Zootopia ***1/2

The latest from Disney animation is its best of the modern era — which means it’s better than “Frozen.”

Is it worth $15 (3D)? Yes

What an inspired, joyful work “Zootopia” is. It’s an animated movie colored by a dynamic and diverse city, memorable furry characters, and the perfect amount of humor and warmth for audiences young and old to enjoy. It’s an absolute delight.

No humans appear at any time. It’s an animals’ world, living just like we humans do, from parking tickets to smart phones and everything in between. The main character is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an ambitious bunny who wants more than anything to be a cop in the big city. Her parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) want her to stay in their agricultural small town and be a carrot farmer, but Judy’s dreams take her to the police department in Zootopia, a sprawling city of vastly different boroughs (desert, rainforest, cityscape, snowy cold) populated by everything from a tiny arctic shrew to giant African elephants.

As a small-town girl in a big city, she has growing pains. Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a large cape buffalo, assigns her to parking ticket duty even though there are 14 missing mammals and none of her colleagues have made headway with the investigation. Then she’s taken advantage of by a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), and is overwhelmed by people telling her to give up on her dreams. But a break in the case for the 14 mammals prompts her to blackmail/team up with Nick to find the culprits before Chief Bogo fires her for insubordination. 

There is genius all over “Zootopia,” but perhaps the most ingenious decision of all was a practical one: Animal characteristics suggest but do not dictate characters’ personalities. For example, there’s a terrifically funny scene inside a DMV. With human DMVs known for slow service, the filmmakers posit none other than slow-moving sloths as DMV employees, immediately providing adults something to relate to and kids plenty to laugh at as Judy’s manic energy plays against the sloth’s deliberate pace. Similar references to “The Godfather” and “Breaking Bad,” as well as “Targoat,” “Hoof Locker” and more keep adults engaged throughout. All the while, kids will love every second of the cutesy animals and their behavior, especially an overweight cheetah named Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) and a yak named Yax (Tommy Chong).

The film’s creation at Disney Animation (not Pixar), which previously gave us “Big Hero 6” and “Frozen,” was a team effort to be sure. Eight people are credited with contributing to the story, and directing was a three-person operation between Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. In live action multiple creative forces often lead to a disjointed story, but in animation this type of collaboration is more common, albeit not to this extent. Regardless, it all works, save for one nitpicky portion that conveys racial overtones and the danger of stereotypes that feels forced and unnecessary. Otherwise there’s nary a misstep throughout the 108 minute running time, which feels just right.

The 3D, especially on an IMAX screen, is bright and immersive. Action scenes are clear and easy to follow, and the animation is crisply detailed right down to the hair on each wolf’s chinny-chin-chin. The next Oscar ceremony is a year away, but it’s hard to imagine “Zootopia” not nominated for Animated Feature. It’s that’s good.

Did you know?
Idris Elba is the voice of villain Shere Khan in “The Jungle Book” (opens April 15), provides a voice in Pixar’s “Finding Dory” (opens June 17), and he plays the villain in “Star Trek Beyond” (opens July 22).

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