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Review: ‘Zootopia’ is More Than Just Fluff

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Zootopia Ginnifer Goodwin Judy Hopps Jason Bateman

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s rare to see a modern animated film have strong allegories, but also a fantastical world to wrap them within. Zootopia deals with topics such as racism, sexism, prejudice and stereotypes, but only as bluntly as they should appear in a world of anthropomorphic animals.

Zootopia Ginnifer Goodwin Judy Hopps Jason Bateman

The gang’s all here! Animals unite in the world of ‘Zootopia.’

It’s probably not something you’d expect from the Walt Disney Studios that tends to favor the simpler and award-winning stories of Frozen and Big Hero 6. But in the current crop of animated films that dabble in simplistic slapstick and templated shlock, Zootopia stands out just enough to turn some heads on how to make a movie about CGI animals both creative and thoughtful.

Zootopia constructs a society where all animals have learned to live in harmony. Hamsters ride the train with rhinos, a sheep acts as a secretary to a tiger and giraffes can get a decent cup of coffee on their morning commute. Despite the boasting of defeating nature over nurture with prey living among predators, a few hurdles exist to be climbed.

Zootopia Ginnifer Goodwin Judy Hopps Jason Bateman

Judy Hopps wants to be more than just an adorable fluffball.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit that wants to be a cop, but there has never been a bunny police officer before – most bunnies appear to be farmers. When relayed this information by her parents, Judy cheerfully states that she’ll just have to be the first, as if it’s no big challenge. But it turns out to be one of the most difficult tasks of her life with a societal mindset that bunnies are too cute and small to handle big cases. She certainly stands out in a room of officers that range from water buffalo to elephants.

Reduced to the level of a meter maid, Judy seeks to prove herself by solving one of the many missing mammal cases throughout Zootopia. Her only lead is the cunning fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a shameless hustler that specializes in taking advantage of kindness and making a quick couple hundred dollars.

Zootopia Ginnifer Goodwin Judy Hopps Jason Bateman

An unlikely duo-Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde team up to catch a crook in ‘Zootopia.’

Judy uses all her wits and smarts to force Nick into helping her crack the case and proves she’s not just some dumb little bunny. At the same time, Nick also desires to excel past his predator ancestors to be more than just an astute huckster. And the conspiracy they uncover is thankfully smart enough to not be obvious and have a few unique twists.

The premise sounds simple enough for a buddy picture fused with a conspiracy plot. But the exceptional direction of Rich Moore and Byron Howard elevates every scene to its full potential.

There is an immense construction to the world of Zootopia that divides up regions into different climates from rainforests to a tundra. The inner urbanized part of Zootopia has various areas built for creatures big and small; hippos have a dry-off station after emerging from water and small moles go shopping in their own pint-sized district. The attention to detail to every aspect of this society is a grand visual treat.

While kids will marvel at the amazing animation and character designs, adults will have plenty to admire in the humor. There are satirical digs at the studio with the way a street vendor sells bootleg versions of familiar Disney movies and one very clever slam on Frozen. The thematic elements contain loving satire to The Godfather and Chinatown, but clever enough to be appropriate for the story rather than just be direct references.

The comedy is also just as smart with the right amount of timing. One of the most uproarious scenes involves Judy and Nick gathering information from a DMV run by sloths. The full version of this scene was used in one of the trailers. Having already seen it, I still laughed hard at this scene for it tenacity to draw out the lazy nature of sloths. The absurdity is golden.

Everything about Zootopia works more effectively than expected for another animated movie about talking animals. There is intelligence to its story of social drama and equal parts wit in its vibrant animation. The result is a film that can be timely in its important message, but still be a genuinely pleasing production that families can indulge in for cute laughs. I didn’t even mind that the movie ends with the cliché dancing of characters to the tune of Shakira (anthropomorphized as a gazelle). You go ahead and have your dance, Zootopia – you’ve earned it.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie nut Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


Box Office

“Glass” Glows Amid Dim Weekend

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The weekend of the Super Bowl found the box office low about as expected with not a single film making over $10 million for the weekend. As such, there were very few surprises with which films ended up where. Just as with last week, Glass is at #1 for its third weekend, coming in with $9.5 million, shaping up to be another financially successful film from M. Night, though it’ll start dropping as we head into February. Just behind it is the dramedy The Upside, pulling up close with $8.8 million as it expanded into a few more theaters for the weekend.

The premiere for the weekend, Miss Bala, a cartel thriller, only debuted at #3 with a box office debut of $6.7 million. Not a very strong opening but it did manage to get just above the December box office hang-on superhero movies of Aquaman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, still in the top 5. Green Book, coming up on awards season, soared higher in the box office upon expansion and The Kid Who Would Be King, unfortunately, won’t be seeing much of an audience going into February.

Debuting in a very limited engagement is Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, a WWI documentary with restored footage. The film had originally opened the last week of December in a handful of theaters but thankfully expanded into more theaters where it was strong enough to make it to #10.

Glass ($9,535,000)
The Upside ($8,850,000)
Miss Bala ($6,700,000)
Aquaman ($4,785,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($4,410,000)
Green Book ($4,317,000)
The Kid Who Would Be King ($4,200,000)
A Dog’s Way Home ($3,510,000)
Escape Room ($2,900,000)
They Shall Not Grow Old ($2,405,000)

Next weekend is all about the LEGO. LEGO Movie 2, the animated sequel, will be hitting over 4,000 theaters. Also opening will be the thriller Cold Pursuit in 2,500 theaters, the killer-kid horror The Prodigy opening in 2,500 theaters, and the gender comedy What Men Want in 2,800 theaters.


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“Glass” Holds Firm, “King” and “Serenity” Sink

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M. Night’s Glass already had a lot of hype for being the most anticipated movie of January and the popularity is proving it. Now in its second weekend, the thriller has made another $19 million and has shown itself to be a box office success even in the colder months of January where it’s not exactly pulling in the largest of box office numbers. Not exactly a twist from a director known for twists.

The premieres for the weekend didn’t fare well at all. The Kid Who Would Be King, Joe Cornish’s kid-oriented fantasy of modern knights and demons, debuted only at #4 with a weekend gross of $7.2 million, lagging not far behind Aquaman which made $7.3 million. It seems strange that family entertainment wouldn’t be a bigger hit in a month with little of that. But then again, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is still in theaters and still doing well at #5, proving to have the legs to stick around into February as it continues to win awards for being a groundbreaking animated film.

Also debuting lower is Serenity, a new drama by Steven Knight. This one doesn’t seem as surprising given both the lack of promotion for the picture and the abysmally negative critic reviews, declaring the film as an early front-runner for the worst of the year. The movie only came in at #8 for the weekend with a gross of $4.8 million.

Worth noting is that Dragon Ball Super: Broly is still hanging in the top 10, latching onto the #10 spot with a gross of $3.6 million. Though not the biggest box office compared to its competition, it’s a big success for FUNimation pushing anime into theaters given they’ve yet to have as big of a release as this one and for such a long time. Most anime they release in theaters are only present for a weekend if that and tend not to crack the top 10 as often. Dragon Ball Super has become the exception and may lead to more anime screenings to larger theater counts in the future.

See the full top 10 for the weekend below:
Glass ($19,049,000)
The Upside ($12,240,000)
Aquaman ($7,350,000)
The Kid Who Would Be King ($7,250,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($6,150,000)
Green Book ($5,413,000)
A Dog’s Way Home ($5,225,000)
Serenity ($4,800,000)
Escape Room ($4,275,000)
Dragon Ball Super: Broly ($3,600,000)


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Review: “Alita: Battle Angel” Fights Faithful, Dark, Fun

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When it comes to films based on Japanese anime and manga, they have a record far more stumbling than that of video game movies. These types of movies have been plagued with everything from confused direction (Dragonball Evolution) to cheap translations (Fist of the North Star) to awkward whitewashing (Ghost in the Shell). But Alita: Battle Angel may just be the first film to break that mold, at least from a translation point.

One would hope that the screenplay writer James Cameron would put some dedication into this project he had been talking about making happen for nearly two decades. Surprisingly, he matches the source material well. The world is perfectly defined with a cyberpunk dystopia of the far future, the elites residing in a metropolis of the sky while the poor cyborgs struggle on the surface world of garbage. Also present is the grim atmosphere which I questioned if Cameron would delve into, given that the original story was a depressing one of pathos, amputation, decapitation, bifurcation, and the murdering of a dog.

Keean Johnson (left) and Rosa Salazar (center) in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The film has all of this in telling the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar), a mysterious teenage cyborg found with very little of her body in a heap of dumped robot parts. Determined to rebuild her and give her a new life as a teenage girl is Doctor Ido (Christoph Waltz), committed to being a charity of a cybernetics doctor when so few can afford so much in artificial limbs they need. Alita is a kind girl, made all the more sweet with those artificially giant eyes added digitally. While this may really give her the look of an uncanny valley creation in hopes of replicating that anime style, it works well in defining Alita as both an artificial being and fitting in with the odd nature of cyborg society.

There’s a progressive build of Alita discovering both the world around her and uncovering her cloudy past. She takes as much of an interest in the fast-paced violent sport of Motorball as she does the scrappy young Hugo (Keean Johnson), potential boyfriend material. But she’ll soon come to learn that not everybody is who they appear to be, as both Hugo and Ido have secrets they haven’t revealed as the web of corruption in the city runs deep. All of it relates back to the giant floating paradise in the clouds that everybody shoots for, including the smug gangster leader Vector (Mahershala Ali) who acts as a puppet for those above, sometimes literally. Everyone wants to make it to the top and they’re willing to break any rule to get there.

Rosa Salazar (Alita) and Keean Johnson (Hugo) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Of course, it’s no shock that Alita is the girl to shake things up and fight the system. This is where director Robert Rodriguez takes the helm of this project and gives it his own flavor of slick and violent action. He really pushes that PG-13 rating to the limit of how much you can get away with in dicing up cyborgs, staging intimidating barroom brawls and vicious battles on a giant racetrack. Even for a director known for plenty of violence in his films, Rodriguez still manages to cram in a number of ouch-worthy moments where characters are sliced in half or have their faces chopped at an angle. Also present is Rodriguez’s trademark humor that manages to fit in snugly amid the more tragic parts of this cyberpunk tale.

Alita still has a few kinks in the armor with some clunky bits of dialogue and emotions that run a little flat here and there. But I must admit I was surprised with how well this film holds together for being so ambitious in pursuing such a story, sticking to its essentials while still giving off a vibe all its own. I recall far back as being a teenager when hearing about Cameron’s plan to adopt the original manga into a live-action movie and doubting it would ever see the light of day, especially with his crowded schedule and the lacking adaptations over the years. But, lo and behold, I’m astounded to not only see the movie made but that it’s also well-made and true to its roots. A solid picture for fans of the manga/anime and a pleasing cyberpunk tale for newcomers of a teenage cyborg kicking metallic butts.

Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.


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