Thank you for your patience during my absence... With all the movies out and coming soon, I thought I would introduce my new segment, "Life's like a Movie, Write your Own Ending" (Brownie points for those who get the reference and comment at the bottom of the page). I plan to review movies from a few different angles. They won't always be 100% timely partially because I'd like to see the movies with my Aunt's children (Naomi, 12, Reuben, 7, and Olivia, 5) to give a more well-rounded review. Plus, being a student of the art of screenwriting, I feel like i can give a different point of view. This will be a photo free blog, but (hopefully) worthy in content.
This is Disney Animation's latest entry into the legendary animated canon. Now, to backtrack a little, when co-director Byron Howard was at the helm of 'Tangled', he explained the reasoning behind the production as trying to do the best version of what Disney already unapologetically did best, a princess movie. I feel the same philosophy went into Zootopia (with equally capable 'Wreck-It-Ralph' director Rich Moore), only in terms of the anthropomorphic characters.
Zootopia somehow manages to be incredibly modern ("A rabbit can call another rabbit cute, but others can't") but still manage to tackle a more widespread theme of accepting and understanding others' differences. You could certainly discuss the themes with your children either way, and I appreciate that philosophy.
Some seem to believe DreamWorks animated films do more to make their films fun for adults as well as children by throwing in adult jokes that go right over the children's heads (until much later, and then you question your whole understanding of the world!). Personally, Zootopia did a far better job of integrating adult and innocent humor for the benefit of the story and for all audiences. Naomi didn't really get the Godfather references, but enjoyed the humor of it nonetheless.
As far as demographics, the children all loved it. Naomi remarked more than once that she wasn't too impressed with the trailers but really enjoyed the movie. Reuben asked when the movie would be released on DVD as we were leaving the theater. High praise, indeed. My grandmother, however, had other impressions. She found the humor a little too mean for her taste, and my grandmother is an avid movie goer with varied taste. So, I hope it gives you a little bit of a range of feelings if you're still considering seeing it, or purchasing the DVD/Blu-Ray upon the June 7th release date.
The Jungle Book
Let me just start with this: it's wonderful. As a Disney history fan, these live action remakes present an interesting dilemma. Does Disney intend to somehow replace the animated canon, or is the intention for these films to stand alongside their animated counterparts? Certainly Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' departs greatly from the film, as well as Don Hahn's 'Maleficent'. In what appears to be the other school of thought, Kenneth Branagh's 'Cinderella' seemed to take the issues of the original and reconcile them (with no offense intended to the glorious original). 'The Jungle Book' fits beautifully in a third category. It utilizes the original, borrows more heavily from the book's story-wise, and creates its own space on the shelf next to the animated classic, instead of leaning on it.
The echoes from the original are great and varied, while maintaining its own visual identity. Speaking of which, if there is any danger of seeing this movie, it creates the overwhelming urge to pet wild animals. The computer generated effects on all the animals, enabling a realism while even speaking like humans, astounds the viewer. Obviously, a lot of time and care was taken to ensure a balance. Director Jon Favreau certainly didn't slouch in the storyline either. As previously mentioned, the story does take more from the book than the 1967 original did, but only to its benefit. In a sense, the story felt like the deleted scenes of the animated version. In the beginning and the ending (not to spoil it), there are more direct visual echoes to the original that truly succeed in honoring the original.
The last thing I feel I need to mention in lightness music. Favreau so artfully integrated not just the Sherman Brothers/Terry Gilkyson/George Bruns songs and score, it's seamless. Admittedly, Branagh's use of music in 'Cinderella' seemed more of an afterthought, while Favreau knew the best way to honor the original was through the music, even asking Richard Sherman to add new lyrics to one of the songs.
Now, I'd like to discuss a couple more serious matters regarding the film that were brought to my attention. I saw this movie with only Naomi, age 12, so she will be my basis for my comments. For one thing, I sensed some concern from others about how appropriate this was for children, some of the trailers being a little more dark and intense than the original. Let me answer this simply...sure, it's a little more intense, being live action, but it has not suddenly been turned into a slasher flick. That being said, you should know your children and I strongly suggest you see the trailer for yourself, or even with your own children, and make a decision together.
One last subject I feel the need to touch on is the theme of adoption in the film. Now, my aunt's children are all adopted, the girls from China, Reuben from Korea. The idea of taking on the responsibility of a child who is not like you (a "man cub" amongst wolves) is part of the storyline, certainly, so the idea of differences and sameness is discussed, on both sides, right and wrong. I'd like to emphasis the "wrong" aspect because, again, not to spoil, but some villains in life like to use misinformation to gain the confidence of others. 'The Jungle Book' is an example of that. If you are looking for a movie that doesn't invite discussion and questions, just don't go. Despite the discussion on both sides, by the end of the film, the opinion of the filmmakers is entirely clear. I suggest, should you see the movie with your adopted children, use it as an opportunity to create a dialogue with them.
Naomi is an intelligent young lady, and she didn't notice this "theme" at all. So, on the other hand, if you get the impression the kids didn't notice....don't worry about it! The theme of the film is individuality, and facing fear, and understanding you are a composite of elements, not simply your species or your family...
I hope these thoughts have been enlightening to anyone still unsure about these films. The Walt Disney Company is firing on all cylinders in the film division, and I look forward to sharing thoughts on the upcoming 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' and 'Finding Dory' (I'm REALLY excited about this one!)