Zootopia (or Zootropolis as I know the film here in the UK), is easily one of the very best films I have seen in a very long time. I went to see it at the cinema when it came out, and I was completely blown away by its spectacular brilliance. I started this post with the intention of just doing a simple review, but at the moment I just can’t, because the film isn’t just a film to me.
It represents a great deal more, and it is part of a thought process I’ve been slowly developing for quite a while now. I’ll do a review at some point, but for now, here is why Zootopia matters so much to me, and why when I came to try and review it, I’ve instead ended up realising what I really from films these days – I want to see other people’s imagination and original thought come to life.
And this didn’t start with Zootopia, this started over a year ago now when I went to see Jupiter Ascending. I’d kind of forgotten this until recently when I bought both Jupiter Ascending and Zootopia together on blu-ray to watch at home, and it brought a whole load of thoughts processes back, all related to why I love films so much. So here goes…
At the time when Zootopia came out in cinemas, I was pretty desperate to see films that had nothing to do with superheroes in a movie business full of them, so alongside Zootopia I also ended up seeing the likes of High Rise, Eddie the Eagle, Hail Caesar and Anomalisa, which aren’t really the sorts of films I find myself watching very often anymore. A book adaptation that’s never been done before, a film based on a real life story, a Coen Brothers film, and an original screenplay by Charlie Kaufman appealed to me a lot though.
I had some hits and misses stepping away from a clean cut well established franchise that most films fall into these days, but generally I enjoyed myself. I will admit, I also saw some weird stuff happening on the cinema screen (I still have flashbacks of some of the stuff they had those slow motion puppets doing), but those four films established themselves into part of the thought processes I’ve have had simmering away in my brain for a while;
That finding a non-superhero or even a non-franchise/non-sequel film in mainstream cinema is really bloody difficult these days.
On top of that finding a one that isn’t adapted from a book as well, which while is not as bad, depending on the book, isn’t easy. I know I managed to find four in a month, but this was in February when generally major blockbusters don’t come out, so there are more independent films generally.
However, while book adaptations aren’t as dominant as comic books, I do like seeing original films based on nothing but the imagination of its creators, and while I predominantly write books, I write scripts as well, and there seems to be a dearth of original scripts.
Three of the four those films I saw at the Tyneside Cinema, which is an independent cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne, not because the multiplex wasn’t showing them but because the multiplex wasn’t showing them at a time that was in anyway convenient for me to go and see them. Hail Caesar! was the exception, but only just and I was in the smallest screen to see it.
I work full time; unless I take time off, evenings and weekends are the only times I can go to the cinema. I ended up watching High Rise and Eddie the Eagle back to back one Saturday afternoon in the cinema, Hail Caesar! and Anomalisa were after work affairs about a week later.
Getting to the multiplex, where the majority of people go to the cinema just wasn’t possible for these films. Getting into a multiplex to see a franchise film though is different; I usually have several convenient options to choose from to fit around my work and also depending on what my husband and I want to do for food. Easy!
However, even in the multiplex getting in to see an film might not be as easy as it sounds, if the film you’re going to see is out at the same time as a another bigger film. I can distinctly remember when these thoughts about the film industry started, and it was when Fifty Shades of Grey was released, because it was the very last film I wanted to ever see – still haven’t and I won’t. At the time the film I wanted to see was Jupiter Ascending, because it was something different.
However, my local multiplex has 12 screens, and 10 of them, yes TEN of the screens were booked up fully for nearly two weeks showing just Fifty Shades of Grey and nothing else.
The cramped small screen I went to see Jupiter Ascending in was packed to the rafters of other like-minded people who didn’t go and see Fifty Shades. It was on for just two screenings that day, because they used that screen for other films that weren’t Fifty Shades as well.
And they wonder why Jupiter Ascending didn’t make box office bucks if that was the options available to people. It wasn’t just because of the film itself (which honestly isn’t bad but had been a bit over-hyped), it was because it just didn’t stand a chance if in my cinema only thirty or so people could go and see it at a time, with only ten slots a week available, and not at the best of times.
And the connection I make with Jupiter Ascending and Zootopia has nothing to do with buying them on blu-ray at the same time. It is because for 2015 Jupiter Ascending was the film that needed to be backed by audiences in the same way that Zootopia is important for 2016.
They are both films that are original screenplays; no franchise; they aren’t sequels; they aren’t adaptations of books or comics; they aren’t even ‘based on a true story’ or ‘based on historical events’.
Jupiter Ascending and Zootopia have in common their claim of being ORIGINAL storytelling, with world-building, new ideas in plots and concepts. And it was a massive blow to original storytelling, especially for films of the science fiction and fantasy genre, that Jupiter Ascending was a flop.
Zootopia thank goodness can be credited with doing even better than Frozen did in its opening weekend. And I went to see Zootopia in the multiplex, at a time that was convenient to me, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, because Zootopia was not as hyped up as Jupiter Ascending had been in comparison.
I wanted to see Zootopia mainly because I’d read some really great reviews of it (by A Sky of Books and Movies, Geekritique, Lazy Sunday Movies and Cinetatic) and it is one of the few times via blogging comments that people have really persuaded me that I needed to see this film.
So I made the time and I was blown away, to the point that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to review the film out of the cinema viewing alone, which is why I’ve only recently considered reviewing it. The complexity of the film meant it was going to have to be a one I saw again and again before I could voice my opinion.
Last week, I watched the film two nights in a row and a third night later in the week, and to be honest if I hadn’t of wanted to watch some of the Velodrome cycling at the Rio Olympics, I would have probably watched it again. It is rare I find a film like that; a one I want to watch on loop and experience like new again and again.
In fact it has been rare for me my entire life to want to watch something like that; there were some Ewok cartoons as a kid that I was obsessed with, and The Fellowship of the Ring got that treatment because I was taken by my Dad to see it again and again at the cinema. The Force Awakens was the same, but these were from established fandoms.
Zootopia is a standalone (for now) original film that isn’t connected to an established fandom, and what it manages to do as a standalone is just as good, if not better than what Lord of the Rings and recent Star Wars films have managed to achieve. I’ll clarify.
The Lord of the Rings, as a live action film, might have been new to the silver screen, but the books had the rich world-building, characters and plot there ready to be used for the adaptations, all crafted lovingly by Tolkien. The Force Awakens had the well established and much loved Star Wars Universe there ready to be explored further as well.
The world, the characters, the plot – everything about Zootopia is completely original, new and utterly ground-breaking. I know that everyone loves this film because of how the film directly addresses racism and feminism, and packages it into a kid’s film. And I’m not saying that isn’t a brilliant thing – it really is a brilliant thing and it is one of the things that makes me love this film a lot.
However, for me as a writer and as a film lover, it is the originality of the film that gets me excited. I love franchises and I have appreciated franchises from a very young age (my first fandom after all was the Back to the Future trilogy) and you can read my pages on Star Wars, Tolkien, Marvel vs DC etc. that show that I am as much a part of the audience as anyone else.
But my reaction to Zootopia and how excited I am because everyone loves it too is deeply, deeply important. This was the reaction I wanted from Jupiter Ascending and didn’t get.
Why? Because the thoughts that have started to haunt me for over a year now are awful:
I have been feeling this for a while that the silver screen is starting to die a very slow death; it is being slowly and steadily killed off by franchises and the money they make.
I know that the film business is just that, it is a business. No matter how much I would love that a creative industry wouldn’t be as concerned with money as it would be with promoting originality, I know that it always will be.
However, I do feel as if the idea of being brave and making a daring creative decisions is needed for the film industry to survive as a creative force and as a money-making operation.
Zootopia is the most important film of 2016, because it is both original and successful. I don’t need a sequel, but want I really want is for the film industry to take note.
Original films can be successful too, not just franchises and multiple sequels; they can be loved by audiences; you can be daring and brave and step away from the safety net of an established franchise, and create other stories that are as wonderful and as diverse as the city of Zootropolis, which is just wondrous to watch.
In fact I’m pleading that the film industry pays attention for another very good reason.
I’m BORED!!!! I am actually bored of franchises. So bored I actually have a bullet pointed list of why I’ve been bored. As a film lover I should have a list of what I’m excited about. NOPE.
- I wasn’t as excited about the Hobbit films as I was about LOTR. While I think the films are great, I fully understand that people think it was milked for all it was worth by having three films.
- While I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I’m a hell of a lot more curious about Rogue One, which is more of an original story line and a spin off not a sequel. This is because as much as I loved it, I knew Force Awakens, was just going to be a trip down memory lane as they referenced back to the original trilogy. While Rogue One is a but like Titanic, in that we know they must be successful by the end, we don’t know at what cost to the characters in the film.
- I’m more excited about the prospect of Star Trek coming back to the small screen, than I am about the news that Star Trek 4 has already been commissioned. Star Trek Beyond is definitely better than Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, but again like Force Awakens it was nostalgic rather than brand new.
- I am getting increasingly tired of YA books that are trilogies suddenly being made into four films. They made eight rather than seven Harry Potter films because they didn’t want to compromise the storytelling in the last book. And also they wanted to make a bit more money, but no offence to Twilight (well a little bit of offence to Twilight), Hunger Games and Divergent, but those books are NOT Harry Potter, you shouldn’t have gotten away with it because HP was (and still is) something special. Your last books should have been one film, not two.
- I am bored of sequels. I started to get wary of sequels around about the time Toy Story 3 came out. Now I’m eyeing up the likes of Finding Dory, rumours of a new Toy Story film, the long-awaited Incredibles Sequel (which fine I sort of understand but it isn’t absolutely necessary), and the likes of any film that has a number after the original title (Hangover 2 etc. comes to mind). I can see the appeal for audiences going back and revisiting much loved characters (or in the case of Fantastic Beasts a much loved story world), but not at the expense of being able to discover new characters and new story worlds that don’t get a chance. The recent example of Jason Bourne is a great film, especially after the Bourne Legacy, but I didn’t need a new Jason Bourne film if I’m honest.
And then there are comic book superheroes. The one film I am desperate to have a sequel for, Dredd, will never happen. So it is Marvel vs DC, and they are dominating the cinema. UGH!
- Marvel – I landed in the Marvel fandom just after The Winter Soldier came out, which meant I had quite a bit of catching up to do, but by the time Age of Ultron was out I very much knew I was going to the cinema just because it was an established habit. There was literally one film in between Winter Solder and Age of Ultron, and as brilliant as Guardians of the Galaxy was, it wasn’t enough to stop me getting bored quickly of the MCU. After Civil War, my excitement for the films has diminished a great deal. As much as I love they are adapting lesser known comics, which are turning out to be better than the main characters, the thing I am most excited about is the Marvel Cinematic Universe ending. I want the conclusion, and instead I’m hearing how they are going to do more films (but not Black Widow???), which makes my heart sink.
- And then there is DC, which I had hoped would spark my interest in cinema again. I had been interested right up until I was in the cinema and Lois Lane was sat naked in a bathtub. Any trace of the three dimensional character of Man of Steel has been left as little more than a distance memory, and a decent female character was reduced to being a sexualised object that needs to be constantly rescued (fine I know this is her purpose in the comics, but this is the 21st Century and women are not objects). The backwards steps in women’s progress aside, Batman versus Superman was just s**t for many other reasons as well, and to be honest Suicide Squad was not that much better. Seriously DC, when editing your films, make sure there is at least a coherent storyline. You’re the franchise that is meant to be getting people excited again – buck up, because at the minute all you are representing is the beginning of the end.
Basically, as you can surmise from my list, I’m bored and getting very frustrated. I’m not as keen on going and spending lots of money at the cinema anymore, which the film business uses as a measure of success.
I’m a repeater – I will go to the cinema more than once to see a film if I like it. The film industry makes money from people like me – admittedly it took nearly fifteen years for me to break my record of 9 visits for Fellowship of the Ring, to ten visits for The Force Awakens, but I used to regularly go to the cinema a few times for films I really loved.
Now I don’t because I’m not excited anymore. Now admittedly, I do get bored easily and a lot quicker than most people, but generally I’m not too far ahead of the trend.
If I’m bored now that’s fine; that’s no big loss in terms of money. When everyone else gets bored though… goodbye film industry build up and dependent on the success of franchises; when that collapses (not if, when) it will take years to recover, unless investment away from franchises happens soon.
So this for me is why the film industry and everyone else should be paying attention to Zootopia: because it is original, and successful. Jupiter Ascending was also original, and the imagination that went into that film can’t be doubted, but it was a flop in 2015. Its failure makes Zootopia’s success in all the more important.
If more films get released that are as original and as creative as Zootopia, people will not get bored, because they will turn up to the cinema again and again, and they will not know what to expect of the new films coming out.
It is excitement about films that make money. Feeding people the same stuff over and over again, will backfire on the film industry eventually. It is especially true as word of mouth is a lot quicker these days. Batman v Superman is the prime example – the cinemas were full for a week before word via the internet told everyone that it wasn’t worth the money or time. As I said above, I made the time to see Zootopia at the cinema because that same word of mouth was practically screaming at me that I really needed to because of it being awesome.
Zootopia is the most important film of 2016 (in the way I had hoped for Jupiter Ascending in 2015) because it is proof that you do not need a franchise to make money.
Simple. And film industry if you’re listening, I beg of you to take note.