Zootopia's pep keeps film fun despite lackluster writing 

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Zootopia feels amazingly ’90s for a movie released in 2016. From its snarky, flat sitcom jokes that harken to the days of The Emperor’s New Groove (Remember when David Spade was a leading man?), its celebratory concert ending, and its ex machina-solving mystery plot, the film’s a flashback to some of the weakest points of generic animation.

But luckily, none of that really matters because Zootopia milks it all for everything it’s worth and then some.

Imaginatively dense, vibrant and utterly joyous, the world of peaceful anthropomorphic animals is as inviting and real as the wildest crayon drawings. The city of Zootopia, sectioned off into climate-appropriate boroughs, is home to predator and prey alike living in a metropolis together.

We reach it through the eyes of Judy Hopps, a rabbit whose ride into the city on its robust public transportation system could fuel an entire amusement park. If that had stretched on for an hour, I’d probably still have been delighted by each new invention, whether they were giant snowblowers to keep the tundra cold or miniature elevators made from gerbil tubes. Hopps is voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, whose peppy enthusiasm magnetizes us to her. She dreams of being the first bunny cop; they (read: female) are normally deemed too “cute” to succeed in that line of work.

Along the way, she teams up with a street-hustling fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and romps through a parodic Chinatown adventure as the plot becomes more and more sinister.

Bateman is great with what he’s given and maintains a snide deadpan that never feels completely uncaring, though we tend to wish his writers hadn’t scraped up the collective hacky jokes cut from every Disney picture in the last 15 years. The supporting cast is also delightful and provides nice reprieves from the sometimes-tiring banter between leads. Idris Elba as a police chief, Jenny Slate as an unassuming assistant mayor, Tommy Chong as a hippie and Shakira as the gazelle version of Shakira all prove memorable and fun additions to an already-colorful world.

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The film also has its lessons — undercurrents about racial profiling and sexism — roped under the encompassing and parsable roof of “anyone can be anything.” You can’t get more universal than that, and it’s given to us so kids will grasp it (though the insistence on “biology” as a misleading root cause for predators’ latent savagery blurs the allegorical lines into uncomfortable territory).

Whether they’re riffing on The Godfather or leading an inspired chase of a shoplifter through a tiny rodent neighborhood, co-directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, along with their visual effects team and whichever of the 10 (10!) credited writers was in charge of visual gags and action choreography, you’re overwhelmed by excitement.

Goodwin’s bunny cop has a contagious hustle that hurtles the entire movie forward despite its flaws, which is good for you parents because your kids will want to watch it over and over and over again.

Luckily, there are way fewer songs than Frozen.

https://youtu.be/CzvH6_e2a-U

Print headline: Exciting utopia, The upbeat energy of an ambitious bunny cop drags along the latest Disney film.

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Jacob Oller

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