Disney's done it again.  They've made an animated feature that is so charming that you root for the characters, anyway, even if they're not human.  How do they keep it from being saccharin-sweet?  By frosting the cutesy layer cake with a wry bit of social commentary, and speckling it with some good old-fashiuoned humor.

            Ginnifer Goodwin is the voice of Judy Hopps, a bunny who grows up on a carrot farm.  But she has higher ambitions:  she wants to be a cop.  And she wants to join the police force in the big city of Zootopia, a career move that nobody in her family can even envision for her.  They gently try to steer her away from her obsession with law endorcement, but to no avail; she's determined.  So off to the big metropolis she goes, where lions and tigers and elephants and giraffes peacefully co-exist, along with beavers and weasels and foxes and rats and hippos and all manner of creatures formerly four-legged, but now all on two legs, and talking, and driving, and holding down jobs, and going home to their families at night, and shopping and doing errands on the weekends:  in short, everything humans do, except there aren't any humans.  This is the animals' world.

            They laugh at little Judy in the station house, behind her back, even though she graduated first in her class in the police academy.  They don't care; she's still just a rookie, and so they stick her on meter maid duty, which is demeaning, of course.  They hope she'll just get discouraged and quit.  But she keeps her spirits up by keeping her eyes open, and in so doing comes upon a fox, Nick Wilde (the voice of Jason Bateman), perpetrating a con, and she calls him on it.  He's blasé about it all---it's just a hustle, to him, happens everywhere, all the time.  At the station house they have bigger fish to fry, anyway----it seems a bunch of citizens have gone missing.  Judy Hopp begs to be given an important assignment like this, but the callous chief makes a bargain with her that if she doesn't solve the case in 48 hours, she has to quit the Force.  Judy is so desperate for “real” police work that she accepts.  And then she cleverly enlists the aid of the wily fox, who knows the city, and knows his way around the back alley ways, as well.

            We all know what's going to happen----Judy's going to solve the case.  But it's not easy; at one point she gets so discouraged that she does, in fact, resign and go home to the carrot farm, where she desultorily takes her place behind the fruit stand, selling produce to passing motorists.  This isn't the life she envisioned for herself.  But is this where she needs to lower her expectations?

            Sure, it's a parable about following your dreams.  But it's not quite that simple.  The world is complex, and sometimes others seem to be reduced to their primal states, because others benefit.  And not everybody is who they appear to be, and not everything is how it seems.  But friends help, even if they're found in unlikely places.

            It's delightful, it's upbeat, it's fun for the whole family, and there are even some moments when the adults will be laughing out loud (like at the license registration office populated completely by sloths, who move and talk at a glacial pace).  “Zootopia” is a treat for everybody.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Is there a downside to being determined to follow your dreams?

2)                  When have you developed an unlikely friendship?

3)                  When have you quit in discouragement?  Did you get another chance?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association