Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 9 – Zootopia

Zootopia is an animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. The film is about Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from Bunnyborrow with aspirations to become a police officer.

Following her dream, Judy moves to the big city—Zootopia. However, when she arrives, she quickly realizes that life as the first bunny cop in history is incredibly challenging. Eventually, Judy finds her purpose investigating a big case, with help from a sly, scam-artist fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman)—but things are not as they seem after a series of predators go “savage.”

I saw Zootopia twice this year (once when it came out in March and again this summer), and until the slate of incredible fall movies hit the theater, it was my favorite movie of the year. Zootopia is by far one of the best animated movies I have ever seen, too—it rivals any of the Disney/Pixar greats. But for me, what makes the film so incredible is more than just its elite animation and witty humor. Zootopia succeeds because it explores deep, socially relevant themes in a way that appeals to both kids and adults. Those that believe animated films provide no true cinematic value are simply ignorant and mistaken. On a basic level, Judy Hopps’s persistence illustrates to children that if they dream it and believe it, they can achieve it. But on a much deeper level, Zootopia brilliantly examines themes of fear, stereotyping, and prejudice that make it a particularly important piece of social cinema.

In the melting pot of Zootopia, predators and prey live amongst each other in harmony. However, when a group of predators start to go “savage,” every animal’s true colors come out in the form of unfounded fear and prejudice. The crimes of these few “savage” predators become a conduit for terror, intolerance, and discrimination. This is what makes Zootopia such a thought-provoking piece of film, aside from being just another great animated movie for kids. The creators dared to depict relevant real-world issues in a “kids” movie, and Zootopia will forever be held in esteem for its message of inclusion.

Aside from its adult themes, Zootopia is a flawless comedy for people of all ages. Jason Bateman is hilariously bright and amusing (per usual) in his role as Nick, and Ginnifer Goodwin skillfully balances the intricate line between straight-edge and adventurous. The film also includes a comical scene depicting Mr. Big as a feared crime boss, inspired by Vito Corleone in the opening scene of The Godfather. However, the single greatest highlight of Zootopia is the DMV scene, which features a riotous back-and-forth between Flash, a three-toed sloth, and Nick and Judy. Flash operates almost in slow motion (as you’d expect a sloth would), and everything plays out hysterically! The movie is worth the watch for this scene alone. Zootopia is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

Zootopia trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWM0ct-OLsM

Academy Award nominations for Zootopia:

Best Animated Feature (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

10. Nocturnal Animals

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 13 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise and the first film in the series’ sequel trilogy. Episode VII is directed by JJ Abrams, with a screenplay by Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Michael Arndt. The film is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and it follows a group known as “The Resistance” (led by remnants of the former Republic) in its fight against Kylo Ren and the First Order, the successor to Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire.

StarWars7Full disclosure: I saw all seven Star Wars movies over a two-week period during Christmas break; thus, I am not a lifelong fan of the franchise like the traditional Star Wars sycophant. However, after watching both the original and prequel trilogies, I became enraptured by the series and could not wait to watch Episode VII. StarWars8This anticipation for the newest film was two-fold: (1) I had become a genuine fan of the franchise; and (2) I was stoked to see if JJ Abrams could reinvigorate the famed series after its creative genius, George Lucas, nearly drove it into the ground with Episodes I and II (Episode III is actually pretty genius in many respects from a filmmaking standpoint—so get over yourselves, Star Wars nerds). Abrams’s take on Star Wars did not disappoint. But before I get to that and the rest of my review, I have decided to announce my own personal ranking of each film in the Star Wars franchise: (1) The Empire Strikes Back; (2) The Force Awakens; (3) Revenge of the Sith; (4) A New Hope; (5) Return of the Jedi; (6) Attack of the Clones; and (7) The Phantom Menace.

StarWars12I really only have one beef with The Force Awakens, and it is the fact that JJ Abrams will not be returning for future films in the trilogy; Mr. Abrams batted nearly 1.000 in his one-and-only Star Wars appearance. For starters, in terms of storytelling, the script is both reminiscent of the original trilogy and polar opposite of the prequel trilogy—in all the best ways. Abrams and his screenwriting team give us humor, snappy dialogue, action, and thrills, all which evoke the greatest moments of the past Star Wars films, all without much input at all from George Lucas—that is impressive. StarWars9Abrams clearly knows his Star Wars history, and he gives us plenty of callbacks to the past six films; the truly remarkable part is that he does so without bordering on schlock, which would be easy to do. We get the classic duo of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), a prominent cameo from the Millennium Falcon, a melted Darth Vader mask, and appearances by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), C-3PO, and, my personal fave, R2-D2. Despite the eminence of so many vintage Star Wars figures, Abrams’s real triumph stems from his creation of a wealth of new characters that are more than worthy to carry on this historic film franchise.

StarWars6Speaking of those new characters, we had a bunch of worthwhile rookies. Golden Globe-nominated actor Oscar Isaac stars as Poe Dameron, an X-wing fighter pilot for the Resistance that is heralded as the best in the galaxy. Emmy-nominated Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, a commander of the First Order and an aspiring successor to the Darth Vader legacy. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega star as Rey and Finn, respectively—Rey is a scavenger from Jakku in search of her family, and Finn is a First Order stormtrooper who decides to abandon his position. Despite being a big fan of Oscar Isaac, I admit that I did not connect much with his character—he was kind of boring to be honest. StarWars5Luckily, the rest of the cast carried the film with ease. I absolutely love Adam Driver as the newest bad boy of the Star Wars universe. His character is incredibly complex, possessing evil and torturous, yet anxious and sensitive qualities—Driver nails the nuances of each and every trait. Kylo Ren is also a downright badass character because of (1) a mask that rivals that of Darth Vader; and (2) one of the greatest light sabers anyone has ever seen.

StarWars3Ridley and Boyega also impress in their respective roles. Ridley’s Rey may or may not be the daughter of Luke Skywalker (the film sure does imply that, yet, maybe it is a red herring), but she definitely occupies many of Luke’s behavioral traits, not the least of which is her affinity for inherent Jedi powers—the force is definitely strong with this one. In addition to seeming much like Luke, she also at times seems like the new Han Solo—she is completely self-sufficient and is as rogue as they come. StarWars1Boyega’s Finn was one of my favorite characters from the new film. Finn’s personality is evocative of C-3PO, in that he is incredibly worrisome and always the first to panic when danger arises; it is in these ways that Finn is the funniest character of the movie. Luckily, Abrams brilliantly ensures that Finn’s character never becomes a mere caricature. I also loved R2-D2’s successor, the charmingly unique droid BB-8. BB-8 is a spherical droid with a free-moving domed head, and he is the perfect addition to a long history of classic droids in the Star Wars franchise.

Although I loved The Force Awakens, I am a bit wary of the direction of the Star Wars property. In 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, and it immediately set into motion plans for a bunch of Star Wars movies. In addition to the new sequel trilogy (Episodes VIII and IX will be directed by Looper’s Rian Johnson and Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, respectively), Disney has planned what it is calling an Anthology series. Rogue OneThe latter will first feature Rogue One, set just before the events of A New Hope, and after that two stand-alone “origin” films about both Han Solo and Boba Fett. Starting this year, the Anthology films will be released every other year, which is meant to complement the sequel trilogy’s same every-other-year schedule. Although it will be great to get so much new Star Wars material, I am cautious because it makes the series more susceptible to people getting completely burned out, considering a Star Wars movie will be released once a year between 2015 and 2020. Only time will tell. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGbxmsDFVnE

Academy Award nominations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

Best Original Score (John Williams)

Best Sound Editing (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson)

Best Film Editing (Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey)

Best Visual Effects (Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, and Neal Scanlan)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. Beasts of No Nation
  2. The Martian