Tag Archives: Ginnifer Goodwin

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush)

Ah, the socially responsible children’s movie, or: the progressive soulless capitalism of the Walt Disney Corporation, twenty-first century iteration. I went into Zootopia waiting for it to be great–I assumed the filmmakers would take responsibility for the big questions they imply–then I waited for it to be good, then I waited for it to be over. It’s a perfectly competent, perfectly satisfactory outing. Girls have a positive role model in Ginnifer Goodwin’s protagonist, the first rabbit cop, and boys will be positively reassured of their superior position in society thanks to Jason Bateman’s rogue sidekick. Watching Zootopia, you can just imagine Disney drones toggling between Buzzfeed and The Toast for concepts.

And not in a bad way, right? I mean, it is just a kid’s movie about anthropomorphized mammals. It’s not going to do any permanent damage, is it? It’s just a movie about how predators and prey can live together as long as predators are okay with the prey thinking they’re socially and morally inferior than the prey. Oh, wait, no, it actually seems like a big question and Zootopia tries to walk back from it immediately after every time it comes up. It flares. Someone who rewrote the screenplay added this occasional flaring up of really gross social commentary. It might be unintentional, but it’s gross. And obvious.

But it’s well-acted and the plotting is fairly strong. Directors Howard, Moore and Bush do better when handling suspense than action. Zootopia is kid’s CG and the animals are stylized not just to be more genially anthropomorphized, they’re also made adorable. It’s manipulative, it’s Disney, it means what could be amazing action set pieces are just passible CG animation instead. There’s great potential in a chase sequence through a “mouse metropolis” and the filmmakers go with plastic-y CG for the setting instead of any realism. It looks like a toy commercial, it’s got limited potential. But when Goodwin and Bateman are doing a James Bond movie action sequence, it’s awesome. It’s a shame everything’s so uneven.

In the supporting roles, Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons do well. There aren’t a lot of good parts. Even Simmons and Elba don’t have good parts. I mean, Goodwin doesn’t even have a good part, not really. Even Bateman has some really weak material–Zootopia’s so confused it can’t even commit to its charismatic antihero love interest dude.

And Jenny Slate’s not great. Her part’s crap, but she’s not great. The part needs some kind of greatness.

Still, it’s a kid’s movie. For me, I just wish it was better directed. But for a kid’s movie, I wish it didn’t fumble with its social message. I wish it comment on real world racial stereotypes with absurd entries in a “Friends Against Humanity” game. I wish the directors and the writers took it seriously, but Disney isn’t even Disney anymore. It’s just progressive soulless capitalist filmmaking, what should one expect from it? It’s not *Animal Farm*, after all, it’s just a kid’s movie.*

* Of course, *Wind in the Willows* is just a kid’s book and it’s thoughtful about how it anthropomorphizes its animals.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush; screenplay by Bush and Phil Johnston, based on a story by Howard, Moore, Bush, Jim Reardon, Josie Trinidad, Johnston and Jennifer Lee; edited by Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, David Goetz and Dan Cooper; produced by Clark Spencer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton) and J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart).


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Birds of America (2008, Craig Lucas)

The sub-ninety minute indie film is practically becoming a genre (I’m assuming these short lengths have a lot to do with sales to commercial cable–ninety minutes fits perfectly into a two hour slot on TNT). Birds of America is both a part of this burgeoning genre and the post-Little Miss Sunshine indie dysfunctional family comedy genre. But it isn’t actually funny, which sets it apart. It starts out like it’s going to be funny and the abbreviated opening is one of the big problems.

Matthew Perry is the lead, even narrating the opening (which makes the film sound like a sequel to a sitcom he never made but could have–a teenager has to take care of his eccentric siblings following their parents’ deaths), but he’s absolutely ineffectual for the first fifteen minutes. In a film running, not including the end credits, eighty minutes, fifteen makes a big difference. He’s fine, but he’s not doing anything special. Worse, the supporting cast is more centrally featured in the opening and there isn’t a strong performance among them. Hilary Swank’s got a strange small role as an annoying neighbor, but Swank’s not funny enough with it (Parker Posey would have been much better). She’s nowhere near as bad as the guy playing her husband, Gary Wilmes. Wilmes seems like an infomercial presenter (for what, I can’t imagine), not someone who ought to be acting in a scene with Matthew Perry, even a disinterested Matthew Perry.

As Perry’s wife, Lauren Graham’s annoying. The characters are all poorly defined in the opening and, while Perry gets to come around into a fully drawn person, Graham’s big change is too abrupt. She does better in the end than she does in the beginning, but Elyse Friedman’s script is particularly unkind to her.

When Ben Foster and Ginnifer Goodwin show up as Perry’s siblings and Birds of America forms its trinity, it finally works. It’s not revolutionary–even though Foster and Goodwin have interesting story arcs (Goodwin in particular), Perry’s tenure-obsessed teacher story is lame–but it’s solid. The trio works great together. Foster’s amazing, Goodwin’s excellent and Perry’s subtle but assured transition to leading man makes the opening weakness hard to remember.

Birds of America takes a place in that missing American genre–the family drama. If it weren’t for the recognizable from television faces–not including Foster, who’s got to be the only character actor of his generation–Birds would be almost entirely unassuming. It presents its story straightforwardly and lets it play out for the viewer. Some things work, some things don’t. More work than not. The film’s best when it’s taking place over one night, which cuts the short running time a little slack. But the direction really doesn’t hurt.

Craig Lucas shoots Super 35, but his widescreen composition is one of the best I’ve seen for that medium (maybe even since Mann and Manhunter). Lucas is in love with the frame and since most of Birds takes place indoors–being that family drama–he composes some fantastic shots.

Birds of America isn’t any kind of singular film event, but it’s a solid picture in an era without many solid pictures.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Craig Lucas; written by Elyse Friedman; director of photography, Yaron Orbach; edited by Eric Kissack; music by Ahrin Mishan; production designer, John Nyomarkay; produced by Jana Edelbaum, Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray and Daniela Lundberg Taplin; released by First Look Studios.

Starring Matthew Perry (Morrie), Ginnifer Goodwin (Ida), Ben Foster (Jay), Lauren Graham (Betty Tanager), Gary Wilmes (Paul), Daniel Eric Gold (Gary), Zoë Kravitz (Gillian) and Hilary Swank (Laura).


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