ZOOTOPIA (2016, Howard/Moore/Bush)
Pixar sets such a high standard for animated family films that it’s tempting to underrate the perfectly serviceable entries from Disney’s regular animation wing like ZOOTOPIA. (In case you didn’t know it was Disney, though, it spends a good fifth of its running time self-promoting the brand: the entire city in which it takes place feels like the Anaheim theme park, there’s a character selling bootleg DVDs with titles that are only puns of actual Disney films, and there’s an extended callback and quote of FROZEN). Whereas Pixar recognizes actual pain, danger, and darkness in the world, films like ZOOTOPIA are much softer and anesthetized, merely paying some lip service to bullying and buried subtext about racial profiling.
The animation is clever if not overly creative, and there’s plenty of good laughs on the fringes (companies like “Zuber” assist in migration, lemmings are company drones who follow each other). And Jason Bateman is once again the best thing about a movie — his voice performance hitting all the right notes and filling out a character who’s another charming rapscallion. One thing that’s troublesome about the plot is how all problems are solved through Big Brother surveillance: traffic cameras everywhere cataloguing our every move is the greatest thing ever, and any conversation audio-recorded without someone’s knowledge is the only thing that lets the truth come out. Single-handedly endorsing the Patriot Act is not a good look. Otherwise, kids will have a grand time laughing at the animal anthropomorphizing on display, and adults will be decently entertained, especially at the DMV sloth sequence. It’s an early contender for Scene of the Year.