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New on Netflix: Zootopia

written by rick September 23, 2016
New on Netflix: Zootopia

Creating a believably “lived-in world” is both a necessity for accomplished animation and a critical cliche. That phrase has to be up there with “dream-like” and “too on-the-nose” in someone’s list of Things Critics Need To Stop Trotting Out. Yet it’s true: Disney’s Zootopia, the Mouse House’s best feature in years, looks and feels entirely lived-in. It’s an elaborately designed and constructed universe, delightful to behold, hilarious in execution for kids and adults alike. And it even traffics in some wisdom.

Humans seem not to exist in the world of Zootopia. This is for the best. For one thing, it allows an aesthetic distance so that we can enjoy both the animal in-jokes (our bunny protagonist has hundreds of siblings and carries fox-repellent) and their human double-entendres (sloths run the DMV; rodents staff the local bank, named Lemming Brothers).

The plot is a smart send-up of classic noir, a country-bumpkin-with-dreams coming to the Big City, and a series of culture clashes all at once. A missing person (ok: a missing otter) provides the MacGuffin for the central narrative, but Zootopia has more on its mind. The metropolis is held together by an uneasy detente between predator and prey, providing space for some kid-friendly reflections on racial profiling and reflexive Othering. It’s actually pretty heady stuff, and if it doesn’t exactly cohere upon reflection, Zootopia deserves enormous points for trying.

It also deserves enormous points for ambition. There’s an entire subplot about the lure of home, its safety and complacency contrasted with the unknown possibilities of life elsewhere, for instance. The narrative dips and dives and keeps moving, drawing out legitimately interesting themes of solidarity and hope amidst all the inspired silliness. Gennifer Goodwin is ideal as our protagonist’s voice, and Jason Bateman makes a solid case that he should basically always be cast as an animated fox.


And then there are those sloths, who get the biggest laugh. Zootopia is smart, funny filmmaking, unexpectedly anti-racist and committed to its basic ideas. If you have a kid and they haven’t watched this yet, you should fix that. If you don’t, you should watch it anyway.

Quick Links


Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made:  If you want a documentary that will charm your socks off, this is the one. No more socks.

In the early 80’s, some 11 and 12 year olds began a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They continued filming, when summer breaks and vacations allowed, throughout their adolescence, carried by a kind of cine-mania and the absurdly relentless dedication to a questionable vision that only childhood can provide. The film became an underground legend, true outsider art. Years later, they reformed to shoot the final scene they never could manage as children. Raiders! could easily have been a maudlin portrait of idiot youth. Instead, it’s a genuinely feel-good ode to the power and safe haven of imagination, to the images that sustain us, and to the heartfelt notion of pursuing your dreams, no matter how goofy they are. These guys are my heroes.


High-Rise: It’s hard not to think of David Cronenberg’s Shivers when watching the J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise. After all, Shivers essentially provided the template for pre-fab isolation terror and Cronenberg would go on to adapt Ballard himself with Crash (best abbreviated review pull ever: “Sex … and car crashes”), and that’s only the beginning of the overlaps. But Ben Wheatley’s film is more interested in external class conflict than the more, um, embodied variants of Cronenbergian horror, even if people do go around reading The Psychopathology of Everyday Life like they are frightened we’ll miss the point. Instead, High-Rise is filled with jarring set-pieces and the unease of modern life, which oozes in a slightly less overt way. It’s still horrifying.


Re-Animator: It’s almost Halloween (which is how I generally describe the end of September), so why not watch Stuart Gordon’s classic? It’s funny, it’s gross, and it includes lines like “I must say, Dr. Hill, I’m VERY disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You’re not even a second-rate scientist!” Fire up your machine and animate some undead hijinks.


Footloose: Is that all a little intense or sub-culture-y? Fair. How about Kevin Bacon teaching Chris Penn how to dance in a cornfield, while Lori Singer cheers on a game of tractor chicken and her dad John Lithgow grapples with the crisis of conscience dancing provides?

Quit pretending you’re above it. You absolutely tear up at City Council meetings when people quote Ecclesiastes and you know it. Kick off your Sunday shoes, find the closest abandoned warehouse where you can let off some steam, and then join the dumb party with the rest of us! Kevin Bacon will be there, which will make you 1 degree from Kevin Bacon.

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