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Young Judy Hopps has always wanted to be a police officer. In spite of the fact that her childhood, like that of her 200+ siblings, was happily spent on her parents’ carrot farm, she dreams of moving to the big city to make the world a better place. She gets the opportunity when she is accepted into the Mammal Inclusion Program of the Zootopia Police Department. Unfortunately, even though all animals have evolved to the point where they live together in harmony, no one really believes that a bunny should be a police officer in the animal metropolis of Zootopia.

As she fights this discrimination and vies for a chance at a real assignment for the Zootopia Police Department, she teams up with the reluctant Nick Wilde, a fox who knows the seedier side of Zootopia. No one trusts foxes; they are looked down on, always considered suspect. But after the two work together to find a missing otter, Officer Hopps finds that the stereotype doesn’t hold up.

Disney’s latest animated film does a superb job of world-building between the rural scenes and the city that is divided into different habitats. The animation itself is fantastic. It is funny, smart, and has a timely message about how we treat those who are different from us.

Perhaps it’s just that in the wake of last year’s Inside Out, my expectations for animated films are too high. In spite of all the anthropomorphized animal appeal, I felt like there was something lacking. The problem for me is similar to my complaint about some faith-based movies. Often it seems like they start out with the message they want to send (i.e. the importance of fatherhood in Courageous) and then write the story to fit the message. It’s not that the message is bad or wrong, but as soon as the story becomes secondary to the message, the storytelling suffers. Zootopia’s message of tolerance and the importance of looking past stereotypes and superficial differences is a good one. But it gets reiterated in so many ways that it borders on sermonizing.

Given the current U.S. political climate, maybe we need to hear this pointed message. Certainly it is important to have those discussions with our children. And though it may not be my favorite, Zootopia is still far, far above movies like last summer’s Minions. It’s a funny, colorful film with a warm heart. I just wish I could love it more. (Disney)

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