Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Zootopia

(Movie Review)

Why I Saw This Movie
If left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have seen this.  But the girlfriend wanted to watch it, so I agreed to go along.
(Apparently this is one of the few movies which is getting an international release ahead of the US release.  So it's in theaters in Vietnam already.)

Negatives
* As you would expect from a children's movie, the humor is not subtle at all.  The jokes are a bit too obvious, and the characters stand around and mug with cute faces to emphasize all the jokes.  (To be fair, this is only a problem for me as an adult--it probably works perfectly fine for the movie's target audience).

* The soundtrack: bland generic pop songs.  (Again, to be fair, it probably went over fine with it's target audience.)

* Boy, does this movie ever hit you over the head with its main themes! Those first 10 minutes especially you really really got hit over the head with the "believe in yourself and follow your dreams" set up.  Which of course, made the pay-off at the end of the movie incredibly easy to predict.

* If you're going to make an allegory about peoples of different races and cultures living together in a multi-cultural city, than using different animals to represent different races is the obvious choice.  I mean, the story and situations just write themselves, don't they?
The problem with this analogy, however, is it has a limit.  There's no biological difference between the different human races, but there are significant biological differences between a rabbit and a fox.  It's wrong to assert that there are biological differences between black and white people, but you would not be wrong to say that a rabbit and a fox have a different biology and that this biology makes them behave in different ways.
I would have been content to overlook the biological science issue if the movie hadn't called attention to it, but the movie went deliberately out of its way to have a scene in which a fox was offended because a rabbit said that predators and prey have a different biology.
The analogy was presumably meant to imply that it's wrong to talk about different human races in this way, but I wonder if the movie didn't shoot itself in the foot by shining such a spotlight on the biological issue.

Positives
* Although I said above that the humor was too obvious and too cutesy, this applies mainly to just the verbal humor.  The visual humor I quite liked actually.  The animators were able to get a lot of mileage from imagining all the ridiculous situations that would result from animals of all shapes and sizes living together in a city--little mice driving little cars underfoot, for example--which I quite liked.

*Also, the other exception was Jason Bateman.  I thought his character worked quite well, and Jason Bateman's deadpan comic delivery was spot on.  Also, the animators did an excellent job of creating a cartoon fox which looks exactly like Jason Bateman.

* You know, 20 years ago I would have thought that a movie editorializing against racism was out of date.  The civil rights movement had been a success, overt racism was on its way out, and it was time to focus on the more subtle forms of discrimination.
...But with the rise of xenophobia in the US, I'm not so sure anymore.  Maybe we do need movies with messages like this.  It's not subtle, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.
Also, to the extent that all Hollywood blockbuster movies are now international releases, I think that there are many areas of the world where this message still needs to be heard.  For example, Cambodians feel no shame in vocally expressing how much they hate the Vietnamese people living in Cambodia.  In Vietnam, the Vietnamese hate the Chinese.  In Thailand, the Thais hate the Cambodian migrant workers.
So I'm happy knowing that this movie is now playing in theaters in places like Cambodia.  Hopefully it might even alter attitudes over there.

The Review
This movie will play absolutely fine with its target audience.  (My 6 year old students absolutely loved it).  Adults can expect the message to be too obvious, the jokes to be too telegraphed, and the pop songs to be predictably top-40 bland.
But, the visuals are funny, and Jason Bateman's character is good.  Altogether, not a bad waste of time.

Rating
4 out of 10.  (Although admittedly, it should play fine with its target audience).

Other Notes
* The scene with the Sloths working at the DMV got huge laughs in the theater I was in here in Vietnam--I'm assuming because the Vietnamese government bureaucracy is just a nightmare to deal  with over here, so the joke easily crossed cultural boundaries.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - The Herd of Independent Minds

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