Just when it was looking like animated animal movies had run out of anything original to say, along comes the smartly amusing, crisply relevant "Zootopia" to handily demonstrate there's still plenty of bite left in the anthropomorphic CG menagerie.
Boasting a pitch-perfect voice cast led by a terrific Ginnifer Goodwin as a righteous rural rabbit who becomes the first cotton-tailed police recruit in the mammal-centric city of "Zootopia," the 3-D caper expertly combines keen wit with a gentle, and very timely, message of inclusivity and empowerment.
The engaging result should easily appeal to all creatures great and small, giving this premium Walt Disney Animation Studios effort a paw up on spring break entertainment, not to mention the summer arrival of Universal's animated "The Secret Life of Pets."
As the Zootopia Police Department's sole bunny officer, idealistic Judy Hopps (Goodwin) discovers that breaking barriers can be an uphill climb, especially when the other cops in the force are mainly of the more imposing elephant/rhino/hippo ilk.
Although intrepid Judy can't wait to collar her first perp, Bogo (Idris Elba), Precinct 1's gruff cape buffalo police chief, has other plans, assigning her to parking duty, where she proves her worth by writing 200 tickets before noon on her first day.
But when a number of "Zootopia"'s residents abruptly go missing, Bogo gives Judy the green light to do some big-time police work and she finds herself partnering up with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly, world-weary scam artist of a fox, in a 48-hour bid to crack the case.
Nimbly directed by Byron Howard ("Tangled," ''Bolt") and Rich Moore ("Wreck-It Ralph"), along with co-director Jared Bush, who shares screenplay credit with Phil Johnston, the romp serves up plenty of sharply observed satire (a DMV manned entirely by sloths is played to hilariously protracted effect) wrapped up in judicious life lessons that never feel preachy or shoehorned-in.
While Goodwin and Bateman are a voice-casting dream team come true as a dysfunctional duo who learn to follow their instincts over preconceived notions, they're joined by a nicely diverse supporting ensemble that also includes J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, and Shakira as a gazelle pop star who performs the film's original song, "Try Everything," co-written by hit-makers Sia and Stargate.
Also making their lines count are Jenny Slate as a not-so-sheepish sheep who serves as "Zootopia"'s predator-averse assistant mayor and Maurice LaMarsh as an arctic shrew version of Don Corleone named Mr. Big.
Visually, the "Zootopia" canvas pops – with or without the 3-D glasses – thanks to a gorgeously vibrant color palette and whimsical architectural scales orchestrated by production designer David Goetz. His work is in keeping with an all-mammal parallel universe comprised of distinct microclimates like sunny Bunnyburrow, icy Tundratown, and self-explanatory Little Rodentia.
Composer Michael Giacchino, meanwhile, in his first non-Pixar animated feature assignment, delivers a typically buoyant score, playfully tossing in music cues that pay affectionate homage to Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota.