I'm a 32 year old male and my tastes in animation are broad and varied but they mainly include Disney movies. However, I like watching movies and shows that are different and seem to stand out to me.
Animation, Acting, Singing, Dancing
Animation that I love:
The Fox and the Hound, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Watching Zootopia, I got a vibe similar to Cats Don't Dance. Bright eyed, fresh face youngster hops on a mode of transportation, rides through a pretty title sequence away from Podunk America and towards a bright future in a big city, but instead finds injustice. The difference between the two movies is in the way it handles the social themes. Cats Don't Dance seems to tackle straightforward stereotyping and ends in a chipper "nothing can go wrong" attitude.
Zootopia, on the other hand, seems to tackle society's stickier ills. It tries to hold up a mirror to the real world and go "This is what you are." I couldn't help but think of the discussions and fights over today's more contentious societal topics, like the battle over transgenders and where to use the bathrooms or the rights of homosexuals to get married. Sadly, I imagine most parents won't even broach these sticky topics with their kids or, even worse, remain just as thoroughly dense to it as the children and see only the cute, fuzzy animals cracking wise. There's also no such happily ever after ending here.
Zootopia doesn't linger on this heavy stuff too long. It thankfully drops it in small doses in between the more relatable story of Judy Hopps and her personal obstacles, which weaves in the thematically similar but more digestible lesson regarding "You can't do X because you're Y." Plus rude neighbors. Who hasn't dealt with that?
The question many viewers will probably wonder is if Zootopia should be watched as some kind of lesson preaching movie or as a movie to take in for the funny stuff(it is hopefully assumed that most people realize by now that this movie has next to zero musical numbers). It thankfully does a lot of the second, probably far better than the first. While I wouldn't say that I guffawed a bunch of times like some of Disney's classics, there are a number of good zingers in this movie, all played with impeccable facial expressions and comedic timing, and with hardly any usage of groan inducing puns or pop culture references, although this movie does breathe new life into the classic butt joke in one moment that's both tense and hilarious.
That's also not to say that this movie isn't really good when it's not trying to be funny either. In fact I found the characters so charming that it was easy to become emotionally invested in them during key heartwarming moments.
It's just a slight letdown that this movie stumbles, but only slightly, in fits and spurts here and there. Underneath the hefty messages lies a cop story. It is in this territory that the movie doesn't quite gel. It's not hard to spot how this movie drops macguffins and plot coupons left and right. It also gets slightly clumsy in the deliverance of its messages of diversity and tolerance, through which the movie intermingles its "you can be anything you want" themes. If it is to be believed that Zootopia tackles all of today's topical ills plaguing society, such as the current battle over transgenderism and homosexuality--I mean let's face it, the twin barbs mentioned within of "fear is a powerful motivator" and "we are the majority" could be applied to anything--then the continued usage of the word "predator" would probably seem rather icky, as "predator" is the exact word real life bigots use to justify their worldviews. Likewise, there's an underlying theme of "you can rise above your nature, your biology", which is a lovely sentiment, but in human-land certain natures aren't anything that's broken and shouldn't be seen as something that needs fixing, altered or "risen above".
I can't say if this movie justifies the glowing reception it's been given, but it does feel like a very important film for Disney. I imagine the mascot for the film's message, the very sexy Gazelle, will soon become a favored character. It's the kind of movie that feels like a soothing warm bath that takes away your aches, yet you discovered you burned the batch of coffee you're trying to enjoy with it. It could just be me reading too deeply into things. Yet I couldn't imagine anyone watching this film just to sit back, turn off brain, and look at the cute, fuzzy animals.
Even so, when it comes right down to it, it IS the characters, it IS the fact that we are watching cute fuzzy animals and that their personalities are so charming that raises this movie up and makes it stick with you.
Most people will probably remark on the animation style. Purists will probably bristle at the CGI style and wonder why the movie isn't hardcore hand drawn animation. Curious people like me will more likely wonder "How did they do that?"
The Peanut Movie lacks the shiny, computer game-y kind of look that most CGI movies possess. In most CGI movies, if you took a camera and panned around, you'd see space and the full body of the characters in every direction. In The Peanuts Movie, the characters only seem to exist in a front to back form, and if you panned a camera around, you'd reach a point where the characters would look unrecognizable, until the animator decided to change the character shape to adapt to the shift in viewpoint. You'd also most likely crash into the sky in the background if you went far enough. There are a few scenes that are testaments to this "3D imitating 2D" style, most notably a scene where Snoopy somehow manages to squash his body to hide behind a lamp. You couldn't pull this off with a full CGI movie.
This movie is also set up like a series of small vignettes tied together in one string. It's this approach of a bunch of little movies making up one big movie that makes it all the more refreshing, instead of re-imagining our favorite characters into something they're not and cramming them into "The Big Epic" as is the norm for so many animated films. Some may complain that Snoopy's fantasies of being a World War I flying ace break up the flow of the story, but they're often patterned around what Charlie Brown was feeling the scene before, and I find that these bits contain some of the best humor.
It is to many's great joy that this movie is fully faithful to the Peanuts name, and it proudly flies its themes as a symbol to these characters' enduring qualities. The sight gags. Charlie Brown's bad luck. Snoopy's tenacity. The musical ditties. It's all here. Whether today's kids would latch onto these "Charlie Brown-isms" and "Peanut Psychology", like the kite and the football and "good grief" and even pencil chewing, these little things that make Peanuts "Peanuts", as readily as nostalgic grownups remains to be seen. However the creators could've easily just hit all the regular family failsafes and make another Peabody and Sherman movie or something like The Chipmunks. They didn't. If I mentioned above that this movie is great for what it doesn't have than for what it does, it's because this movie doesn't have any of the usual cogs, wheels, bells and whistles than most contemporary animated movies go for to try and "hip it up". But you probably already guessed that. There are a few pop songs here and there that sound like would be extremely out of place in the 60s. Unlike the songs in Rio, all the songs are harmless and of the "just have fun and be true to yourself" nature. The presence of Bamboleo by The Gypsy Kings makes it all worthwhile.
Other than these minor quibbles, this movie is just Charlie being Charlie, Snoopy being Snoopy, Woodstock being Woodstock, and all the rest of the gang being just as wonderful. It could've easily been a four or five part Peanuts special, probably more 80s Peanuts than 60s, with a somewhat treacly message at the end of being yourself. But this is a-okay. The world needs more of this movie's idyllic sensitivity. And everybody at the end goes home a winner. Even Charlie Brown.
At least until the next school year, school dance, book report, and shot at The Red Baron.
This time, with quite a few entertaining and action packed cartoons for families to choose from, the results aren't as earth-shattering, although it's still just as impressive.
There are a few elements that separate The Legend of Korra from its progenitor series. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the show gave the audience an atmosphere of it being like an oriental fairy tale. The Last Airbender was definitely more optimistic and had clear cut black hat and white hat character types and story morality, with the exception of some episodes. While some complained that Avatar: The Last Airbender felt like western animation attempting anime, this accusation seems less and less true in the face of The Legend of Korra.
The Legend of Korra is a markedly noticeable shift into grayer and more ambiguous areas, and it's represented here by the striking art style. Everything is mechanical and somewhat oppressive. The colors paint in strokes of browns and sepias, in contrast to the bright, highly vivid colors of blues and tans and reds of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The romantic traditionalism of the old world benders are now giving way to radios and cars. It's a terrifying change, both on the inside for the "old school" martial artists who realize their way of living is on the retreat, and on the outside for fans who felt the inclusion of technology would've been intrusive for the high flying epic feel of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This dichotomy of old versus new, traditional versus modern, bending versus technology is represented by Republic City, a city that was supposed to be a melting pot of ideas and people in the show but that has a seedy underbelly. In this show, there aren't any identifying costumes anymore, representing the different nations. An old water tribe costume is just as likely to be found in the crowd as a zoot suit. The Legend of Korra is also grittier and less concrete than The Last Airbender. In this sense, it is much more anime-esque than its parent show, especially with its dieselpunk themes and its portrayal of action scenes.
The Legend of Korra is Akira for the Nickelodeon crowd, which isn't a reflection of less than desirable elements in this show by using Akira. Rather, it's to give one an idea of the kinds of themes one can find in The Legend of Korra. When I saw the scene with the motorcycle chase, I couldn't help but wonder if this was an attempt at aiming at an older audience.
On the other hand, the martial arts is just as slick and exciting as ever. The villain is also fantastic. He's a different kind of villain than Fire Lord Ozai. Amon isn't as sinister as Ozai but easily just as menacing and a much smoother operator. Whereas Ozai was all about terrifying people through force, Amon is all about appealing to a disillusioned populace through manipulation and a cult of personality. If Ozai is Genghis Khan, then Amon is most assuredly like Hitler.
It was a marvel to me just how different in themes and art style The Legend of Korra was and yet how it laid all my fears to rest by incorporating enough familiar elements to keep me satisfied. It is a different kind of Avatar, a more grown up Avatar. One thing I will say works against it is that this new series doesn't spend as much time building up a sense of going on an epic quest to train and flee a powerful enemy. Instead, The Legend of Korra throws us right in the thick of bad things going on and gives us a hero who is already highly skilled. Even so, The Legend of Korra is an admirable show.
This show is well-animated and a visual work of art. It is darkly surreal, an inverted vision of some candy land playground from a child's imagination, but where pitch black is just as likely to be found as bright pink in the color palette and where blood sucking ghosts live next to the snakes and ladders and pretty princesses.
It is warped in its humor, which is just as subdued as it is outrageous. The series hardly ever utilizes the Nickelodeon style of humor, where a visual gag is beaten to death for the longest several seconds of your viewing time. No. Instead the series often tends to use the amusing surrealist setup and strange anachronistic dialogue.
The show also contains some of the most inadvertently terrifying imagery you'll likely ever see in a cartoon. It's not purposefully scary like Superjail and has not one drop of gore. But the fact that many scenes will still unnerve you just with the sheer force of them being so bizarrely twisted makes this show that much more effective.
Thankfully, Kung Fu Panda isn't the kind of animated movie that lends itself to the painfully obvious style of humor that Dreamworks is often known for. While the first Kung Fu Panda dabbled in some mildly amusing but still kid-familiar humor types and jokes, Kung Fu Panda 2 blends both this type of humor(Po is still quite the wise-cracker) and an almost fourth-wall-breaking camp acknowledgement of it being a kung fu movie. This "nudge and wink" loving parody of movie and kung fu cliches is what separates this movie from the first.
However, Kung Fu Panda 2 still keeps a steady foot in the realm of the serious and is all the better for it compared with Dreamworks' other franchises. Indeed, there's a sort of "Star Wars light" vibe going on in the film that wasn't present in the first one. The main villain's vision of a mechanized, industrial China, thirst for war and conquest, and barely disguised acts of attempted genocide are all terrifying themes to find in a kids show. In fact, I don't remember the last time I saw an animated movie with a villain of such an alluring combination of desires and relative complexities but ultimately of such utter despicableness that you couldn't wait until the point of the movie where the villain gets destroyed. Tai Lung has nothing on Lord Chen. Strangely, the peacock makes a convincing villain, and he reminds me of an animal version of Darth Vader.
The kung fu fighting is faster, fiercer, and more acrobatic than ever before. In fact, there were several points in the movie where I felt the need to exhibit a slow build up of "Go go go. Yes yes YES!" to match the increasing tension of the scene. And because Po is now an accomplished fighter(some would say obnoxiously perfect), the sequel has to mine a different set of themes to build up its characters than the first film's training motif. Here, it's self-discovery and trusting your friends, which isn't built on and explored all as well as I would've liked, but Dreamworks isn't known for their depth, and it's enough for the kids. Heck. It's enough to fuel a desire to purchase the DVD when it comes out.