A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Zootopia is a clever, fast-paced animated Disney film set in a world of walking, talking, clothed animals that live peacefully together, having supposedly evolved past nature's rules of predator versus prey. It's a story about an eager young cop (Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), and her investigation involves chase scenes (one is prolonged and particularly intense) and jump-scare predator attacks, as well as an explosive crash, sneaking around in dark rooms, allusions to mob activity, kidnapping, threatened torture (a crime boss wants to "ice" key characters -- i.e. throw them in frozen water to drown), and bullying. No one is seriously hurt, but there are times when it seems that they have been/will be. Expect regular use of insult language like "stupid," "jerk," "dumb," "butt," etc., humor related to "naturalist" animals who choose not to wear clothes, and some sexy, sparkly ensembles worn by Gazelle, a pop star voiced by Shakira. There are a lot of jokes for adults that will go way over kids' head (references to The Godfather, the DMV, and Breaking Bad, for instance), but there's plenty for younger audiences to laugh at, too, and it all comes wrapped in great messages about courage, empathy, tolerance, teamwork, and the dangers of reducing others to stereotypes.
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What's the story?
ZOOTOPIA is set in a world where walking, talking, "civilized" animals live in general harmony with one another, regardless of whether they're predator or prey. When small-town rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) achieves her childhood dream of becoming the first rabbit to join the Zootopia Police Department, Chief of Police Bogo (Idris Elba) initially relegates her to a safe but boring parking-duty assignment. Meanwhile, the rest of the ZPD is busy investigating 14 missing-mammal cases -- all predators. One day on the job, Judy encounters sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who cheerfully hustles her. But she ends up hustling him right back after promising a worried otter that she'll find her missing husband; with only 48 hours to crack the case if she wants to keep her badge, Judy realizes her best bet is to enlist Nick -- who has plenty of connections -- to help her figure out who's behind the predator kidnappings that are threatening Zootopia's peace.
Is it any good?
Clever and heartwarming, this animated adventure is equal parts buddy-cop comedy, fish-out-of-water tale, and whodunit mystery. With its vibrant visuals, simple but evocative storyline, and important social commentary, Zootopia is a talking-animal pic worth watching with the whole family. Judy and Nick's repartee is reminiscent of classic screwball comedies, and the plot's twists are a throwback to noir films in which the culprit is never who you think. Although the trailer gives away one of the movie's funniest scenes -- when Judy and Nick go into a DMV run entirely by sloths moving slower than molasses -- there are plenty more laughs and memorable bits to make both kids and grown-ups laugh.
And the voice casting is spot on: Goodwin is wonderful as the constantly energetic, optimistic Judy -- who may have gotten into the police academy thanks to the mayor's "mammal inclusion program" but who goes on to prove that even a cute bunny has what it takes to take down bad guys -- while Bateman has the ideal cynical voice to portray the hilariously jaded Nick, who's a fast-talking charmer with a knack for knowing everything he can about Zootopia's movers and shakers. Elba's robust baritone is perfectly paired with the brusque water buffalo police chief; other supporting characters include veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche doing an excellent Marlon Brando impression to play tuxedoed crime boss Mr. Big, and Tommy Chong as a "naturalist" life coach yak. And then there's Shakira's pop star Gazelle, who sings a catchy theme song that captures the spirit of the movie: "Try Everything." In other words, be who you want to be, not who others expect you to be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Zootopia's messages. How do Judy and Nick challenge stereotypes about bunnies and foxes? How can we apply those messages to human society?
Do you agree with Nick when he says that "you can only be what you are -- sly fox, dumb bunny"? How does his opinion change over the course of the movie? How do he and Judy change the way each other thinks?
How does the movie address bullying? How did being bullied when they were little affect both Judy and Nick? How did they react to it? What does Judy find out about her bully later on, and what can we learn from that?
Do you think it's OK for movies aimed at kids to include humor that only adults will understand? Does it matter if the jokes are racy vs. other kinds of references to things kids aren't familiar with?
- In theaters: March 4, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2016
- Cast: Idris Elba, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate
- Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, rude humor and action
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Seal, Golden Globe
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