Disney’s latest animated feature tells the story of the first rabbit to graduate from the police academy, on the way to joining the police department in Zootopia, a city where mammals of all shapes and sizes (supposedly) get along and can be anything they want to be. Judy Hopps has wanted to be a cop since childhood, despite constantly being told that she couldn’t, including by her timid and fearful, carrot farming parents.
Despite the overt messages of inclusion and opportunity, the film has somewhat messy layers of conflicting information and signals. It’s hard to tell exactly where the problem lies, but it’s not entirely surprising to find the credits include three directors and eight writers.
The main story has Officer Hopps trying to find a missing otter, to prove she’s fit for more than parking ticket duty, which leads to a plot that involves turning the more passive “prey” species against the traditionally “predator” species. Over time, all the species have evolved to live in harmony – but not everybody is happy about it and what better way to change opinions than through the politics of fear.
In this sense the film is using animal species in place of human ethnicities, in a “can’t we all just get along?”/”don’t judge a book by its cover” mashup – but it undermines itself through other visible or missing details. Judy teams up with a reluctant fox who has to battle society’s negative attitude towards his species, and yet his partner in crime is also another fox, which doesn’t help the idea that the label is unjust. Prior to Judy’s arrival, all of the other police officers are either predators or large prey animals, which might make sense in terms of strength but they’re also depicted as being generally inept or insensitive, or both. The two politicians in the story are both acting unethically, albeit one far more than the other. There’s a crime boss whose violence and intimidation is played for laughs without any come-uppance, and the entirety of the Division of Motor Vehicles is staffed by sloths. All of these may be laugh-worthy within the film, more for the parents than for the children watching, but they’re all the kinds of labels and stereotypes that the film seems to claim it’s attempting to dispel.
That said, the film is upbeat and the character animation is generally appealing, although it feels a little long at 108 minutes. At least some of its likely success may be attributable to the lack of kid-friendly content in current release and that it’s been six weekends since “Kung Fu Panda 3” opened. Kids are likely to enjoy it, if their attention spans hold, but it’s still hard not to wonder quite what the take away is, with a film that seems to carry such mixed signals. It reminds me of last year’s “Inside Out” that was supposedly so enlightened regarding mental health, despite depicting a female Joy as skinny and cute while Sadness was short and fat. It’s hard to overcome negative stereotypes while also employing them.
To be honest, I was a little surprised when I first found out about the existence of “London Has Fallen.” Two years ago, “Olympus Has Fallen” made $99million + $62million at the domestic and international box office respectively, only to be followed very quickly by the similarly themed “White House Down” which made $73million + $132million. However, the noteworthy difference was that “Olympus Has Fallen” had a production budget of only $70million, compared to $150million for “White House Down.” Which makes “London Has Fallen” more viable than a hypothetical “London Down.” Gerard Butler, partially redeeming himself for last week’s awful “Gods of Egypt” is back as the mouthy Secret Service agent Mike Banning, as the President attends a state funeral in London. Once the film gets past its setup and the re-introduction of characters, it all moves along at a suitably hectic pace, pausing only for the occasional ridiculous scene in which all logic is thrown out in favor of a touching moment or witty comment. For example, when Banning tells President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to leave a damaged helicopter (because it might explode) while he comforts a dying colleague. This despite the fact that the President is suddenly completely exposed and unprotected in an open park, after several minutes of constant attacks, and that Banning’s only job is to protect him. But it’s all good, if silly, fun and plays moderately well on those action film terms. On a side note, it also manages to race through its running length in nine fewer minutes than “Zootopia.”
Tina Fey plays a reporter sent to Afghanistan in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” That might make you think this is all played for laughs, as with last year’s terrible Bill Murray vehicle “Rock the Kasbah,” but any humor here is more situational, in a fish out of water way, than forced. It’s based on a memoir by journalist Kim Barker, although Fey’s character is named Kim Baker, which makes for an interesting story. One might expect it to be a tale of heroism and jingoism in the face of the enemy, but it’s more a story about war correspondence as just another assignment, taken by reluctant journalists who are still jockeying for position and looking for the break that will propel their careers despite where they are. Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie play fellow journalists, with Alfred Molina as a lecherous local politician and Billy Bob Thornton as the Marine General whose unit Fey’s Baker is embedded with. It’s an enjoyable film, at a modest level, but I liked it more for the thoughtfully different take on the wartime experience and, since watching it, I’ve found myself thinking more about the subject matter than the film itself.