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


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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.

Shattered America #73: Team America: World Police (dir by Trey Parker)


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So, are we once again allowed to watch Team America: World Police?

As you may remember, back in December, the entire nation totally freaked out over the possibility that North Korea might be offended by the James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview.  Hackers — who many assumed were working for North Korea — released embarrassing emails that were exchanged among Sony executives and filmmakers.  Barely literate threats were posted, warning that any theater showing The Interview would be blown up.  Common sense should have told us that these were empty threats but instead, everyone panicked.

Sony announced that they would not be releasing The Interview.  The film would never see the light of day.  Overdramatic people like me got on twitter and announced that, if Sony didn’t release The Interview, then free speech was dead.  “It is every American’s duty to see The Interview!” I tweeted, “If you don’t see The Interview, you’re letting the terrorists win!”

Then Sony changed their mind and released The Interview after all.  People got to watch it.  Critics got to slam it.  Free speech lived for yet another day.

As for me, I never got around to watching it.

Uhmm, anyway…

What got forgotten in all of this drama is that some theaters announced that they would show the 2004 film Team America: World Police in the place of the Interview.  In many ways, it was a brilliant idea.  Team America, after all, is a brilliantly profane satire from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  Not only was the film a parody of overdone Hollywood blockbusters but it also featured the members of Team America using their powers to take out Kim Jong-il, the father of the political leader targeted for assassination in The Interview.  Even better than that, it featured Team America violently destroying the vapid (and surprisingly well-armed) celebrities who Kim Jong-il had tricked into supporting him.  How can you not love a film that features a puppet of Michael Moore blowing itself up?

Oh, did I mention that the entire movie features puppets?  Because it so does!

The use of puppets allows Parker and Stone to not only create some spectacular action scenes but also to feature parodies of more than a few real-life celebrities, all of whom are portrayed as being stupid, trendy, and easily manipulated.  The fact that Sean Penn saw himself lampooned in the film and then wrote an angry letter to Parker and Stone (ending it with, “Fuck you!”) is one of many reasons to love Team America.

So, we weren’t going to get to see The Interview but at least we could see Team America.  But then Paramount Pictures announced that they were not going to let any theater show Team America.  As annoyed as I was by what happened with The Interview, the ban on Team America was even more annoying.

I mean, we all knew The Interview as probably a really bad film.  But we also knew that Team America was great!  Indeed, banning Team America seemed like exactly the type of thing that one of the film’s puppet celebrities would have demanded.

Plus, as Team America‘s theme song reminded us — “America!  Fuck yeah!”  Bowing down to dictators does not make anyone want to shout, “America!  Fuck yeah!”

More like, “America!  Fuck no!”

Anyway, eventually Sony relented and released The Interview.  But I haven’t heard anything about Team America.  However, it’s currently available on Netflix so I’m going to assume that it is once again legal to watch Team America.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I still felt like I was breaking the law when I recently rewatched it.

Yet another reason to love Team America: World Police.

Quickie Review: Frozen (dir. by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)


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“The cold never bothered me anyway.” — Queen Elsa

During the 1990’s Disney was the king of animated films. It was a decade where they enjoyed a new Golden Age of film animation which first started with Little Mermaid. As the company entered the new millenium their success with traditional animation began to wane and a new kid on the block took over as king. This new kid was called Pixar and soon enough they joined the House that Mickey built. So, it was through Pixar that Disney retained their crown when it came to animated films, but their own in-house animation house suffered setbacks through failed projects and/or subpar productions.

It was in 2010 when Disney itself began a nice comeback with the surprise hit Tangled. This new Disney take on the Rapunzel fairy tale became not just a hit with both critics and fans, but showed that Disney could compete with their very own Pixar when it came to CG animation and storytelling. These were two areas that Pixar were known for and Disney followed it up with another critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite Wreck-It Ralph.

Frozen marks the latest from Walt Disney Animation and, at first glance, the film looked like an attempt to replicate the fun and whimsical nature of 2010’s Tangled. Even some of the character animations looked similar. The film wasn’t helped by a media and ad campaign which made the film feel like it would be about pratfalls and juvenile jokes. Yet, what the public got when it was finally released this past Thanksgiving was a definite return for Walt Disney Animation to their heyday of the 1990’s.

The film takes Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen fairy tale and makes it into a story about the love of two sisters in a faraway kingdom where one grows up repressing her ability to control and create ice and snow for fear of harming her younger sister. It’s this part of Frozen which brings the film from becoming just an animated production for little kids and into the realm of appealing to audiences of all ages. Even Olaf the Snowman who was a prominent face in all the ads leading up to the film’s release ended up becoming more than just comedic relief.

The characters of Elsa and Anna, at first, look like your typical Disney princesses, but as the narrative moves forward the two pretty much blow up whatever negative tropes that have been attributed to past Disney princess roles. Anna didn’t just come off as the spunky little sister, but becomes a multi-faceted character who actually becomes the redemption for her older sister Elsa.

Now, speaking of Elsa, Disney has been famous for creating some very iconic female characters with their animated films. Some of these characters have been the protagonists in their films, but some have also been the villains. In Frozen, Disney has created a character in Elsa who many could say inhabited both sides of the film’s conflict. She becomes a sort of antagonist midway through the film due to fear and ignorance of her ability to create and control snow and ice. This incident also prompts the film’s turn from being just a cute and fun film and into the realm of becoming a classic in the making.

Seeing Elsa accepting her true nature and becoming more confident in herself as a woman makes Frozen a rarity in animated films where females character tend to have male counterparts to help them along. Elsa also becomes such a great character due to Idina Menzel’s voice performance both in the speaking parts and the songs Elsa becomes a part of. In fact, I would be quite surprised if the most pivotal moment and song in the film, “Let It Go”, doesn’t end up winning best original song come Oscar time. Ms. Menzel brought so many facets of emotions through Elsa from a sense of despair to a sassy determination that should make the character a fan-favorite of little girls and mature women for years to come.

Frozen, a film that looked like it was a flop for Disney waiting to happen, ends up becoming one of the surprise hits of this holiday season and cements the return of Walt Disney Animation back to the forefront of animated film storytelling. This was a film that ended up becoming more than it’s initial first impression had going for it. A film that showed the power of female-centric storytelling could compete with the sturm und drang of the male-dominated blockbusters.

I wholeheartedly recommend people see this film on the bigscreen if just to experience Idina Menzel’s performance in “Let It Go” on the biggest screen venue as possible.