Saturday, April 9, 2016

Zootopia (CGI animated movie), via the movie theater

Zootopia is children's cop/mystery movie.

I opted not to include watch-alikes or read-alikes, although I'm now on the lookout for 1) decent furry (anthropomorphized animals) fiction that I haven't read before and that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and 2) fiction with prominent cross-gender friendships that don't become romantic (harder to find than I expected, especially since I'd prefer stuff written for older teens or adults). Feel free to recommend some in a comment, if you'd like.


I probably wouldn't have gone to see Zootopia if it hadn't seen all the positive viewer comments about it. People whose opinions I usually trusted said it was far better than they'd expected. Of course, some of those same people also said that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the best movie ever, so I tried to take their recommendations with a grain of salt.

Most of what I knew about Zootopia was based on the one theatrical trailer I'd seen, the clip of Nick, the fox, and Judy, the rabbit, at the DMV. This clip was okay the first time around, but it was almost painful to watch the second and third time. It also left me with the impression that Zootopia didn't really have much of a plot. Thankfully, the movie was much better than that clip led me to believe. In fact, I loved it so much that I went to see it a second time.

I'll keep my synopsis as spoiler-free as possible, but keep in mind that that means I have to leave out a lot. Basically, in the world of Zootopia, mammals have evolved to the point where they've become sentient. Predators and prey now live in peace, although prejudice is still a problem – animals who were traditionally prey are sometimes fearful of animals who were traditionally predators, and foxes, in particular, are looked down upon (why foxes and not tigers, lions, or any number of other predators? I have no idea).

Judy is a rabbit living in the rural town of Bunnyburrow. Although her parents would love it if she became a carrot farmer like them, Judy's greatest dream is to become a police officer, the very first bunny cop. She accomplishes her dream and is even assigned to Zootopia, the big city she's always wanted to visit, but reality isn't quite like she imagined. While doing her job and trying to keep her spirits up, Judy meets Nick, a cynical and street smart con artist fox. After Judy makes a rash promise, Nick becomes her best bet for finding the missing predators and keeping her job.

This movie was a lot of fun, but it also had a greater number of darker and more serious moments than I expected. I knew, from comments on Twitter, that it dealt with racism and racial profiling, but I didn't know any specifics beyond that. Judy's disastrous press conference made me gasp, and Nick's story about his childhood was surprisingly dark (nothing inappropriate for a children's movie, although it could hit kids who've been bullied pretty hard). I loved the bit during Nick and Judy's first meeting, when she called him a “real articulate fellow” and he responded “It's rare that I find someone so non-patronizing” (both times I saw the movie, I could have sworn he said “patronizing” rather than “non-patronizing,” which would have been even funnier since Judy didn't notice, but every source I can find indicates I must have heard wrong).

That's not to say the movie didn't have problems. Both times I saw it, I hated the first scene with Clawhauser, the overweight cheetah cop. The “he somehow lost a doughnut under his chin fat” part was awful, an extremely lazy and unnecessary fat joke.

Another problem: the movie couldn't seem to figure out exactly how it wanted to portray predator-prey relations. The mayor, a lion, was a predator who loved being in the spotlight, and none of Zootopia's citizens seemed to have a problem with him. Also, foxes were the only type of predator subjected to on-screen prejudice. Like the world-building, the details of the movie's message didn't always seem to be very consistent or fully realized.

Speaking of the world-building, there was a lot to love, if you didn't think about it too much. The city of Zootopia was amazing. I loved the architecture, which was clearly inspired by nature and by the needs of its animal inhabitants. I loved the various ecosystems, even if I couldn't help but wonder how they were achieved and how natural local weather patterns were dealt with. I loved the city's variety, even if I kept thinking things like “Are certain species paid more or less than others?” (you'd think they'd need to be, if a popsicle for an elephant costs $15 while Nick charges little rodents $2 for his “Pawpsicles”) and “Is interspecies marriage a thing?” On the negative side, the more I thought about it, the less accommodating and the more segregated the city seemed.

The top thing I loved about this movie was probably Judy and Nick's friendship. I liked them both individually: Judy's enthusiasm and optimism were great, and Nick was wonderfully complex and also fun to watch at work. However, they were even better as a pair. I should mention that this is maybe the third Disney movie I've seen with some version of “I love you” used in a non-romantic way, and it's the first one that wasn't a little awkward about it. Although a certain subset of the Zootopia fandom would disagree with me, the fact that the movie didn't shoehorn romance into the story and allowed Nick and Judy to become close friends rather than a romantic couple was wonderful.

All in all, the things I loved vastly outweighed the things I didn't, and I definitely plan on buying the movie when it comes out on DVD. I may break down and look up some fanfic, assuming it's relatively easy to find stuff that doesn't pair Nick and Judy up romantically or sexually (yeah, that's unfortunately a thing).

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