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Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ presents an entertaining menagerie

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Fuzzy friends: Judy and Nick work on their investigation in Zootopia.

Three and a half stars

Zootopia Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Rated PG. Opens Friday citywide.

Frozen has become such a behemoth that it’s easy to forget how diverse Disney’s animated slate has been over the last several years. There isn’t a princess or a quest in sight in Zootopia, a winning, gorgeously animated story about anthropomorphic animals living in relative harmony in a bustling metropolis. Although mammals have evolved beyond their predator/prey relationship, according to the film’s opening history lesson, society is not as tolerant as it appears on the surface, and the optimistic Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) faces an uphill battle in her effort to become Zootopia’s first rabbit police officer.

Even when she makes it onto the force, she’s bullied by her larger animal peers, and she ends up stuck with small-time criminal fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) as her only help in solving the case of a missing otter (which quickly expands into a larger conspiracy). Zootopia provides a thoroughly engaging mystery with some satisfying twists and turns, even if the outcome for the mismatched Judy and Nick (eventual friendship and mutual respect) is predictable.

The dynamic among species (and specifically between former predators and prey) forms an extended metaphor for racism that gets more than a little belabored in the movie’s final act, in a way that might be lost on smaller children but will probably make their parents a bit exasperated. Still, directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and the team of writers never stray too far from the lively central storyline, and the main characters are likable and multi-dimensional, with Goodwin and Bateman giving them the right mix of sass and sweetness.

Zootopia itself is so impressively realized that just taking a tour of the city is enough to keep the audience hooked, with clever background details in nearly every frame. The movie gets a lot of comedic mileage out of simply having the animals remain in proportional size to each other, so that tiny mice coexist with giant rhinos, all of them talking and shopping and wearing business suits. Judy and Nick are perfect tour guides to this bright, colorful world, along with its darker corners, where animals’ baser instincts come out of hiding. The movie fits its sunny and shady sides together well, placing family-friendly messages into an innovative and consistently entertaining package.

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