Tag Archives: Disney

CftC: My Top 10 Traumatizing Scenes from Kids Movies

Another year, another return to…

 

Instead of looking at one Halloween special at a time, I have chosen to do a Top 10 list for this first installment. Below, you will see the ten most memorable moments in kid and family movies that gave me endless nightmares as a youngster.

I tried to dive in as deeply as I could, talking about the scenes themselves but also about what makes them so scary. I find that the psychology driving effective horror scenarios can be pretty common for most people, and surprisingly basic and traceable. But that doesn’t make them shallow by any means. Some people say that the root of all good comedy is that someone has to be miserable. No matter how elaborate you make the joke, there always has to be a “butt” of it. The same can be true of horror, but there are more roots, or “butts,” to choose from.

 

10) The Donkey Scene (Pinocchio)

 

I’ve seen Pinocchio maybe 5 times in my life. It’s not a Disney movie I come back to often, and I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but when I watch it again, I’m always struck by how dark and mean-spirirted it is, even as fairytales go. It’s like if Don Bluth made films back in the 40’s.

This one scene is pretty screwed up. It’s basically body-horror for children, and while it might not be as grotesque as a David Cronenberg production, it’s almost as frightening.

What is body horror, you ask? In short, it’s the whole concept of unwanted, uncontrollable transformation, which stems from a fear of not being in control. The one physical thing that any human being can own completely is their own body, so the notion of it changing without your consent, and most likely in a very painful way, is terrifying. This fear is in a similar vein with that of petrification; both of which most people don’t think about or wouldn’t admit to being afraid of, but totally are.

What sells this particular scene are Lampwick’s panicked screams and thrashing, but the lighting and music are pretty intense as well. He’s a kid, albeit a smug little jerk, so there’s an element of protectiveness that can be involved. But more importantly, this perversion of nature is what will happen to Pinocchio, our main character, who is nearby watching but unable to help. It seems to be going slower – possibly because he’s not a real boy yet – but it’s assumed that it will happen like that.

 

It’s a scary moment on its own, but also for the danger it poses to the person we most care about in the movie.

 

9) The Hollow (Ichabod and Mr. Toad)



I might have mentioned this in my full review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but this scene is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The build-up is great, when Ichabod is on edge and thinks he can hear the Headless Horseman coming after him. The scene is mostly quiet – silly of course, but tense nonetheless – and when you’re first watching, you never know when the ghost will actually show up. It could be during any one of the little scares Ichabod basically gives himself, as he inexplicably travels alone in the dead of night after a party, where he probably could have found several someones to walk most of the way home with him. Or he could have booked a room with the Van Tassels and called it a night.

 

Walking or generally being alone at night is a common fear, particularly for women, and it feels even worse when other people tease you for being paranoid. Katrina chuckles at Ichabod’s fear during the party, and the fact that the schoolmaster’s horse just moseys along, not paying attention or speeding up when Ichabod tells him to, would certainly add to my frustration, not knowing whether or not I’m going crazy or should seriously get the hell out of dodge.

Ichabod and his horse have a good laugh when he thinks his imagination got the better of him, and then suddenly, a third voice joins in with a chillingly demonic cackle.

Now begins a scary…hilarious….scare-larious chase scene. Seriously, it’s morbidly delightful.

 


 

8) Donald’s Mental Breakdown (Fun and Fancy Free or Mickey and the Beanstalk)

Did you ever want to see one of your beloved childhood icons go kill crazy?…No? Well, here you go anyway!

 

I’m not sure how much more I can say about this one. It’s screwed up. Donald Duck gets crazy eyes and decides to kill his farm’s only cow, because he’s sitting there starving in his own home. I know the guy needs some anger management therapy, but damn!

On a side note, in a world of walking, talking, anthropomorphized animals, why does the cow not talk or wear clothes? Why can it be sold, but not Mickey, Donald, or Goofy? Is it that some characters can be captured and domesticated for slave labor, but these guys are somehow untouchable?

I have no idea how this world would work!

 

7) The Reveal (The Witches)

 

“Stranger danger” is practically beaten into every child’s brain, because they’re exceedingly naïve and their parents are terrified. The makers of this Roald Dahl movie adaptation probably made a bet with themselves to see if they could reverse that, because many adults happily rented it and their children were then soundly traumatized.

I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover, and I could not sleep for the rest of the night. The Willy Wonka Tunnel of Hell may have the element of surprise on its side, but it has nothing on an entire movie full of disturbing concepts and imagery, all of them posing threats to innocent kids, simply because they are kids. Imagine if Willy Wonka was an army of hideous, vicious old women who had a more active loathing of children, beyond just the bratty ones, and decided to kill/eat them as a result.

The scene where a grown woman pulls a snake from her purse and attempts to coax the main character out of his tree house is nightmarish enough, but then you have the scene where the witches go to their witch conference or whatever. They remove their disguises in a hideous fashion, talk about their plans for child murder, and then turn the boy into a mouse after he is caught spying on them.

 

So we have “stranger danger”, yet more body-horror, and a race to foil the plans of a powerful, secret group that few other people realize is a threat, with only the boy’s grandmother to help the kid along. The one adult he can rely on is only so useful, and the other adults are either dangerous or ignorant. That’s encouraging to know, right?

 

6) The Cauldron Born (The Black Cauldron)

 

Some people consider this film a cult classic, while others demonstrate why it did so poorly at the box office. It’s a very flawed, mixed bag, but I would put myself in the former group. The villain has an intimidating, cool design; the art style is dark, but also fairly whimsical; and personally, I thought Elmer Bernstein’s music fit this movie better than it did Ghostbusters.

There’s nightmare fuel aplenty, too.

 

In one scene, the Horned King becomes a necromancer, resurrecting a bunch of dead warriors from various places and eras. An eerie green fog begins rolling out of the cauldron, becoming almost like a soup in places as it fills the room, and one of the king’s henchmen stupidly jabs it with his spear. Suddenly, skeletons erupt in a jump scare, descending on the man. We don’t see what happens to him, but we can assume he’s dead, as the scene cuts to the remaining humans looking away in horror. Then the Horned King sends his undead minions out to “destroy all in (their) path,” and I think about how they would go to the ends of the earth, murdering helpless, unsuspecting villagers like a plague.

 

The scares in this scene is pretty shallow for me. It’s mostly about the imagery and the music, but for what it is, it’s damn effective. The zombie sun-genre of horror isn’t really my forte, but these evil undeads unnerve me every time.

 

5) Charlie Goes to Hell (All Dogs Go to Heaven)

 

The concept of eternal punishment is scary enough by itself. Human beings don’t like pain, and the idea that we’d suddenly have no control, no way to stop the unpleasantness happening to us, and be stuck that way forever is a hard pill to swallow. Even worse, what if we don’t know what we did to deserve it, or the act/acts themselves were miniscule? Arbitrary? Does God even have an appeals court?

Hell is a fear that is instilled in Christians (and other religious folks with Hell-esque parallels) from an early age, and it’s hard to shake off the vague, but ultimately disturbing imagery that comes to mind when that word is uttered. It can be uniquely terrifying to each person, but the basic conceit is the same, and so the fear holds some universality as well.

In this movie, the main character, a German Shepherd named Charlie, stole a second chance at life while he was in Doggy Heaven. As punishment for this, he will go to Hell. Directly to Hell. He can’t pass Go, and he certainly can’t collect $200.

 

While he feigns indifference initially, we can see that Charlie is fearful of the consequences of his actions, and no scene shows this more clearly than the Dream Sequence. There’s fire, brimstone, demons, and most poignant of all, a crushing sense of being unable to escape or stop what is happening to him.

Don Bluth movies in general have this great way of capturing what it’s like to feel small, insignificant, and prey to the whims of the world around you…Probably because so many of the movies involve mice or other small creatures dealing with vicious predators, or the indifferent reactions of humans and nature. Bluth’s world either doesn’t care or is actively working against them, isolating and tormenting the characters but also providing great catharsis when they finally achieve their goals.

Charlie’s torment is necessary, showing his growth as a character and the loss of the innocence/ignorance that once shielded him from it, but that makes it no less terrifying.

 

4) The Bear (The Fox and the Hound)


Things that make this scene stick out:

  1. It’s jarring as all hell! It comes right out of nowhere; what you thought was going to be the climax of the story – Todd either escaping Copper and Amos or getting killed by them – is kicked out of this giant moving car to make room for a random bear attack.
  2. It looks like some weird, mutant cross between a Grizzly Bear and Black Bear. And what bear has freaky demon eyes like that?!
  3. Amos gets knocked down a hill, losing his gun in the process, and then he gets stuck in his own trap, which I’d imagine was pretty painful in and of itself. Despite how much I hate him during the rest of the movie, and despite knowing he provoked the attack by shooting the bear, I can believe his terror and helplessness. He’s old, and now suddenly rendered defenseless.
  4. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is full of violence. You can almost feel the impact of every bite and scratch, especially followed by all of those grunts and yelps. The Great Mouse Detective, which Disney put out a mere 5 years later, has a similar effect in its climactic showdown. Every blow and reaction shot seems heavily focused on.

 

As a kid, it was fairly easy for me to picture myself or someone I loved in place of whoever was being hurt or scared in any given movie. Animal attacks are particularly scary because you’re not facing something you can possibly persuade. All you have left is your speed (assuming you can move at all) and your wits (assuming you wouldn’t go stupid with panic and adrenaline).

 

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

 

3) A Wild Beast Appears! (Beauty and the Beast)

How many animal attacks make up this list now?

I’m not trying to go for a theme here. Honestly, there is just something viscerally upsetting about seeing terrified, defenseless people (particularly old folks, women, and children) being helpless in life-or-death situations.

 

In his first major appearance in the story, the Beast is a large, jagged black shape with white slits for eyes, towering over Maurice, who can only cower and beg for mercy. He stalks forward, enormous claws and fangs bared. He is unrelenting, unmerciful, and just plain scary-looking, all while the scary music swells and the audio engineers overlay his vocal track with loud, deep bestial snarls and roars. Every bit of him appears to be a monster; though unlike the monsters Maurice just escaped outside, this one could potentially be reasoned with. The Beast just refuses to hear him out.

 

Once again, the fear comes from imagining yourself or a loved one in place of Maurice. What would you do? Despite the Beast being a hand-drawn creation, you can watch him and feel the threat that he possesses. Everything about the scene screams “RUN AWAY NOW!” Lumiere and Cogsworth just cower and stand there, barely making an attempt to calm the Beast in his territorial fury. How comforting is that? One guy invited Maurice to come in and make himself at home, but then fails to defend him, and the other guy just constantly tries to cover his own ass at your expense.

Even later, when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, he looks as monstrous and feral as the very things he’s fighting. This is another reason that I look down on the remake; their Beast is not even remotely scary or threatening, which removes his bite, so to speak. Nevermind that the CG effects are fake-looking as hell, which also distracts from the believability, but it then removes the sense of real change when the Beast finally starts coming around to Belle and acting more human. He wasn’t just a grump hermit in a fur suit; he was regressing in despair, to the point of mentally becoming an animal.

But I digress.

 

2) Any Hag Scene (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Particularly the one in which she is “born.”

Queen Grimhilde’s regular character design is unsettling, what with her frozen face yet sporadically widening eyes. But once she transforms into the Hag, using a potion literally made out of the stuff of nightmares, the woman becomes completely terrifying.

It is said that the actress removed her false teeth to achieve her older voice, and the Hag’s cottony cackles couple well with her poorly-aged, clearly-evil, “oh-my-God-only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-realize-this” disguise. She talks out loud to herself constantly, plotting needless cruel tortures for Snow White, and she often looks directly into the camera, as if she knows you’re there and will probably be coming after you next.

Aside from her physical repulsiveness, I think some of the fear also comes from the Queen essentially hating this little girl for an unbelievably petty reason, and being willing to kill her so sadistically. “Kill Snow and bring back her heart in a box.” “Have the dwarves bury her alive because they don’t know she’s just sleeping.” It’s all so simplistic, but brutal. Her insecurity and jealousy makes her into a complete monster, and had she survived, who knows what this depraved madwoman would have done next?

She also has a secret alchemy/black-magicky lab in the castle dungeons, which she can apparently slip in and out of unnoticed. There’s nothing like seeing a clearly dangerous person in power, roaming the streets and doing whatever she wants with no supervision or legal repercussions.

…Whatever happened to the Huntsman, anyway? Is his head on a pike, festively adorning the castle walls? Did he get away scott-free while Queenie was busy with premeditated princess murder? We’ll never know for sure, but she did say, “You know the penalty if you fail,” which I figure involves an execution of some sort…The less I think about this, the better.

 

1) Wolf Attack (Beauty and the Beast)

An old man gets lost in the woods, loses his horse, and then has to run from ravenous wolves.

 

Belle gets attacked by wolves as well, but that scene is actually very different. It comes hot off the heels of another major conflict, the music transitions fluidly, and the background and lighting are consistently…well, for lack of a better word, brighter all around.

 

Blue tends to be a more calming color. Plus, you can see every element clearly.

In Maurice’s scene, by contrast, the score starts out calm, but eerily discordant and all over the place. I couldn’t even find the track on the official soundtrack; it was released on a bonus CD sold separately, that’s how unnerving it is.

It also does what is called “Mickey Mousing”, a term that refers to how the music follows and embellishes the actions happening on screen, rather than just setting a general background tone. For example, at one point a shadowy wolf rushes by, and even if your eyes missed it, the music let you know that something bad had just happened.

 

Eyes and other animated facial features morph quickly from nervous to fearful (I have always found creepy or expressly afraid eyes chilling). Even Phillipe the horse knows that something bad is going to happen, and frustratingly, he realizes as quickly as the audience does. His rider, meanwhile, is stubborn and distracted, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

 

The lighting is predominantly composed of reds and yellows (colors that tend to excite and agitate, according to Psychology), and it’s limited because it comes from the inventor’s lantern. The light is soon put out, however, in an extremely quick and violent way, and then all is left in darkness as Maurice’s one immediate hope of escape, his horse, is driven away in terror.

Much like with The Fox and the Hound’s Bear, there is a lot of motion and violent energy in this scene. A chorus of wolf howls goes up, causing Phillipe to back his cart into a tree. A mass of angry black bats comes flocking out, scaring the horse into nearly running himself off of a cliff. Phillipe rears, knocking Maurice off and leaving him alone in the forest. Just as the old man picks himself up, he gets chased by a group of wolves and falls down a cliff. He then reaches a gate and manages to get inside, but a wolf bites his foot and almost drags his whole leg out into biting range. The pacing of it all rarely gives the audience a break, and depending on your imagination, it can be like experiencing the danger yourself, if secondhand.

 

Belle’s scene is still scary in its own way – it’s still a defenseless person possibly going to be mauled to death – but it’s not filmed the same way and it doesn’t really sneak up on first-time viewers. As soon as she starts riding into the woods, you already have an idea of what she’s going to face. The wolves themselves shown up more on screen, coming from predictable directions, and they are also a lot easier to see in their horrific entirety.

Maurice’s chase scene was shorter, but it was more uncertain and suspenseful.

 

What were your scariest movie moments from childhood? Please share in the comments below. If you’re wondering why something isn’t on this list, I most likely didn’t see it until I was older or it didn’t bother me all that much.

 

*None of the images, soundbites, or clips in this post belong to me.

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In Defense of Cinderella

I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made. I’m not even saying that Cinderella is that strong of a character. She isn’t, and that’s okay. Not every female character needs to be Gloria Steinem.

What I am saying is Cinderella (1950) and its eponymous character are not nearly as bad as people claim, and the 2015 live action remakes ultimately “updates” very little from it.

Keep in mind that I do still like the remake (for the most part), but much like with the new Beauty and the Beast, I think it gets praised more than it really deserves, especially in contrast to the hate heaped upon its predecessor.

To start off, let’s get a few things out of the way here:

 

Yes, the animated prince gets maybe 4 complete lines in the whole movie, one of which is, “Yawn.” And yes, he has no character.

 

Yes, the mice take up too much time. And yes, a female mouse does in fact say, “Leave the sewing to the women,” and isn’t that so anti-feminist?

 

Got that out of your system? Great. On we go then.

Here is my interpretation of animated Cinderella, backed up by quotes from the opening narration: Her father died when she was very young, and suddenly it’s revealed that her stepmother and stepsisters, her only remaining family, are self-centered, sadistic bitches; “it was upon the untimely death of this good gentleman, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” She is put to work as their house servant soon after, but their house still falls apart because the stepmother is too cheap to hire more help. To quote the movie again, “The chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortune was squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters”.

 

So it can be reasonably inferred that Cinderella was brainwashed and manipulated from a young age. The fact that she hasn’t left home probably means that she can’t, as it would probably leave her homeless and starving (which can sadly happen to runaways in the real world as well, even in modern day). The movie supports this theory with its framing of shots, showing Cinderella constantly inside or at the very least confined to the surrounding property. Aside from the panning shot over the castle, town, and chateau during the opening, we virtually never see the rest of the land (unlike in the remake, if you’ll remember).

It surprises me how many people fail to see the logical flow of events like these. They would prefer to call Cinderella stupid or weak, but I wonder if they could comfortably say the same of abuse victims in the real world, especially children raised in such environments? Think about it.

Anyway, the next thing people love to criticize Cindy for is being boring and simple. A helpless waif with no character and no drive to better herself. Well, aside from referring you back to my interpretation above, let’s look at Cinderella in the movie. She is forced to do every chore in the house every single day of her life, but while she doesn’t let it twist her into someone bitter and truly unkind, she clearly strains her patience very often. Just look at how the animators drew her face, albeit in brief moments:

 

Cinderella doesn’t say much sometimes, and she tends to be pretty reserved, but much like Belle, she conveys a surprising amount through her expressions. You can also hear frustration and determination in her voice, such as when she’s trying to convince herself that the prince’s ball wouldn’t have been that much fun anyway.

I also like how she not-so-subtlety mocks her stepsisters’ performances at their music lesson.

 

See guys? She’s not a complete goody-two-shoes doormat after all. She just copes like every other woman does….quietly and bitchily.

The classic Cinderella moral has always been “work hard and be good and good things will come to you;” essentially “don’t give up.” But I think an even better lesson would be, “don’t let bad experiences change you negatively as a person,” which incidentally would have been a better moral for the new Cinderella as well, retroactively-speaking. Cinderella as a character doesn’t just work hard; she saves the mice, who are even lower on the social food chain than she is, and unlike the rest of her family, she treats those who are lower than her with respect and humanity.

 

She does try to argue with the stepmother (however futile that might ultimately be), so it’s not like she has no backbone. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, whether by trying to assert herself, trying to stay positive, or just being silly.

 

In a world of talking mice, horrible relatives, and fairy godmothers, what else can you do but yell at your alarm clock like it’s a person?

When Cinderella talks about the ball prior to going, at no point does she mention the prince or the opportunity to get with him aside from when she was reading the invitation. It sounds more like she just really wanted the excuse to put on a nice dress and have a fun night out. Even after she runs away at midnight, she doesn’t think that the man she danced with was the prince, and later, she is so startled by that revelation that she drops a tea tray.

 

Face it: Cinderella just wanted to get pretty and go to a party. She met a guy while she was there, somehow not realizing he was the prince, and that just made the evening better. Unlike in the remake, the writers don’t explicitly say that Cinderella has no chance with the man she danced with, but I feel like Cinderella would already know that and just have quietly appreciated the experience.

Then, the next day, when she finds out that not only can she be with him, but he’s the prince of the entire country, her first thought is to go clean up and make herself presentable. Her daydreaming blinds her to caution, sure, but she’s clearly elated to be able to marry the man she “fell in love with” (it’s a fairytale. Whatever) and escape her abusive, exploitative family.

And last but not least, do you remember her reaction when the stepmother locks her in her room? She gets upset. She beats on her door and tries to pull it open.

 

When she sees that her mice friends are coming to help and bringing her the key, she encourages them, and despite her usual policy of trying to be nice to Lucifer, she asks the birds to get Bruno the dog just to scare him away.

What was remake Cinderella’s reaction again?…Oh yeah, I remember. She twirled around her room daydreaming about the prince and the ball, singing to herself and totally not caring about what the stepmother might be planning to do to her. Because that’s really smart and empowering, right?

 

Remake Cinderella could ride a horse, speak several languages fluently, was an adult when the step family came into her life, and was shown numerous times to be able to leave the chateau and visit friends, who would probably take her in for a little bit if she asked them to. Hello! The filmmakers love to talk her up like she’s some feminist paragon, and by implication how backwards and weak old Cinderella is, but the climax of the movie completely ruins the image of the former for multiple reasons. The most relevant of which is that she doesn’t even try to get out or help herself, unlike the animated Cinderella. Just because 1950’s Cindy failed to get out on her own doesn’t negate the fact that she actually tried to.

 

That’s all I’m trying to say here. Both movies have their respective flaws and strengths, but the older version is not as bad for little girls as many people would have you believe. And as I always say, you could help your children understand context by watching it with them and talking to them about it, letting them know that it was made 70 years ago and lots of things change in all that time. It’s a little magical thing called context, and it works wonders.

Except maybe things don’t change much over 70+ years, because the remake updates so little and creates more issues than it ultimately fixes, all so that Disney could cash in on nostalgia and modern sensibilities simultaneously.

 

That’s what it’s all about; dress porn for little girls and girls at heart. At least 50’s Cinderella’s was less gratuitous…and way shorter. And less radioactive-looking.

 

You can still like something while admitting it has problematic elements to it. That’s how I can comfortably like both versions of this story. I just see so many people trying to pretend that one Cinderella is way worse than the other, when really, it’s two halves of the same whole. It’s too much selective outrage and modern sensibility, without actually addressing any of the problems they claim so deeply upset them.

Cindy’s not a bad person. Maybe all we need to do is see her in full light.

 

*None of the gifs or pictures in this post belong to me. They all belong to Disney. 

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Shrek is a Big Fiery Ball of Rage and Hatred

 

Oh come on, guys! Don’t look at me that way! I’m sorry!

 

Damn it, Puss! You’re going to make me cry! This isn’t even your movie!

Don’t get me wrong; I still really enjoy this movie. It’s just not a particularly timeless parody, due in large part to the pure, vitriolic hatred of one jilted former Disney employee: one of Dreamworks SKG’s three founders, Jeffery Katzenberg.

Examples of this are rife from the very beginning; in the opening scene, Shrek reads from a children’s storybook, a clear reference to how Disney opened many of its early fairytale adaptations, only to then tear out a page and implicitly use it to wipe his ass.  Cue the Smash Mouth song (not particularly timeless either, and not even embracing the new decade), and  Shrek kicks open the door of the outhouse, looking very pleased with himself before the montage of grossness and credits.  Right away, you know the tone of the film: irreverent and mocking.

It’s funny in a shocking way, like a child-friendly proto-Borat, and you have to admit that Shrek makes a few good points. Disney is a company, after all, and one that is driven just as much by profit and marketability as it is by its “artistic” creations.

 

Hell, people have been pointing out issues with Disney’s format and branding strategy for years! How it doesn’t particularly challenge girls to make something of themselves, and how it paints pretty, young people as good but older and uglier people as evil, just to name a few.

So yes, Disney is by no means a perfect company beyond all reproach or criticism, but look at something like Frozen. While it was made by Disney, the characters frequently poke fun at old tropes from past movies while not heavily distracting the viewer. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff keep their ribbing gentle and vague, not calling out any previous movie in particular, but it still works well, makes good points, and the jokes don’t take you out of the story and its own unique world. Believe it or not, that is pretty hard to do well.

 

Enchanted is similar to Frozen in some aspects, but it’s more flawed because, as you might expect of an earlier attempt at a loving parody, it goes out of its way to reference specific movies and characters. It’s too pointed; Giselle is not really her own person, but rather a mush of several different Disney Princess characters, most notably Snow White. She exists basically as a version of one of the older, more naive princesses, who will have her childish innocence taken away from her so she can then go live in the “real world,” which is harder but more rewarding.

So not only can it not really stand on its own, Enchanted is kind of confused in the message it wants to offer to its viewers. You can’t really be your own whimsical fairytale if you are constantly telling people they should grow up and live in the real world. Frozen stands on its own and is still a good fairytale story in its own right, and that is how you typically do a good, decently timeless parody: there has to be some love involved.

Shrek has passion, I’ll give it that, but it’s a passion devoted to tearing down Disney and taking a dump all over it. And while I sympathize with Mr. Katzenberg and think he was treated very poorly, after spending a while trying to copy and race the very studio that he left

 

he then decided to go the extra mile and give them a more definitive middle-finger in movie-form.

 

Take that, Disney! Here’s what Jeff thinks of you!

And like I said, it’s still funny…in the same way listening to little kids throwing insults at each other is funny. The insults are silly but hit a mark of some kind. The overall effort is misguided, but it seems cute and harmless enough. Plus, it’s got Eddie Murphy wanting to make waffles when he has no hands!

Shrek has a good message at the end about being yourself and loving it no matter what, but Shrek 2 is better in my personal opinion because it spent less time flipping off Disney and more time developing its own world and characters. It’s still not particularly timeless, but I think it’s funnier and the references are a bit less intrusive. It also further develops Shrek and Fiona’s chemistry as a married couple, beyond happily ever after, something that Disney usually doesn’t do (unless it’s a cheap direct-to-video sequel).

That, in and of itself, is a better overall critique of Disney than its predecessor was.

 

*5.5/10

Note: The images used in this post belong to Disney and Dreamworks. I own nothing.

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Pre-Movie Thoughts

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Oh don’t start with me, Total Film! “Darker, smarter,” and more relevant than the original? We’ll see!

But in all seriousness, I’m in a very awkward position here. While I like the original Disney’s Cinderella and genuinely believe that it gets more flack than it really deserves, I was very open to the 2015 live-action retelling. It plays with some elements of the original, fixing things here and setting them back over there, but it keeps with the spirit of the original animated features. We still probably didn’t need it, per say, but I’m perfectly happy with its existence, especially if I can mostly ignore Disney’s hardcore feminist detractors.

But this…this movie gives me some serious reservations.

On the one hand, you have Emma Watson, an awesome actress and all-around person. The film will also have Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson, who I tend to like, regardless of the overall quality of the films they appear in.

*cough cough*
*cough cough*

On the other hand, it’s a remake of one of my favorite Disney movies of all time, and one that made serious bank during the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The story has its flaws, but some of that can be blamed on its roots as an old-school fairytale. It’s still gorgeously animated and well-paced, driven forward by surprisingly simple, but good characters and a writing team that knew just what to cut and cut from the source material to make it more dark and dramatic.

Does it need a remake? I think we can all let out a resounding “NO” to that one. But we’re getting one anyway, and it’s coming from a company that has a pretty high standard of quality, even in its worst flops…except Home on the Range, of course.

So will this new movie be good? Will it have anything to offer that its predecessor didn’t? I am cautiously optimistic, but here are my worries so far, aside from the obvious:

As usual, I have tried my best to ignore the trailers, even though I already know the basic story here. I’m sure the music will be similar, if not identical in most areas, and that’s alright. It is kind of lazy, hollow, and distinctly cash-grabby if you, like me, believe that the movie should be able to stand apart from the original, but whatever. I can look past that choice.

 

Unfortunately, I did catch at least one full trailer (the one featured above) while waiting to see Moana, and unless it was missing some serious context from the movie itself, some interesting, and potentially worrying choices have been made.

For example, it looks as though it is the Beast’s idea to have Belle take her father’s place.

…Why is this a potential problem? Well, think about it. Belle was motivated by desperation, sure, but the choice to have her suggest the trade-off is actually a really good, subtle character moment. It shows the lengths she is willing to go to save someone she cares about, and the fact that she holds to it, even after glimpsing the monstrous Beast in the light, shows real strength, love, and even agency on her part. She finds a way to take as much control of the situation as she can, even in a moment of such crushing defeat, which is yet another reason why I can’t stand the Stockholm Syndrome argument being regularly applied to her.

 

By making this development the Beast’s idea instead, as the new movie appears to, Belle becomes much more passive in that moment, and a very compelling part of her character is lost.

A friend of mine, who was in the theatre with me at the time I saw this trailer, drew my attention to something else. The way that Watson askes the Beast to come into the light is very different from O’Hara’s; the former sounds a lot more defiant and demanding, while the latter is more nervous and curious. It’s as if O’Hara’s Belle noticed something slightly off about this stranger through the darkness, or simply because he was deliberately only moving in the shadows.

Meanwhile, new Belle isn’t intimidated by this guy. She just wants to know who is talking to her.

At first glance, this might seem like it elevates Belle’s character back up, and perhaps it will. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with saying the same line differently. But now, think about the Beast. Even if you weren’t petrified of him, as I frequently was as a child, what is he supposed to be? What makes his change later in the story so compelling?

Could it be the fact that he’s…well, beastly?

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Think back to the scene in the original movie now. Or better yet, watch the clip I included above. Belle finds her father in a dungeon, only to be confronted by a booming voice from the shadows. Robbie Benson’s voice is mixed with that of growling, snarling animals in order to lend him some extra power and inhumanity, so even before Belle sees him, she trembles and stutters at the mere sound of the Beast.

It helps even more if he terrifies the audience as well, and that’s a lot easier to do with pencil and paper than it is with makeup and special effects. The licensed Disney stage musical has a bit of this problem as well, choosing to focus on the Beast’s more petulant side rather than his fear factor.

The only thing terrifying about this guy is his mediocre CG.
The only thing terrifying about this guy is his mediocre CG.

The Beast in the new movie sounds fairly human to me, and without seeing any of the rest of the scene where he and Belle meet in the dungeon, I already feel like his terrifying presence is diminished somewhat by this fragmented exchange. If he can’t successfully scare Belle or us, then in the back of our minds, he’s already not that bad.

Now, the Beast could still be every bit as huge and violent as he was in the original film, but a) that’s a major complaint from the politically-inclined anyway, so they should still complain about it in this film made in modern day, and b) it just won’t have the same weight, even if the actors seeing the Beast do their damndest to look afraid of him.

It also doesn’t help that Belle apparently finds the castle during the day, which tends to be far less dramatic than nighttime, even if the room itself casts shadows everywhere.

The point I am trying to make is this: little choices can make a big difference. However you feel about the healthiness of Belle and Beast’s relationship in the animated film, you must at least agree that the moments defining and developing their relationship are well-paced and well-chosen, even down to the tiniest, nearly subconscious details. That is what makes the original so wonderful…well, at least one of the things. It opened the Academy Awards up to the idea that an animated movie (a musical, at that) could be artistic and moving enough to stand beside its live-action cousins. After a long stretch or relegating animated fare to the “it’s just for kids” bin, Beauty and the Beast (1991) reminded us of its great potential.

The choices made by the new movie may ultimately work on their own, but as I said above, the very fact that the film makers are just porting the soundtrack over from the animated movie begs you to compare the two. At least the new Cinderella only briefly sang “Sing Sweet Nightingale” to herself while she was doing chores in a short scene. That was a cute little winky moment to the audience for anyone who liked the original and might be paying attention, and I appreciate that. It didn’t distract me from the movie I was watching and trying to get invested in.

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I really do hope that this new adaptation will be good, and not just a waste of time that uses strict branding to squeeze more money out of Disney’s vast fanbase. Emma Watson is a smart, beautiful woman, but at the end of the day, a job is a job and actors don’t get a lot of say in directorial choices, let alone the direction they themselves are given. I also really don’t want to see some half-assed retooling to please the social justice warriors. Some of Cinderella (2015) was like that, and I much prefer that if you’re going to change things like that, you should go big or go home (see Ever After: A Cinderella Story). Sure, it might be more abrasive to some people, but at least you’re obviously trying to make the story new, fresh, and most importantly, your own. I can respect the effort and commitment, if nothing else.

I’m starting to lean towards pessimism, but ultimately, time will tell. We’ll see the movie when it comes out, and then we’ll know for sure…

 

Update (3/21/17): Winner winner, chicken dinner. See my new review for more details, but yes…this was a bad one.

*None of the pictures in this post are owned by me.

Rogue One: Self-Contained, But Solid

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Plot Spoilers Below. You have been warned. 

So hey, did anyone watch Star Wars IV: A New Hope and wonder how the Rebellion got their hands of the Death Star schematics in the first place?…Yeah, me neither. And anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that is saying something.

That said, I found Rogue One to be a welcome semi-deviation from the main storyline. I think I liked it even more than The Force Awakens. 

Jyn Erso is the daughter of an Imperial scientist-turned-farmer Galen Erso, and she goes into hiding when the Empire finds and forcibly re-employs her father to work on their latest weapon, the Death Star. Thirteen years later, Jyn is picked up by members of the Rebellion, who enlist her to help negotiate with Galen’s old friend Saw Gerrera, who is holding an Imperial pilot defector with crucial information about the nearly completed battle station. From the pilot’s message, they learn that Jyn’s father quietly incorporated a fatal flaw into the design that can potentially completely destroy the Death Star.

From there, it’s some planet-hopping and a suicide mission to retrieve the plans and transmit them into the hands of Princess Leia, effectively preluding the fourth movie down to mere minutes.

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I like that this movie is not a rehash, which was one of the main criticisms of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It definitely feels like its own story, but unlike many spinoffs across many different genres, it’s not a much smaller story with small to laughable dramatic stakes. Look at something like The Hobbit series in comparison; Peter Jackson chose to tie those events in with The Lord of the Rings as much as possible, trying to make the conflict seem more epic, grand, and world-changing. But because the original work was meant to be a children’s bedtime story, much sillier and effecting far fewer races in the established world, any attempts to add Lord of the Rings-level weight came across as hollow, clumsy, and shoehorned, and it clashed with the movies’ lighter, downright childish tones.

Rogue One is a lot more balanced. It knows what it’s about and who its main audience is, but it hands out a few jokes that other viewers can laugh at just as easily. It is self-contained, but its impact (rather than the characters) can be felt more strongly now in the movies that it bridges.

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The characters are all pretty likable, although, similarly to my issue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I couldn’t remember almost half of the main group’s names and barely heard them when they were first introduced. In my mind, I dubbed them things like “Blind Kung-Fu Jedi” and “Machete in Space”, and because they are one-shot characters who die at the end and only really impact this story in any significant way, I didn’t feel as bad as I usually would.

My only real issue is that no one gets very well fleshed-out, character-wise. Jyn’s motivations are pretty clear for the most part, but even Cassian Andor, her new rebel friend, quips at one point that she basically went from not caring much about the Empire to “This isn’t right! We have to stop them!” pretty much at the drop of a hat. She does mention that her father’s message and the destruction of Jedha put her in shock, however, so she could have been shocked into caring more and I just didn’t think of that at the time.

Everyone else has their past or character lightly touched upon, but it’s all really shallow, and if you blink or run to the bathroom mid-movie, you might miss it. Unless it’s Chirrut Îmwe (Blind Kung-Fu Jedi)’s piety, because he has to mention his belief in the Force at least twice in any scene he’s in.

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But hey, it’s a mini-episode with only so much time to work with, so I’ll give it a pass there.

I like the exploration of moral grey-area in a series that has often viewed power and morality in “light or dark” terms. While the Star Wars main series does frequently acknowledge that one side cannot exist without the other, the Dark Side is portrayed, at best, as misguided, and at worst, as pretty much evil.

Andor, neither a Jedi nor a Sith, talks about doing many bad things in the name of a good cause, and that the Rebellion giving up now will mean that he did all of that for nothing. We also see him struggle with himself when he is ordered to kill Jyn’s father, who may have actually done the Rebellion a huge service. Both Gelan and Jyn rationalize why Gelan didn’t fight back and allow himself to be killed, rather than contribute to a weapon of such destructive potential.

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You could still argue with him, but he makes an interesting point that is definitely worth discussing. It reminds me a little of the dilemma when Alan Turing and his team have to keep their breakthrough with the Enigma a secret in The Imitation Game. Do you save the lives of those most immediately in danger (in Rogue One‘s case by refusing to work and risking someone else being just as capable in your place), or do you allow for strategic sacrifices that could win you the war?

The effects in the movie are very good, particularly the digital face-superimposing on Ingvild Delia (Leia stand-in) and Guy Henry (Tarkin stand-in).

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The latter does an excellent job of imitating Peter Cushing’s original character (in all but facial expressions), while the former’s job is basically to stand still and then turn around, while an archived audio clip of Carrie Fisher plays one line synced to digitized lips. I feel a bit bad for Ms. Delia as an actress, but she and the production crew served this movie well, and the effect was unexpected, but pleasantly surprising.

Yeah, sorry guys, but we still have yet to master time travel. Maybe some day…

One a side note, when I saw Vader’s Fortress of Evil150px-u2122-svg, my first thought was, “Is that Mustafar?” Personally, I wouldn’t set up shop in a place with such traumatic memories attached to it.  My second thought, which I leaned over and whispered to my boyfriend in the theatre, was, “Meanwhile, back in Space Mordor…”

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Speaking of which, Vader is just kind of there occasionally. He gets a cool scene where he force-chokes the Death Star’s chief architect, and another where he disarms and slaughters a bunch of rebels, but while his presence isn’t distracting per say, it definitely feels like a fan-service first, plot service second type deal.

It’s nowhere near as useless and insulting something like this is:

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Wow. I keep bringing up Peter Jackson in this Star Wars review…but then again, he followed in the footsteps of George Lucas, whose best-known, best-loved property seems to be getting better without his grimy mitts on the reins. It’s funny in a bizarre sort of way.

The score is decent, although some chords are so similar to themes in past movies in the series that I found myself slightly distracted at times, hearing the notes that should have followed in my head. The ending is a bummer, but as I have said, the characters aren’t exceptionally deep, and the film does have a note of optimism amidst all of the death and explosions. I would have liked to have seen this before the original trilogy to feel its full suspense and drama, but that would be impossible unless I was born just recently…and didn’t have parents who might insist on watching the first-released installments first.

Even knowing what comes next, it still feels like Rogue One earned its right to exist. For any fan of Star Wars, casual or rabid, I would definitely recommend it. Some notable easter eggs are catalogued here.

 

7/10

*None of the images used in this article belong to me. They mostly belong to Disney and Lucasfilm. 

Moana: How Far You Should Go to See It

I went into this movie knowing pretty much nothing about it. I purposefully ignored the commercials, even not so subtly shutting my ears and eyes when an ad for it played before another movie I went to go see, Kubo and the Two Strings.  Shocking though it may be, some of us like not having the best jokes of the movie beaten into the ground before it even opens in theaters. Some of us – little kids included – will go simply because Disney made it, and we naturally expect their movies to be well-animated, fun, and high quality. No spoiler-y advertisement needed.

I will also admit to you that I went in with cautious, but hopeful optimism, much like I am approaching the live action Beauty and the Beast remake set to open in March. It’s not that I expected or wished for poor quality; rather the opposite, in fact. But Disney is a business, and thus doesn’t always make the most sound decisions for their artistic persona. Sometimes, they obviously look at what is the most marketable.

“Hey,” they might say, “this old movie of ours did really well, so let’s copy-paste it to a slightly new format, tweak a few things, and basically let it sell itself!”

Boom!
Boom!

 

And hey, a lot of people are clamoring for more diverse Disney characters. Which is great when Disney actually puts in the time and proper investment to make a good story with good characters, but in the past has led to some awkwardness with misguided steps like Pocahontas and even Mulan to some extent. There, they take aspects of a culture that Westerners have are somewhat familiar with,  and give you weird, inaccurate diet versions of real-world history and culture, which yes, come across as arrogant at best and downright mocking at worst.

And I say that as someone who genuinely loves Mulan. Who gets annoyed when people write her off, along with every other princess in the lineup before Tiana. Every Disney Princess has something good you can say about her, even if, on the surface, the only distinguishing factors appear to be hair and eye color.

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What I’m trying to say is this: I want a good story and good characters first. As long as you do thatby all means; take it anywhere in the world. Show me something I haven’t seen before.

Thankfully, Moana lived up to its hype and doesn’t feel like cheap appeasement in any way. It handled another culture very respectfully, while still being fun and silly and gorgeous. I’m not sure the film surpasses Frozen, given its memorable innovations and twists, but it’s definitely up there on its level, and definitely expanding on a few ideas from its predecessor. It is always nice to see Disney’s work flourish after a particularly big hit, rather than proving it to be a fluke.

As usual, spoilers below. 

I, like many people, am happy that Moana doesn’t get a romantic subplot. It is very refreshing for a Disney princess, though admittedly, that doesn’t tend to bother me unless the courting and/or characters are annoying or handled really poorly. I’m waiting to see how many people will speculate that she’s a lesbian, because of course Merida just had to be one if she wasn’t interested in dating and marriage by age 16. 

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I like that, for once in recent memory, a movie about tradition doesn’t paint it as the “enemy.” It almost looks that way in the beginning, what with Moana’s family and village encouraging her not to leave her island’s reef, but we soon discover that, further back than most people can remember, her ancestors were wayfinders who traveled the seas in search of new islands. This actually parallels some recent Polynesian history, believe it or not, and in the end, after being trained by a demigod and making the seas a safer place for humans, Moana re-teaches her people a useful, wonderful tradition that they had long-thought lost to them forever.

I like that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lyrical genius behind the Broadway smash Hamilton, lends his talents to the soundtrack, even providing us with a few vocals himself. He has a very good sense of rhythm and flow, and together with Mark Mancina (who worked on the arrangements with Hans Zimmer  for Disney’s The Lion King and Phil Collins for Disney’s Tarzan) and Opetaia Foa’i (a South Pacific Fusion group originally formed in New Zealand), he offers us something unique, catchy, and new altogether. I doubt “How Far I’ll Go” will be quite as explosive as “Let It Go,” but as Soprano who has attempted both songs, I have to say that the former is far more comfortable while still being compelling, beautiful, and triumphant.

It is kind of funny, though, that right after that moment in the movie, Moana kind of gets her ass handed to her. It was almost comical; like an estranged sister to those old Lilo and Stitch commercials from back in the day.

Speaking  of Lilo and Stitch, Nani and Lilo will always be my first Polynesian Disney Princesses. I don’t care what anyone says; Lilo was one of the most realistic kids I’ve ever seen (not overly-annoying, but not romanticized and ridiculously smart or well-behaved), and her older sister did everything she could to love and provide for her, even though she was put in a really crummy position and didn’t have anyone to blame for it. Stitch wasn’t pretty or nice when they first got him, but Lilo loved him from the start and wanted to give him a chance to be part of their family.

They both deserve to be in the official lineup, sparkly dress or no sparkly dress.

Also, neither of these girls has the standard petite, “cinch-waisted” features that you hear so many complain about in other Disney movies.

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Moana herself is cool. I like how she isn’t resistant to the path set before her; it’s more that she wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to be responsible and live up to her people’s expectations, but she also longs to explore the ocean and see more of the world than just her small island. As is typical for Disney movies, the songs and visual symbolism set that up very clearly.

I’m reminded very much of Mulan’s dilemma, but Moana isn’t nearly as physically clumsy, and she actually embraces her role (though admittedly it’s a lot less sexist and uncomfortable than Mulan’s).

This image released by Disney shows Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson in a scene from the animated film, "Moana." (Disney via AP)

I like Maui, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s demigod character, although he can get just the slightest bit cringe-worthy at some points. Admittedly, I’m not fond of “too cool for school” characters, especially when it’s obviously a pose and they’re trying so hard that they take a sharp turn back into lame territory, but the eventual reveal of his backstory, as well as some genuinely charismatic moments before that, make it fairly easy to forgive that. I like when movies show that kind of behavior as a pose or the result of some insecurity, rather than playing into it and glorifying it. And I like how during Maui’s song, Moana kind of falls for it a bit because Maui is so likable, yet obviously selfish and egotistical.

I like how everything ties together in some way or another. Moana’s father’s portion of the “Where We Are” song hints at his own past mistakes as well as his current concerns and fears (or just how they’ve naturally developed overtime). Te Fiti, the creation goddess, because a monster born of rage and vengeance  but still very much tied to the earth (Te Ka is lava, and lava and water make new islands, similar to how Te Fiti would make them with her lush greens). There is a greater theme about identity, much like Frozen, where what the world calls you should not be what defines you. Your actions and choices are what define you, and in the end, Moana uses this new knowledge and the knowledge of who she is to save Te Fiti from what she has been doing since the loss of her heart.

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There is very little to dislike about this movie, and most of it is just a matter of preference; nothing reprehensible or ill-intentioned. Maui’s origin story seems to have been where Disney took the most creative liberties culturally, but again, compared to past mistakes, that’s pretty commendable. That’s just kind of what Disney does with fairytales and legends (although we tend to look the other way with those based in European folklore), and if it inspires audiences to look into the culture and history out of curiosity, I can’t really call it that bad. It’s just the evolution of story-telling as it changes hands.

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Moana looks and sounds amazing, and it brings us what feels like a coming-of-age Odyssey, with monsters and other strange encounters along the way. It’s a great  mix of the familiar and the new, and, most importantly, it’s engaging all the way through. I like that Moana’s loving parents don’t die (which is one of my bigger personal Disney gripes), and her village-crazy-lady Grandmother Tala is adorable and utterly delightful.

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The film is just so sweet and touching and heart-felt, and it doesn’t feel forced at all. Some of the humor borders on millennial-isms, but it’s still such that it can seem mostly  situational, and thereby “timeless”.

The weakest song in the whole thing is probably “Shiny,” but it’s still pretty catch and fun to watch…Oh, and the fact that Moana puts her hair in a bun when bad stuff is about to go down makes me so happy. People in movies don’t seem to have their hair get in the way of things, but it really does. Mine is curly, frizzy, and on the long side, so you bet I put it up when I’m working.

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I also love that her hair actually does slap her in the face a few times. For once, I will say, “Take that, Disney Princess of the Past! This is what we plebeian, real-worlders have to deal with!”

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I can’t think of anything else to say. Just go see it. It’s great. Your kids will love it, if for no other reason than Moana’s adorably stupid rooster sidekick Heihei.

 

8.5/10

*None of the pictures or clips in this blog belong to me. Most belong to Disney. 

Zootopia: Great Promise, Lacking Execution

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Be warned: some spoilers below.

Zootopia is the story of a small-town bunny named Judy Hopps, who always dreamt of becoming a police officer. Like many animals, she idolized what the city of Zootopia stands for (inclusion and equality), but comes to find that even there, she is still underestimated for her species, size, and lack of ferocity.  Judy gets her chance at a missing animal case and teams up with a well-meaning but jaded fox named Nick Wilde, learning more about the Zootopian underground and uncovering a strange phenomenon of predator animals inexplicably reverting to a savage state.

I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about the plot (other than a few trailer snippets early on in advertising), and I can certainly see why so many are praising it. Judy and Nick are both well-acted, compelling characters, and while a lot of the plot can be obvious at times, the mystery is perpetuated in a way that is both engaging and natural.

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The animation is gorgeous and full of color; the scene where Judy rides into Zootopia on a train, taking in several of the diverse ecological districts, was pure magic. Apparently, the last time Disney intricately animated fur was Bolt, back in 2008, and this is their second time making major use of the Hyperion renderer. The look and movement of the fur when compared to reality was pretty seamless, in my opinion; not that I was focusing too much on that specifically. What I care most about, as always, is a good story, and it is in fact pretty good here.

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The music works well, although I did find the use of Shakira to be a bit of a head scratcher. On the one hand, her voice and style go well with the animal settings (see Waka Waka, aka This Time for Africa for reference), but on the other hand, she is not super relevant in main stream culture right now. Every time she made an onscreen appearance, in person or otherwise, I found myself getting distracted by trying to figure out who her character Gazelle’s human equivalent would be.

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She’s a generic pop star, but at the same time, she’s not timeless.

The message is pretty good too, not only discussing race and prejudice in a way that would make sense to children, but also illustrating that at some point, the tables can turn just as easily. When news gets out about the predators going savage, we get a montage of terrified and protesting prey animals. While chaos tears the city apart, the villain and the visuals make it plain that the prey, who are more numerous (presumably because predators are no long weeding down their populations) could rise up and become the most powerful group, perhaps eventually doing to predators what predators had previously done to them. And, as we all know, two wrongs do not make a right.

Three rights do make a left, however.

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Judy is a good character. While she is a frequent victim of stereotyping, she has her own biases, which she usually keeps under control (by thinking before she speaks/acts). She had a fox bully growing up, and Nick the fox (not her bully), who came from a poor family, was bullied out of his Boy Scouts equivalent and treated like a criminal by animals ever since. I do find it a little odd that foxes in particular are signaled out for hatred by most of the animal community though. If predator and prey came together to form an alliance at some point, was there a fox prejudice already existing on the predator side that just carried over in the transition?

But of course, no metaphor is perfect, and I’m probably thinking about it too hard. The point is that we all face unrealistic or skewed expectations at some point, and if we have nothing else in common to unite us, it should be that. We should stand up for the people…animals, whatever, who have things the worst and be compassionate for one another.

I really like Nick too. It’s probably no coincidence that the animators made him look like Robin Hood.

I do have a question about something potentially more problematic: the sloth scene at the DMV. What does it do to serve the story and the message?

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I know why the scene is there; I saw the trailers. It’s supposed to be a funny, clever commentary, although I think that is somewhat off because DMV workers are stereotyped as unpleasant people as well, not just slow. At least, as far as I know.

But let me point out a few things. First of all, a good rule of comedy is that you should never annoy your audience as much as you do your characters. By the end of that scene, which I’m pretty sure clocks out at 5-7 minutes of screen time, worst case scenario: you are more annoyed than Judy is.

Second, the DMV scene pretty much obliterates any built-up tension that the film had going for it, all for a joke that goes on way too long. And does it pay off in any way, other than a throw-away joke to close out the movie? No. Other than Judy and Nick getting what they need and reestablishing the fact that he’s screwing with her for fun, no. The scene would have been funnier a) if they didn’t put it in every trailer playing at every commercial break on every channel, and b) if it was shorter.

Third of all, and probably the most important from a parent’s perspective, if the message of the movie is that racism is bad and it can work both ways and we all have to make a conscious effort to fight it, isn’t it detrimental to have so much stereotype-based humor throughout the movie?

I mean, I guess most characters that we are supposed to laugh at get a scene of reprieve at some point (Mr. Big being a small animal, Flash speeding through traffic, etc etc), but personally, I think that muddies a perfectly good message more than a little bit. I laughed at the wolves howling scene, but Nick points that out as a stereotype that he doesn’t understand beforehand, and then it’s never debunked or even brought up again. Apparently once one wolf starts, others can’t help but join in.

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What does that teach kids? “Stereotyping is wrong and hurts people, but it sure is funny, right?” I guess it’s okay if you just never mention it to the wolf but continue to hold that belief and laugh at it behind his back. And what does that mean for Judy’s ill-thought-out “it’s in predators’ genes” explanation? If that’s somewhat true, is it just dismissed because it’s not considered politically correct anymore?

Kids might not pay that close attention, but for a good period of time in mental development, they have a black-and-white mentality (pardon the pun). It’s hard to teach them about shades of grey because those don’t come out in concise, bumper sticker slogans. You can, for example, tell them that killing someone is wrong, but you probably can’t explain to them that “oh, but it’s somewhat okay, say, if someone broke into your home and threatened you and/or your family and there was no other way to disarm them and the police weren’t there,” or more simply, “kill only if you feel your own life is threatened.” They just won’t comprehend certain intricacies and distinctions like that.

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So yeah, those jokes in particular weren’t very good. Really, the humor overall seemed to be out-of-place. It was fairly obvious like aspects of the plot itself, but hey, it was definitely more aimed at kids themselves than their families. The jokes that were meant for adults would have been funny if they didn’t, again, go on for too long or were “bash-you-over-the-head” obvious. The line-for-line Godfather reference was painful, and I’ve never even seen that movie.

I did chuckle at the chemist rams being named Walt and Jessie, but wow, tone whiplash with that one. Disney, why do you want me thinking about Breaking Bad during this movie?

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You might argue that there are plenty of dark moments – the Godfather scene included – in Zootopia, but nothing quite as dark as a montage of prisoners getting shanked and gruesomely murdered. I’m not sure even your Hunchback of Notre Dame movie got anywhere close to that dark, and you know what? I think I’m good with that.

Zootopia doesn’t quite hit the eye-rolling level that most kid films do, where there is so much modern-day technology and pop-culture pandering, but it certainly edges the mark a couple of times.

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Overall, I like the movie, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I think kids would have liked it without any jokes, and the story would have been that much stronger for it. I have to say that a lot of good potential is wasted by skewing the intended audience so young, and my theatre buddy even said that the story could have been even stronger and more relevant set in present day, with real people.

But you get what you get, and what I got was decent.

 

6.5/10

*All pictures and gifs, excluding one, belong to Disney.