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Zootopia: Something Different From Disney

The Walt Disney Animation Studio has just celebrated ten years under the management of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull of Pixar. In that time, these creative leaders have encouraged their team to try new ideas and the results have been admirably diverse. That’s why Zootopia doesn’t look or feel like any other Disney cartoon feature. Its directors have described it as a cross between L.A. Confidential and a Richard Scarry book. However you describe it, it’s singular and highly entertaining.

The heroine is a bright, sunny-natured bunny rabbit named Judy Hopps whose dream is to make the world a better place. Refusing to be discouraged, she leaves her parents’ carrot farm to become a police officer in the multifaceted metropolis of Zootopia. There she finds that, despite her stellar efforts at the police academy, she’s relegated to the role of meter maid—until she encounters a sly fox named Nick Wilde, who opens her eyes to the criminal element of Zootopia.

Clearly, this is not your “typical” Disney movie. (There’s even a joke or two at the expense of Frozen.) The story is much more dense and complex, and the emotional journey is challenging for Judy and the roguish Nick. Young children may be confused or even scared by some of the darker elements of the story, which is why it’s properly rated PG and not G.

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© 2016 Disney

Zootopia has a lot on its mind. Credited screenwriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and directors Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled) aren’t making an out-and-out message movie, but they do want their viewers to think while they’re being entertained. Kids will readily recognize the story points about bullying, stereotyping, and acceptance.

At the same time, Zootopia is beautifully designed and brimming with genuinely funny gags. And it’s anchored by two irresistibly likable, relatable characters, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. They lead us on a wholly unpredictable adventure set in the animal world but reflective of our own existence. As I say, this isn’t like any Disney movie you’ve seen before… but that’s precisely why Zootopia is so disarming.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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