Thoughts On: Zootopia - You, The Crowd


Zootopia - You, The Crowd

Thoughts On: Zootopia

This film is a pre-existing addition to the...

I've been holding out on this one because of the western series, but with that completed, we come to Disney - (along with Pixar) the greatest thing about mainstream cinema today. To get the boring semantics over quick, Zootopia, is set in a world where predators and prey have evolved to live alongside one another. It follows Judy Hopps into the police force as the first Bunny ever to make it in when a case concerning predators turning savage breaks.

Zootopia, Inside Out, Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, Up. This is how current cinema should and will be remembered. I know we all love to moan about everything being just Star Wars, comic books, CGI, remakes and adaptations. I'm fine with that, it doesn't bother me. And that's simply because of what is being put out by one of the biggest corporate giants of all. Yes, we're getting live action remakes, but that's all being balanced with original content--and when remakes are done, they're done well. In this respect we have very little to moan about with cinema today. Disney, Pixar and animation in general represent the future of cinema in my opinion. The new movement of multi-layered, rich and honest narratives are proving that 'kid's films' are the place to go for serious content, for ingenious story telling. I may also talk about the loss of fantasy in cinema a lot, but I just have to turn this direction to have my mouth slapped shut. Zootopia represents what cinema at its absolute best is. It's a family film that isn't stupid, that was written with purpose. It's honestly the funniest film I've seen in a long time as well as one of the most profound and telling movies of the decade. 'Kid's films' are growing up. Fast. You could say the same about actual kids, and the fact that it's common to see a 7 or 8 year old with an iPhone doesn't bother me much when this is the kind of movie they'll be watching over and over - growing up with it in the same way I did Tarzan, Beauty And The Beast, Dumbo, Cinderella, Labyrinth, Toy Story, Hook, Jungle Book... the list goes on. In fact, I'm a little jealous. Sure all films mentioned are absolutely brilliant and some quite profound in their own respect, but it hurts to say that the likes of Inside Out and Zootopia might just be better than them. I could talk in and around all these films forever, so let's try keep it short before diving into this one. All in all, computerised animation is allowing Disney and Pixar to create complex worlds with equally complex narratives without everyone moaning that 'they could have used practical effects'. As is obvious, people love practical effects because that's what their eye is used - it's apart of their understanding of cinematic language. But, in all honesty, the kids growing up with CG are only going to be saying the exact same things a few decades down the line: 'there's no weight to this new UXF. CGI had character, texture, it really felt like the robots were there. None of this faux immersive tripe. I don't buy into that'. Anyway, the point is, Zootopia could have been live action but the confidence to do that in terms of money and funding doesn't exist. I'm not going to moan about that though because we have Zootopia, which goes to show cinema is not devolving, magic is not being lost.

Jumping into it, Zootopia is quite obviously about race, gender, equality and everything we love to hear about on the news. I don't need to spell out the film's message for you though because it does a wonderful job of doing that itself. Instead, I want to explore the mechanism by which the film is translating these ideas. In short, I want to talk about you. I say this all the time, but the crowd is the stupidest person of all. That's kind of the crux of the film, but that will come in later. The beginning of the film begins to cite this idea however. We see this in the stereotyping. Bunnies are assumed to be cute and the foxes sly. This is the point where we should stop and turn to the audience. Of course most assume stereotyping is bad, foxes are kind and bunnies are clever, but, give anyone a moment to reflect and sure they'll tell you that there are exceptions to the rule. This is the major conflict in the film. Ambiguity. A stereotype is a useful tool because (brace yourself) they are more than often true, they pick up on a clear paradigm. That doesn't mean the world is doomed and Judy should just settle like her parents. What this means is David doesn't always beat Goliath. The film, like us all, knows this. With the intro, and without faith in Disney, you'd assume this film is going to be blindly moral. These are the worst kind of films in my opinion. They pose as intellectual, but only play to what the audience wants to hear. They say we should all be equal and just because. What Zootopia makes clear is that equality is a nice idea, but it shouldn't be unconditional. The 'mammal inclusion initiative' is a questionable idea. That is until we see Judy taking down that huge rhino, climb the ice wall, defy the odds. What the film is saying here is that not all bunnies should be in the police force, but those who deserve to be there shouldn't be shut out. The translation applies to anyone who stereotypically may not fit the job. As an example given by the film, women should obviously be able to join the police force, but only those who pass the exams. The concept of a stereotype is resultantly deemed necessary, not irrationally demonized. That encompasses a misinterpretation of this, and many other, films. The likes of Frozen, Brave, Inside Out and Kung Fu Panda aren't saying women, girls, fat people, can be apart of a narrative, can overcome, can be the hero. What these films are doing is finding the hero in places we may not expect. The hero isn't every little girl, every fat person, every woman - the hero is a hero despite the shell. Zootopia, Frozen, Brave, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda aren't for little girls, fat kids, minorities, whoever. They aren't telling people 'you can do whatever you want'. They are saying 'this person is a little like you. Why can't you do this stuff?'.

It's the difference between 'you do this' and 'why aren't you doing this?' that Zootopia itself criticises. All I have to cite here is the Frozen reference. 'Let it go' is not, not, the crux of that film, neither is it this one. 'Let it go' is the catalysing thought that allowed these characters to pursue their goals - it is not the end all and be all. This is what I mean by a misinterpretation of these films. There is no coddling going on - which is the main negative criticism of these films. They are positive, but I don't believe they are fanciful or irrational. That attribution, the saying that bunnies don't knock out rhinos, is what the film knows. But, what it's interested in is that bunny that can kick ass. Aren't we all? This is the underdog picture everyone can get behind. What we have here is Rocky, but contextualised to comment on equality. With Rocky we accept that most bums would be knocked out flat if they stepped into the ring with Apollo. But, what excites us is the implied idea that the eye of the tiger is maybe in that little bunny. That's cinematic magic. This is where the pure joy of this film stems from. This is also why comic book movies really worked, but are kind of simmering down. Comic book movies are an underdog story themselves. The nerdy, spotty, basement dwelling teens were having their heroes projected onto the glistening silver screen. There's no wonder the genre exploded. What most don't want to happen to the genre is a devolution to a Rocky from the beginning of Rocky III. Fuck that guy, right? This will happen if DC keeps pounding out filth like Batman V Superman, allowing us all to become very jaded, very quick--just like with found footage movies. How did we get here? Frozen to Rocky to Paranormal Activity? I don't know. Back to Zootopia, the underdog elements of the film are easily criticised, but for no good reason. In short, we'd all ignore any idiot that said 'Arnold would have never beat that predator. Why are we irrationally affirming jacked, god-like men, that can ride a career to the moon yelling AAARRG?' Just let that one play for a while on another tab... music. Anyway, overall, Zootopia first and foremost is not trying to coddle or lie, but motivate.

Moving on, the hardest elements of the film, for me, to swallow came at the 70 min mark. The film is structured like any other Disney/Pixar film with a rise to a positive end in a quick and concise 70 min picture. What could have been an end with the mayor being imprisoned and problems half-solved (like In Time) was used as a mark to cross so that a lie wasn't told - to say that governmental secrecy need to be stopped and the little people should take over. That's irrational and doesn't conclusively solve issues. There's two elements to that turn however. First there's the irrational conviction of the predators by the prey. Then there's the guilt that Judy felt. At first reflex I took issue with this. Yes, she stated facts that are easily blown out of proportion. She kind of messed up. But, she's not the main problem. This is why I didn't like the film dwelling on her remorse--which is natural and entirely understandable - and so why I don't take major issue. Whilst Judy made a mistake and consequently (like any person would) took on blame, I feel the direction of this element was a little off. This comes back to the crowd being the stupidest person of all. I think its important to show that we should take responsibility for the ripple effects we cause, even if it is in telling the truth, but on top of that the mentality of people as a group to who don't think needed to be criticised a little more. Yes, there were the scenes with the protests and Gazelle--not a fan by the way. This happened in Inside Out too. Gazelle and Bing Bong... yeah, don't need them. I knew we were going to get a sing-song ending and is why I left before it got started. And Bing Bong? Thanks for the sacrifice, but, meh. Didn't care. Maybe that's just my overactive cynicism surfacing, but there you go, they are the only elements of these films I didn't care for. The point is, Gazelle wasn't a great device to criticise the stupid mob mentality of the prey. I have a serious disdain for this kind of (lack of) thinking - as I think we all do. I absolutely hate emotional reactions by large groups of people. Pragmatism has little value in the guise of these people, the news and media. What this translates to is a inclination to blame the individual, to say that the issue with the irrational marginalisation is down to Judy and not the idiots taking that news story, blowing it up and misinterpreting everything. The main issue not dealt with in this film is the bigger picture in terms of those mentalities that make this world a messed up place sometimes. However, and I want to make this clear, I don't think the film should have done this. This was a story about an individual and stayed true to that. If it suddenly abandoned her, we would have had narrative problems. With that half-issue I have with this film I want to talk about the implied idea that people screw themselves over.

This, with a bittersweet tinge of irony, comes around to my actual criticisms of Zootopia. The irrational mentality expressed by the prey can be seen in the audience with the choice of victim and criminal. I was in awe with the ingenious Godfather reference. However, in a film for children which needs clear morals, the second coming of this joke was questionable--more so, a plot hole. Before going into that, I don't mean to suck the fun away from the film, or the adult elements either. The 'you're standing on my tail though' joke has me laughing right now as I type. Wow and thank you, is all I have to say. The Godfather bit in the same respect was clever, but in the end of the film where Duke Weasleton (Frozen reference by the way--that and the pirate DVD skit) is being dangled over the hole in the ice? That's not great. Judy being a godmother to a crime boss' granddaughter is a great joke also, but it's inconsistent with the moral narrative of the film. A killjoy, I know, but come on. What this demonstrates is an audience's will to accept the irrational in the same respect the prey did. Again, we see this manifest itself in the choice of victim. The otter is the predator that we are allowed to sympathise with. Huh? Firstly, this makes sense in terms of plotting - they're not stereotypically considered dangerous or even predators - and is why Judy gets the job. But, for an audience to only attribute change to something we only recently found out was dangerous is wishy-washy. What this cites is a near hypocrisy within the film. It makes clear that stereotyping happens and that maybe we shouldn't participate in the problem. But, it, in short, allows the audience to take the fantastical (not really true) bias of Don Corleone being a good guy as well as not allowing us to see a stereotypical savage animal undergo change at the same time. I love Don Corleone on screen, but I would not like him living next door to me. This film is about reality projected through fantasy. That means we should be seeing the implied reality at all times - the Coreleones as next door neighbours. That reality is also a good cop bending the law and associating herself with some of the worst criminals out there. Us accepting that and showing it to kids is a little questionable, but, only because of the serious nature and context of the film. This ironically takes us all full circle. We learn lesson and get motivated with this film, but at the same shrug off quite big issues. To arrest Big Bear may have hurt the tone of the film, but not the moral narrative.

That all said, I leave you with a question of what matters more. Tonal consistency or moral consistency? This film is brilliant, but doesn't practice what it preaches all the way through. My take away is that for the same reason stereotyping is ok, the jokes were too. This is because the world isn't a simple place and we can't demand consistency. This is the message of the film and is why I'll ultimately let the plot holes slip. However, the crowd is an immovable object of questionable intelligence. Am I part of the problem by doing this, or is the problem not that significant? Can it swell into something greater? That, indeed, comes down to the individual. And like the film, I suggest we all take responsibility before blaming. This way problems can be solved, not debated.

Your thoughts? Comment below.

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