Zootopia *** ½
Dir: Byron Howard, Rich Moore. Co-director, Jared Bush
Starring: (voices of) Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake,Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, John DiMaggio
Disney moves away from its regular animated template with Zootopia. Sure, there are anthromorphic animals here and there’s a neat little moral of how people (or animals that behave like people) need to move beyond bigotry and prejudices and learn to live with each other in peace and harmony but, at its heart, the movie is actually a noirish detective tale and a neat little whodunit. Animals are turning savage after years of co-existing peacefully in the megacity of Zootopia – but why? And the ones turning savage are the traditional predators like panthers. So do the traditional animals that have been prey have something to fear?
Trying to solve the mystery is newbie cop and bunny Judy Hopps (Ginner Goodwin, perfectly cast) – the first rabbit to join the Zootopia police force and that comes with its own challenges – with the help of a rascally fox, Nick (Jason Bateman at his snarky best). Their relationship works pretty well and drives the movie – along with the mystery aspect which is effective too (even if I did guess the identity of the mystery villain well before the climactic reveal). The movie has you smiling more than laughing out loud – though there is a terrific gag involving sloths and the DMV – but it hums along well and the animation is terrifc.
Cut to chase: A fun comic detective tale disguised as a Disney movie
How To Be Single **
Dir: Christian Ditter
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Damon Wayans Jr., Jason Mantzoukas, Jake Lacy, Nicolas Braun
If How To Be Single reminds you of 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both movies are based on books written by Liz Tuccillo (“He’s Just Not That Into You” co-written by Greg Behrendt) and both were adapted by the team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (with Dana Fox also pitching in on Single). Both movies boast multi-star casts and have multiple overlapping storylines which are only tangentially linked. And both movies tackle the subject of romance in the modern-day and mostly from the female perspective. There is even a scenario in Single which seems to be lifted directly from the earlier movie – that of an over-eager female singleton desperately seeking “the one” while getting some much-needed advice from a friendly, good-looking bartender who is something of a player himself.
What Tuccilllo/Kohn/Silverstein/Fox are trying to do in Single is to flip your expectations from the earlier (and better) movie and from the basic rom-com template and take you to some unexpected endpoints. Kudos to them for trying. Unfortunately, this involves having the characters behave like no sane (or nominally sane) people would ever behave and having such preposterous situations that nobody would ever believe that it completely undermines the movie’s intentions and is a waste of a likable cast which includes the alluring Alison Brie (when will she get a big screen vehicle worthy of her talent?) and Leslie Mann. However, Dakota Johnson is a bit bland for the nominal lead role and Rebel Wilson’s goofy, plus-size confidence shtick is getting a bit old now – she needs to branch out some.
Cut to chase: How not to make a romantic comedy.
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* Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see ***½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection