FlixChatter Review: Zootopia (2016)

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Ever since Pixar’s been making movies, I always thought that their stories are superior compared to Disney in that they appeal to adults as well as children. Well, Disney’s clearly been improving year after year. Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Frozen, they all have pretty mature, thought-provoking themes with teachable moments for people of all ages. This time with Zootopia, its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

It starts out typical enough for a Disney movie. A smart and ambitious rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fact that no bunnies ever did. Even her own parents didn’t initially believe she’s got what it takes and encourage her to follow her family tradition and be a carrot farmer in rural Bunnyburrow. Thankfully, Judy’s resolute enough to defy them and against all odds she does become a police officer. She’s an instantly likable character and right away I was invested in her journey.

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The story pretty much begins on the first day Judy’s as an officer in Zootopia, a city filled with anthropomorphic animals. Though she’s relegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), somehow she ends up solving a crime. That leads to yet another mission to rescue a missing the husband of a female otter who’s been pleading with the police force to help her. Judy’s not only defied the odds that a rabbit can be a competent officer, but she’s proven to be a valuable asset to the force with her resourcefulness.

I love that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. It even takes a little zing at Disney itself when Chief Bogo said to Judy ‘Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.’ Ha! The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the movie’s protagonist. The team of writers (at least seven of them credited on IMDb!) keep playing with my expectations throughout, cleverly weaving the themes of widely-held stereotypes and discrimination without taking away the fun of an animated adventure. Just when I thought the story is going one way, it turns out to be another. I love being surprised when watching movies, and this movie does that time and again, and I was left in awe every time.

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The strength of Zootopia also lies in the chemistry of the two leads, Judy and the sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Disney’s no stranger to putting together unlikely pairings and this latest one is as delightful as ever. They end up finding similarities in regards to defying stereotypes of their kind, and the developing bond between them is fun to watch. Some of the funny scenes in the trailer, i.e. the one with the Sloth, is still hilarious in the movie, but I think there are even more memorable scenes than that one.

There are interesting characters we meet throughout their journey, I especially love the scene with Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) and his introduction is a hoot! Elba’s voice is always a highlight in any movie and he’s memorable here too as Chief Bogo. Jenny Slate‘s Bellwether and Alan Tudyk‘s Duke Weaselton round up the excellent voice cast. Despite not having a big musical number, it does have a fun song Try Everything featuring Shakira, who also has a cameo as popstar Gazelle.

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Just what I expect from Disney with its $150mil budget, the cinematography is absolutely spectacular. The five boroughs of Zootopia are beautifully rendered, and each has a fitting name that describes its own unique characteristics: Savanna Central, Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and Rainforest District. The chase through all the different boroughs are a ton of fun that made me wish I had seen it on the big screen!

Kudos to the trio of directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush for creating such a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. This is another winner from Disney that I don’t mind watching again and again.

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Have you seen ‘Zootopia’? Well, what did you think?
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Weekend Roundup & Review of Disney’s Maleficent

Hi everyone! Hope you had a lovely weekend. Well it’s sort of the calm before the storm as Twin Citians are bracing for the first snow storm of the year. We’re supposed to get anywhere between 6-12 inches, ugh! I ran a bunch of errands today just so I don’t have to go anywhere besides to and from work, though even THAT is gonna be quite an adventure tomorrow.

In any case, well it’s been quite a busy week for me movie-watching wise. Like many of you, I saw Interstellar on Saturday night in the AMC IMAX theatre. I’m still trying to process it, but I’m gonna try to review it this week, along with Big Hero 6. Y’know what, this time I’m agreeing w/ the critics in placing the Disney animated feature ahead of Christopher Nolan’s big space drama (91% for Big Hero Six vs 73% for Interstellar)

Friday night, my hubby and I opted for a fairy-tale reimagining that we’ve been wanting to see for some time. Boy it took forever for this movie to be available on iTunes, who knows why Disney delayed the rental release for SO long as the movie was released back in May. So here’s my review:

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As a huge fan of Sleeping Beauty, which is my favorite Disney fairy tale, I’m curious to see the backstory of Maleficent, which is also one of my fave Disney villains. The twist of the story itself is a hit and miss. I thought that the unlikely relationship between Maleficent and Aurora is interesting and also kind of hilarious. I mean before Maleficent curses Aurora to die on her 16th birthday upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, she also confirms one of the three good fairies’ blessing that she will grow in grace and beauty and that she’ll be loved by ALL who meets her. Well I guess that includes Maleficent herself as she can’t help to also grow to love Aurora in the end. Therein lies the issue I have w/ the plot – Maleficent isn’t so much an evil sorceress we expect from the animated version, as she never really did anything evil at all despite her vengeful quest. She’s portrayed more like a victim of the ambitious Stefan who betrays her to become King and he’s definitely the malevolent one in the story.

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That said, there are quite a few enjoyable moments to be had and Angelina Jolie is mesmerizing as Maleficent. I really can’t imagine anyone else in the role and she handles the dramatic as well as the mischievous moments brilliantly. The scene when she discovers her wings are cut off is quite heart-wrenching, but she also seems to be having fun with the more whimsical moments in the movie. The rest of the casting doesn’t fare as well, I’m so baffled why Sam Riley agrees to do the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s shape-shifting crow as it’s such a thankless role. I really thought there’ll be more to that character later on, but it never happened. Seems that all the guys in this movie are either evil or pointless, including Prince Philip, Aurora’s supposed suitor. Sharlto Copley’s plays Stefan with a sheer madness about him, consumed by paranoia and contempt against Maleficent that he seemingly forgot about his own family. I wasn’t crazy w/ Elle Fanning as Aurora, as she’s more cute than beautiful, but I guess they’re going for more an innocent girl so I warm up to her as the movie progresses. Given this is Maleficent’s story, all three gifted actresses (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) weren’t given much to do here.

The visuals are basically a CGI extravaganza, which is not surprising given first-time director Robert Stromberg worked extensively in the visual effects department most of his career. The flying sequences are great to look at and there are some beautiful scenery and set pieces. That said, I’m still partial to the animated version from 1959 with its hand-drawn illustrations. Even by today’s standards, I’m still in awe how lush and beautiful it is. I like that the movie pays homage to the original in some ways though. Per IMDb, Jolie apparently insisted that the dialogue in Aurora’s christening sequence has to be written word-by-word and based exactly from the original animated film because she feels that it was the main core and setup of the entire film.

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So overall I think this is a decent film if you’re willing to accept the reimagining of the fairy tale classic for what it is. The ending is kind of predictable and the ‘true love’ aspect seems to be borrowing from Frozen from a year before. But if you want to see this for Jolie’s performance as Maleficent, she certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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Have you seen Maleficent, well what did you think?