Playing Catch-Up: Zootopia (dir by Byron Howard and Rich Moore)


Speaking of animated films

I finally got a chance to watch Zootopia last night and oh my God, what a sweet and wonderful little film it turned out to be!

Zootopia is an animated film from Disney and it started out with a premise that sounds very Disney-like.  Zootopia takes place in a world where there are no humans.  Instead, animals walk and talk and scheme and plan and joke and dance and … well, basically, do everything that humans do.  Except they’re a lot cuter when they do it because they’re talking animals.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Gennifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who happens to be an incurable optimist.  (We should all try to be more like Judy.)  Even when she was growing up on the farm, Judy knew that she would someday move to the sprawling metropolis of Zootopia and become the first rabbit on the city’s police force.  When she finally does graduate from the police academy, Judy gets a lot of attention as a trailblazer.  But she quickly discovers that she’s only been hired to be a token, a political tool to help the city’s mayor, a blowhard of a lion named Lionheart (J.K. Simmons, voice the role that he was born to voice), win reelection.

See, Zootopia may look like a wonderful place to live but, as quickly becomes apparent, it’s a city in which the peace is very tenous.  Animals that are traditionally prey — like Judy and her fellow rabbits — may live with the predators but they certainly don’t trust them.  And the predators may not eat the prey but they certainly don’t respect them.  Underneath the cute face of every talking animal, there lies prejudice and resentment.  Lionheart is a predator who needs the votes of prey to remain in office.  What better way to win their trust then to make Judy Hopps a police officer?

Judy may be a member of the police force but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to be allowed to actually do anything.  While every other member of the force gets an exciting assignment, Judy is assigned to traffic duty.

However, an otter has recently vanished.  He’s just the latest of 14 predators to vanish in the city.  With the help of seemingly sympathetic deputy mayor, Judy gets herself assigned to the case.  But there’s a catch.  She has 48 hours to find the otter.  If she doesn’t find that otter, she’ll resign from the force and go back to the farm.

Luckily, Judy is not working alone.  She knows that the last animal known to have seen the otter is a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).  Nick’s a bit of a con artist and, as a predator, he wants nothing to do with Judy and she doesn’t quite trust him.  But, events — which I’m not going to spoil here — force them to work together and uncover the darkest secrets of life in Zootopia…

If Zootopia sounds cute, that’s because it is.  It’s perhaps one of the most adorable films that I’ve ever seen, full of wonderful animation and memorable characters.  But, at the same time, there’s a very serious theme running through Zootopia.  Zootopia is about more than just talking animals.  It’s a film about prejudice, racism, sexism, and intolerance.  It’s a film that invites us to not only laugh but also to reconsider the world around us.

Zootopia is currently on Netflix and, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s great for children and adults.

Quickie Review: Hellboy: Blood and Iron

Guillermo Del Toro will forever be one of the heroes of comic book fans everywhere due to his bringing Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic book franchise from the printed page to the silver screen. He first brought the Big Red Guy with the 2004 film adaptation of the same name. The film was a modest success and brought the titular character to a whole new group of fans. In 2008, Del Toro came out with the bigger and more epic sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. What some fans of the character sometimes forget or didn’t even realize was that in-between these two films were two direct-to-dvd releases of the animated variety. The first to come out was Hellboy: Sword of Storms in 2006. While I enjoyed that animated film it would be the follow-up dvd release, Hellboy: Blood and Iron which truly captured the essence of the comic books even moreso than the two live-action films.

Hellboy: Blood and Iron would combine parallel storylines about Hellboy and his surrogate father’s, Trevor Bruttenholm, encounter with one Erzsebet Ondrushko also known in occult circles as Elizabeth Bathory the Blood Countess. According to the film, Erzsebet would bathe in the blood of innocent, young girls. The film also makes Erzsebet a follower and disciple of the Mediterranean goddess of witchcraft and sorcery, Hecate.

One storyline would play out in reverse chronological order and take place in 1939 as a much younger Trevor Bruttenholm travels to Eastern Europe to investigate a series of murders that locals have attributed to the return of the Blood Countess. The other storyline moves to the present as Hellboy and his teammates from the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) investigate the supposed hauntings of the estate of a wealthy businessman. This would be an estate that would be the center piece of a sort of haunted amusement park with the Blood Countess and the legends surrounding her as the main attraction.

Hellboy: Blood and Iron does a great job of mixing action, horror and the occult without one or the other overshadowing the rest. The film takes some of it’s ideas from Mike Mignola’s (creator of the Hellboy franchise) Hellboy graphic novel, Wake the Devil, and screenwriter Kevin Hopps does a good job of taking those ideas and creating something new yet similar as well. The film also benefited from the return of the cast of the live-action Hellboy films to voice their respective characters in this animated film. There’s Ron Perlman in his gruff and sardonic best as the title character. Selma Blair returns to voice Hellboy’s closest friend in the redheaded pyrokine Liz Sherman with Doug Jones and John Hurt rounding it out as Abe Sapien and Trevor Bruttenholm.

The animation is not the highest level but for a direct-to-dvd affair it more than holds up and really captures the look and feel of the comic books it was based on. Yet, while an animated film this one wouldn’t be appropriate for little kids to watch. For a “cartoon” it’s quite violent with themes of witchcraft, vampirism and blood sacrifice prevalent from beginning to end. It’s actually quite scary in certain sections especially whenever the resurrected Erzsebet appeared. I don’t think most animated films ever involved a sequence of a tub full of fresh, hot blood waiting to be used as bathwater.

For those willing to learn more and understand the appeal of the Hellboy comic books to legions of fans this animated film was a good example. Hellboy: Blood and Iron was great from beginning to end especially how it interwove not just the vampiric and pagan legends surrounding Erzebet Ondrushko, but also little tidbits of information and character development which added to the backstory of not just Hellboy but those closest to him. Plus, this animated film had two character’s whose names were variants of the name Lisa.