Two animal puppets

Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) accepts help from Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) inZootopia (Disney photo)

Two wildly imaginative worlds open up on area movie screens this week. Both mix gorgeous animated photography with important life lessons for kids old enough to appreciate them.

The more mainstream offering is Disney’sZootopia, the story of a plucky rabbit who’s determined to become the first member of her species to pin on a badge.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) grows up in an anthropomorphic world where all animals—predators and prey alike—have learned to live in peace with each other. Even so, not all of the old differences have been forgotten. When Judy prepares to leave her hometown to join the Zootopia Police Academy, her parents warn her to watch out for big-city foxes.

Wouldn’t you know it, her first day on the job brings her into contact with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox who makes his living with schemes that fall just short of illegality.

Frustrated that her chief (Idris Elba) has assigned her to the parking patrol, Judy is determined to prove she’s capable of real police work. But her efforts backfire when she gets involved in a chase that nearly demolishes a neighborhood inhabited by tiny rodents.

Judy is on the verge of losing her job, but she gets one last chance to redeem herself when an otter begs police to find her missing husband. Judy is given 48 hours to accomplish the task, one that forces her to turn to the resourceful Nick for help.

Adult viewers will recognize thatZootopia borrows familiar themes from cop movies and buddy flicks: the disaster-prone officer, the gruff chief, the unlikely ally. Some of the plot’s darker twists and turns also owe much to film noir.

In one of the funnier scenes—when Judy accompanies to Nick to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and finds its clerks are all sloths—the film even borrows from the late Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding’s “Slow Talkers of America” sketch.

But whileZootopia lacks the made-from-scratch originality of 2015’sInside Out, it shapes its time-tested material into a timely message on overcoming cultural prejudice. Both Judy and Nick have something to prove: Judy because of her size, Nick because he belongs to the 10 percent of the population that is suspect due to its old predatory ways.

All the while, Disney’s animation artists ply us with images that are imaginative and striking. Though the film is offered in 3-D (which is how I saw it), most of those images are likely to be just as impressive in good old 2-D.

My one question about Zootopia is how child-friendly it is. With a convoluted plot, a running time of 108 minutes and intermittent humor that often goes over their heads, it may try the patience of younger kids.

On the other hand, those mature enough to appreciate it will no doubt bond with Judy while learning lessons that are valuable to all ages. 

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5) 

Zootopia, rated PG, opens Friday (March 4) at theaters nationwide.

Tale of the boy and the beast is a beauty

LikeZootopia, Japan’sThe Boy and the Beast creates a whole new world—one parallel to our own that’s populated by creatures with animal-like heads and human-like bodies.

The land is run by a rabbit-eared lord who wants to turn himself into a god. But first he must hold a competition to determine who will replace him: Iozen, a respected martial artist, or Kumatetsu, a bearish lay-about. The latter is told he must hire an apprentice to have any chance of winning the forthcoming contest.

It’s at this point we switch to our own world and meet Ren, a young boy who has been foisted off on relatives following the death of his mother. Angry, Ren runs away and accidentally wanders into the world of the beasts, where Kumatetsu immediately taps him as his apprentice.

The rest of the tale is about the complicated friendship that develops between the two over the course of years. It gradually comes to resemble a father-son relationship, though each has something to learn from the other.

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda,The Boy and the Beast is unsuitable for younger viewers thanks to its nearly two-hour running time and occasional profanity and violence, not to mention its subtitles. For others, it offers a stunningly illustrated lesson on the importance of finding strength from both within and without.

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)

The Boy and the Beast, rated PG-13, opens Friday (March 4) at the Gateway Film Center and AMC Easton Town Center 30.


Kumatetsu (voiced by Koji Yakusho) makes young Ren (Aoi Miyazaki) his apprentice inThe Boy and the Beast

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