A new direction for Disney: Zootopia tackles difficult subjects with charm and grace

There has never been clearer evidence that we are living in an animated renaissance than “Zootopia.”

When I saw “Wreck-It Ralph” for the first time, I lamented that there were so few animated moves that were of that level of quality in theaters. I said the same thing about “Big Hero 6” and “The Lego Movie” and “Inside Out,” along with all three “Kung Fu Panda” movies. At a certain point, one must realize that there has been a noticeable trend toward complexity and high quality in animation over the past few years.

However, I really cannot think of another animated movie that has the cojones to do what “Zootopia” does. Although the marketing is aimed squarely at children, the film tackles subjects that adult films struggle with as well. It tackles racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, complex relationships, narcotics and much, much more.

Yeah, this is a very layered cutesy funny romp with little bunnies and foxes.

The film tells the story of a young bunny, named Judy Hopps (played by Ginnifer Goodwin), who becomes a police officer in Zootopia, a city where all kinds of anthropomorphic animals, both predators and prey, live together and coexist (for the most part). This is a big deal, because she is the first bunny to ever be a police officer in the city, and she has to deal with a lot of ignorance and mocking due to her species. At the same time she must manage the pressure and pride that comes with being the first of her kind to be in the line of duty. She always pushes herself to go above and beyond, because she feels she has something to prove.

This leads her to take a difficult case concerning several missing mammals. She enlists the help of the street-wise con-man fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) to help her crack it.

If it weren’t for the talking animals, I would be unaware that this is a movie meant for kids. In fact, this transcends that idea, telling its story as Aesop told his fables – using animals as stand-ins for people. When I give “Kung Fu Panda” a high rating, it is because it fulfills my expectations as an animated movie that entertains kids, while having something for adults as well. “Zootopia” transcends that, though, and punches far above its weight in its story, characters and themes.

In addition to the adult ideas and layered elements to the plot, this movie is also riotously funny. None of the jokes fall flat, and it exploits its imaginative setting for maximum effect during the funnier portions of the film. It is the funniest Disney movie in years by far.

The acting from the two leads is great, and they play off each other very well. This is a “buddy cop” movie at its core, and the dynamic that Bateman and Goodwin have fits the genre perfectly. A standout performance by Idris Elba as the gruff police chief provides some of the most dramatic and funny moments in the film.

“Zootopia” is a landmark in Disney cinematic history. It is the most adult animated film I have ever seen from them, featuring a layered story, complex characters and excellent humor. There is a very good reason that this movie, following 2015’s excellent “Inside Out,” has confirmed Disney’s modern tradition of excellence in animated films.

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