Easter is still weeks away, but pet stores may find that the added demand for rabbits the holiday brings will come early this year thanks to the irresistible “Zootopia,” an animated movie with an intrepid bunny named Judy Hopps at its core. Her fox sidekick, Nick Wilde, is mighty enjoyable, too.
This film, action-packed and filled with enough savvy jokes that adults should consider slipping into the theater even if they don’t have an accompanying child, is set in a world where animals have transcended the carnivore-and-prey dichotomy and now live together more or less harmoniously.
Judy (the voice of Ginnifer Goodwin of “Once Upon a Time”), a country bunny, wants to become the first rabbit police officer in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia, but her parents are not exactly the follow-your-dreams type.
“If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail,” her father (Don Lake) tells her. It’s a gag that encapsulates one of the best things about this film: It trusts young viewers to recognize the clichés they’ve been fed by other animated movies over the years and to appreciate seeing them subverted.
Judy graduates from the police academy and ends up on the force in Zootopia, but her boss (Idris Elba) relegates her to parking-ticket duty while more experienced officers investigate 14 missing-mammal cases. While obsessively writing tickets, Judy meets Nick (Jason Bateman), a world-weary hustler who slowly becomes her friend and adviser as she pokes her nose into the missing-mammal epidemic despite her boss’s resistance.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this delightful movie you’ve already had a taste of what might be the greatest takedown of bureaucratic ineptitude ever filmed. It involves a trip by Judy and Nick to the Department of Motor Vehicles, with its all-sloth staff. In the context of children’s movies, it’s a fairly daring scene, since in an otherwise fast-moving story the joke takes aloooong time to roll out. But it sure is worth it.
Anyway, Judy learns some hard truths as she delves deeper into the mystery, and young viewers will, too. Chief among those is one adults know well: Being civilized doesn’t mean tension and ugly thoughts disappear. Also, bringing about positive change isn’t as easy as it seems.
“I came here to make the world a better place,” Judy laments after her good intentions backfire, “but I think I broke it.”
Funny, smart, thought-provoking — and musical, too. Shakira provides the voice of a pop star named Gazelle, and her vocals complete the package appealingly.
“Zootopia” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for gently rude humor and occasional scariness. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.