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Review: Disney’s animated 'Zootopia' is a clever, bold and fun civil rights metaphor

By COLIN COVERT | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: March 7, 2016

Living in a segregated metropolis where discrimination sneaks through the cracks might drive you crazy. That’s the theme of “Zootopia,” an inspired combination of kid-friendly animation and sophisticated social parable. Coherently crafted and surprisingly meaningful, “Zootopia” never feels like a random collage of jokes and incidents.

Fun and funny, beautiful to look at and tempting to get lost in, Disney’s fable stands up along anything in the studio’s catalog. The film gives us a strong female character who is as clever, determined and generous — and eventually, as confident — as anyone. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first bunny cop recruited to Zootopia’s police force.

Things were easier back on her rural carrot farm, where the mammal majority, made up of prey species, have long lived in tolerance with the predator minority, who have gone vegan. Life is more difficult in the big city, where gorgeously rendered pumas and lemmings, rhinos and buffalo, giraffes and little voles share the street. The various kinds don’t hang out cross-species nonstop, returning every night to neighborhoods that reflect each one’s ideal habitat.

Some are biased. On Judy’s first day of duty, an intolerant elephant’s ice cream parlor is about to boot out Nick Wilde, an apparently kind fox (Jason Bateman). Judy saves the day and promptly learns that first impressions can be as misleading as stereotypes. The fox is a scam artist, but the rookie needs his street smarts to solve a dangerous new development. Twelve local predators vanished, leaving behind bloodstains. Are they reverting to savagery?

“Zootopia” travels into that rarity for cartoons, an actual complicated mystery plot (including a great visit from a Don Corleone-like mob boss). The third act is a crisis that offers the mismatched partners moral and physical challenges (this is the only Disney I know with a genuine jump-out-of-the-seat shock scare) and is resolved in a really neat way.

Viewers from their tweens on up will enjoy the movie’s treasure trove of pop allusions, and feel emotionally connected to the metaphorical civil rights issues facing our idealistic heroine. Youngsters will like each animal’s neat design, individual personality, and how Judy becomes a better cop, and a better person — er, bunny.

“Zootopia” is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

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