It’s been a few days now, and I’m still not really sure what to say and feel about “Zootopia”. Always aiming for complete honesty, I plan on telling the national radio audience the exact same thing, when I review it this coming Sunday, on “America Weekend with Ed Kalegi & Christina Stoffo”. I mean the superlatives are obvious and easy. The film is a massive, worldwide, animated hit for Disney, and it’s currently the global box office champion for 2016. Most critics love it, and the parents, in many cases, are enjoying it more than their children did. The craft of “Zootopia” is absolutely top-notch. I love the richly detailed animal worlds, the sharp screenplay (by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston), and the mature direction (by Byron Howard & Rich Moore). So then, why is “Zootopia” giving me pause?
Judy Hopps (voiced by a delightful Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young adult rabbit from Bunnyburrow, who dreams of pushing beyond her expected path. Working on a carrot farm, like her parents do, is not for her–Judy wants to be a police officer in the big city. But despite graduating at the top of her class, Judy is initially assigned to parking duty. She’s soon scammed by the con artist Nick Wilde (a winning Jason Bateman), a wily young fox that tricks Judy out of some cash. But before long, they are working together to solve a big “Missing Mammals” case, and they have to bring results to Mayor Lionheart (Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons) within 48 hours–or Judy has promised to resign. Also, expect great voice work from a cast that includes Idris Elba, Tommy Chong, & Octavia Spencer, among others.
The simple story of the “reaching big” bunny rabbit, is expertly woven into a more complex narrative involving overcoming prejudices and stereotypes. It’s a good message, and a timely one. However, this is also where “Zootopia” started to feel a bit heavy-handed and overly preachy. Also–at 108 minutes–the film slowly began to overstay its welcome. This tended to flag its pace occasionally. In other words, a good 15 minutes less, would have streamlined that message a bit more. I’m truly torn on this one, but I want to recommend it for everything that’s good about it. So, I’m certain I’ll have to experience it again before realizing where it will place amongst 2016’s top films. Maybe its excesses won’t be as glaring on a 2nd go round. At the very least, it has me thinking–and people talking.