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'Zootopia' Makes A Pitch For A More Paw-fect Union Without Being Preachy

<em>Zootopia </em>takes on social annoyances in a way that will persuade the older folks to stick around.
Courtesy of Disney
Zootopia takes on social annoyances in a way that will persuade the older folks to stick around.

Zootopia is both an animated charmer and a theme-park ready world that's precisely what it sounds like: an anthropomorphic utopia where animals have overcome the predator/prey divide to live in near-perfect harmony, in ecologically distinct districts. Disney animators have conjured up in gratifyingly intricate detail a Tundra Town, Sahara Square, even a hamster-sized village for mice and moles.

Our heroine is country rabbit Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), who dreams of joining the police force, though even her folks think she's too small, too fuzzy, too just-plain-adorable to deal with trouble in paradise.

And there is trouble in paradise.

"Fourteen missing mammal cases," bellows Zootopia's water buffalo police chief (Idris Elba), "all predators, from a giant polar bear to a teensy little otter."

Though the chief assigns her to parking-ticket detail, Officer Hopps hops to it, teaming-up with a helpful sheep (Jenny Slate) in the mayor's office — the lamb to the mayor's lion as it were — and also with a fox named Nick (Jason Bateman), who would traditionally be a nemesis to both of them.

You'll have gathered that the filmmakers are playing here with stereotypes — playing quite cleverly, in fact, with notions of social diversity

"The mammal inclusion initiative is starting to pay off" is the sort of line that will fly right over the heads of tots but offers adults a reason to stick around. As are the jokes about such societal annoyances as lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Imagine a DMV staffed entirely with slow-moving sloths. (Actually, you don't have to, because the filmmakers have beaten you to it, and uproariously, too.)

Credit the Disney folks with making what could have been a lecture on stereotypes into one of the more amusing animated kidflicks of recent vintage. When you consider that this is the same zip-ah-dee-doo-dah studio that once made Song of the South... well, let's just say Zootopia suggests we've all come a long way.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.