accommodate several different environment sections within its one big area. As the train is transporting Judy and other animal passengers to the central area of the city, we see a sandy desert area, a rainy tropical forest area, and a snowy arctic area, and there is even a miniature area for tiny mice. We also see many big and small animals walking around the city, and it is rather amazing to see how the city seems to be managed quite well in spite of countless physical differences between its various citizens.
When Judy begins her first day at the Zootopia Police Department’s 1st Precinct, Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba), a big, intimidating buffalo guy, does not regard highly of the new member of his precinct, but Judy keeps maintaining her feisty spirit none the less, and then she comes across a good chance when Mrs. Otterton (voiced by Octavia Spencer) visits the precinct again. There have been a number of mysterious missing cases around the city, and Mrs. Otterson desperately wants to know the whereabouts of her otter husband, who is one of the missing animals in question.
Thanks to the small support from Dawn Bellwether (voiced by Jenny Slate), a little sheep lady who is the long-suffering deputy of Mayor Lionheart (voiced J.K. Simmons), Judy takes the case under the grudging permission from her chief, who gives her only 48 hours for investigation. It initially looks like there is not any useful clue for her, but she finds someone to help her instead. Nicholas P. “Nick” Wilde (voiced by Jason Batesman), a street-smart red fox who has earned his living through small-time cons on streets, is not willing to cooperate with Judy, but he has no choice but to assist her when she blackmails him with a certain incriminating evidence against him, so that is the start of their uneasy partnership which will surely remind you of many classic buddy cop films such as “48 Hrs.” (1982).
As Buddy and Judy look for more clues around the city, the directors/co-writers Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush keep their film hopping around many comic moments and several action sequences. I cringed with amusement during one scene involved with a goofy Yak character who has a serious hygienic problem, and then I was tickled by the send-up moment of a famous gangster movie when Judy and Nick are taken to Mr. Big (voiced by Maurice LaMarche), who may order his henchmen to ‘ice’ them because of an unpleasant incident between him and Nick in the past. The funniest moment in the movie comes from when Nick and Judy go to the Department of Mammal Vehicles for their investigation, and I will let you discover its hilarious gag for yourself.
While the plot becomes more predictable during its third act, the movie does not lose its bouncy energy, and Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman give entertaining voice performances as a mismatched duo who come to understand and respect each other through their adventure. While Idris Elba shows his more lightweight side through his gruff character, Nate Torrence is amiable as a bumbling cheetah dispatcher, and the voice cast of the film is packed with reliable talents including J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Maurice LaMarche, Tommy Chong, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Kristen Bell, and Shakira, who also performs the main song for the film.
“Zootopia” is not something as memorable as “Inside Out” (2015), but it is an enjoyable animation movie while being more satisfying than “The Good Dinosaur” (2015). I do not know whether it will be successful at the US box office in the next month, but I really hope that its possible sequel will give us more dietary details about Nick and other predatory mammal characters. After all, they have to eat like other mammals, right?