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‘Zootopia’ a deeper Disney flick

The theme of just about every Disney movie is “follow your dreams.” It’s sweet, timeless and, by now, pretty boring. So it is great that with “Zootopia”, the filmmakers haven’t abandoned that concept but added a much-needed dose of reality and racial diversity into the equation.

“Zootopia” tells the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny who dreams of being a police officer in the sprawling city of Zootopia, a place where predator and prey live together in peace. There has never been a bunny cop before, and she faces all sorts of prejudice for being perceived as less than bigger animals. As she tries to prove herself, she meets a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist she enlists to help her get to the bottom of a case of disappearing predator animals.

The story takes a film noir approach (with a child-appropriate tone) towards the investigation and examines some poignant race-relation issues in the world today. The discrimination of predator to prey and prey to predator imbues the story with a deeper level of meaning than that of a standard Disney film. The characters must work through their own prejudices of the world to gain true understanding.

Real time and energy went into making the film not only fun and entertaining, but also different and deeper. It’s great to see an animated film, especially from Disney, tackle some prominent modern-day issues.

“Zootopia” is one of the better films of the modern Disney era. It is fun, insightful, heartfelt and memorable.

‘Moana’ beautiful, fun

Boasting beautiful animation, an engaging (if familiar) story and strong musical numbers, Disney’s Moana is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) is destined to lead her Polynesian island community, but the island’s resources are drying up. The sea calls to Moana, who must embark on a quest to return the heart of the goddess Te Whiti before the darkness overwhelms her home. She enlists the help of the demigod, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson).

Directed by the duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (past credits include Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog among others), the film features several of the traditional Disney tropes: a princess, the bumbling sidekick, the quest, nature as a guide, the biased father-figure, the helpful grandmother. But while the story is rather so-so in terms of creativity, the songs and the visuals are great. The water in particular looks terrific and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tunes are sure to stick in your head for better or worse long afterwards.

The film does an excellent job of really utilizing its location to tell its story. You can practically smell the sea-breeze off the screen. It is to Musker and Clement’s credit that they imbue the film with such energy and really bring Polynesian culture to life.

When given the choice between the familiar told well or the unfamiliar told poorly, telling stories smartly always wins. While Moana is nothing that new, it is fun, it is enjoyable, and it is another strong Disney entry in its recent revival (started not-so-coincidentally when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney animation).

‘The Jungle Book’ gorgeous

Despite the fact that it is a nostalgia-driven marketing endeavor, Disney’s latest live-action foray based off one of their animated classics works because it is filled with heart and gorgeously animated.

Much like its predecessor, “The Jungle Book” focuses on the young boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised by wolves. When the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens to kill him, his panther guardian Bagheera (voice of Sir Ben Kingsley) leads him on a quest to the man village where he’ll be safe. Along the way, they meet the villainous Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), the gigantic King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken) and the lovable Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).

Much of the plot remains intact from the animated film with one huge change near the film’s conclusion meant to make way for a sequel (it is not terrible, but not great either). The characters are magnificent CGI representations, full of identity, grace and beauty, and all of the voice actors are excellent (Idris Elba in particular).

The theme of man as a disease to nature works well and respect towards each other across species is a metaphor to our current culture. With a fully realized world in the Indian jungle, the film is engrossing, entertaining and full of Disney charm.

Two detriments to the story are inherent however. One is that the movie can not help but exist in the shadow of its predecessor. It tries to push out and be its own film at times, but with every rendition of “I Want to Be Like You” the film reminds viewers that it is essentially a remake. The film then works as a companion piece to the original, but one can’t help but wonder what the final product would have looked like if director Jon Favreau had been able to create Kipling’s tale independent of the animated film.

The other is the manner of the making of the film. There is no actual jungle at all. Everything was shot in a Los Angeles sound studio. Every creature, tree, mountain is all computer-animated. It is the height of hypocrisy for a film whose moral is the preservation of nature to not actually feature any real nature in it. The film lacks grit and a sense of reality because of it. It is a shame.

But overall, the film is enjoyable, well-made and strong. It is the best live action from animated film released by Disney and an argument can be made that it is even better than the original.