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Movie Night – ‘Zootopia’ brings cute, while falling short on comedy (March 23, 2016 issue)

By Bradley Griffith

2016 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for family movies. “Kung Fu Panda 3” has been the only bright spot in the genre through the first three months of the year.  While “Zootopia” has done quite well in theaters, it’s nothing special.

In the world of “Zootopia” animals have risen above their primal urges and have bonded together to build a society where predator and prey can live together in harmony, where all animals can peacefully coexist. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a young rabbit who lives in Bunnyburrow with her parents and 275 brothers and sisters.

While most bunnies are content to be carrot farmers, Judy has much bigger dreams. She dreams of traveling to the metropolis of Zootopia and becoming the first bunny police officer in the great city’s history.  When she finally reaches the right age and despite the urging of her parents to forget that dream, Judy applies for and is accepted to the Zootopia police academy.  Despite a rough start Judy soon hits her stride and graduates as the valedictorian of her class.

As Judy begins her first day of work as a police officer in her mind she pictures herself catching the bad guys and making a difference in the city.  Instead, Chief Bogo (Idrios Elba) assigns her to parking duty.  Judy is devastated to be reduced to a meter maid.  She wants to be a real cop.  On her first shift she encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist who technically didn’t break any laws with his scheme.

Judy sees an opportunity to help someone when Chief Bogo refuses to spend any investigative resources to search for a missing otter.  Chief Bogo only agrees to assign the case to Judy after she agrees to resign her position if she can’t solve the case in 48 hours.  Judy enlists the help of Nick, who knows everyone in Zootopia, to find the otter.  Judy quickly realizes that the missing otter is only one of a string of missing mammals across the city and solving this case could be her big break.

The number one requirement for a family movie is that it must be funny.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, both kids and adults alike will divert their attention if an animated movie doesn’t make them laugh.  The sad truth about “Zootopia” is that it’s just not funny.  The movie is definitely cute, and in a few select scenes might be described as clever, but it is not laugh-out-loud funny.

The story isn’t bad: a young bunny from the country escapes the boredom of her life in the sticks to find her path in life in the big city.  While the secret culprit behind the disappearances is easy to identify, the mystery of the missing animals is enough to hold your attention for a while.  The concept of the movie is a good one, the writers just forgot to add the humor that would have made it a good movie.

The voice casting of the movie was spot-on and the animation is first rate.  As far as the content goes, the movie is appropriate for children of all ages.  In fact, younger children will probably enjoy the movie more than older kids as it seems geared for the youngest members of the audience.

There’s really not much more to say about “Zootopia.”  The scene with the sloths working at the DMV is the best of the movie, if you haven’t already seen it a dozen times in the commercials.  “Zootopia” is a cute and somewhat clever movie that just couldn’t quite find the comedy in what is billed as a family comedy.

Grade: B-

Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor, and action.