Zootopia (aka Zootropolis, 2016)

Another solid Disney animated film after Frozen and Big Hero 6, this deals with a world of anthropomorphised animals where the big threat is the reversion by the predator animals to ‘savagery’ (i.e. their ‘natural’ animal state). Our hero is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny rabbit from a country carrot farm with dreams of serving on the metropolitan police force (called “Zootropolis” in the UK version, but “Zootopia” everywhere else), yet despite her ambition, she seems thwarted by the unfeeling old timers on the police force, led by their buffalo captain (Idris Elba). However, after falling into the ambit of small-time grifter fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), they team up to help solve a series of kidnappings. When you look at the character list, it all does seem very silly, but into this buddy-coppy fantasy adventure format, the film is trying to push some pretty serious ideas about civic corruption (Jenny Slate voices the assistant mayor, a sheep if not always sheepish), not to mention racial intolerance and understanding — all enfolded up into the big mystery of the savage animals which Judy and Nick are tracking down. Even aside from the thematics — and I have no idea how they’d play to children, as some of the ideas are pretty complex — the animation is gorgeously detailed and replete with all the expected blink-and-you’ll-miss-them visual puns in the backgrounds, not to mention sly hommages to various films (few of which would be known to kids, unless The Godfather and Chinatown are considered typical viewing for that generation these days).

Zootopia film posterCREDITS
Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore; Writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston; Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate; Length 108 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Chelsea, London, Thursday 21 April 2016.

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Obvious Child (2014)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Seen at Laurelhurst Theater, Portland, Oregon, Thursday 28 September 2014 || My Rating 4 stars excellent


© A24

I’ve been on holiday in the United States for a few weeks and thus have not been seeing many films. However, thanks to the magic of cheap second-run cinemas (the wonderful Laurelhurst in currently-sunny Portland), I caught up with this comedy which is just being released in the UK. It’s been billed by various pundits as an “abortion romcom” although this is rather misleading and reductive, as the two aspects are fairly distinct. Abortion is hardly a laughing matter, nor is it treated as such; that the central character, Donna, a stand-up comedian, works it into a routine is more to do with her desperation and confusion at the way her life has been going. At the same time, the reality of abortion, and the importance of its availability, is not dodged either. It’s certainly something that could be an awkward blend for this kind of movie, but I think it’s all pulled off wonderfully, no little thanks to the excellent work of lead actor Jenny Slate, who had a single season as a cast member of Saturday Night Live before showing up in excellent smaller roles in TV comedies like Parks and Recreation (another training ground for many of the current generation’s finest comic actors). As Donna, she starts the film off on stage, joking about her relationship, which soon ends, leading a few nights later to some drunken sex with a cute, nice guy she meets at a bar, Max (played by Jake Lacy, who had a role in the last few seasons of The Office US series, and who has a similarly bland likeability here). The ensuing revelations are all handled well, with some low-key (and mostly self-inflicted) drama between Donna and her parents, as well as a series of awkward subsequent encounters with Max which are sympathetically handled, but not conclusively resolved. Quite apart from taking what remains a fairly hot-button issue (especially Stateside), this is a nuanced, well-made and very funny film that deserves every success, and is only more impressive for the sureness of its handling of the subject matter.


CREDITS || Director/Writer Gillian Robespierre (based on the short film by Anna Bean, Karen Maine and Gillian Robespierre) | Cinematographer Chris Teague | Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann | Length 83 minutes