animated movies

IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY

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2012 – A hat-wearing stick figure named Bill contemplates his life in the sometimes-beautiful, oftentimes-nightmarish world of his own failing memory.

That plot summary may not be accurate. The movie may be about something else entirely, or it may be about nothing. Think of it as the most depressing episode of Seinfeld you’ve ever seen, with no Jerry, Kramer, or Elaine. It’s just George, trapped in his own private world of insecurity, depression, and minutiae, striving to rise above the stale miasma of everyday life but lacking the insight and temerity to do it.

“But then he wondered if, realistically, this WAS his life, and the unusual part was his time spent doing other things.”

There’s a story being told here (Bill may be dying from some unspecified illness), but it’s told out of order and meanders down various unrelated tangents. We see most of the action through asymmetric holes cut out of the encroaching darkness. The images range from stark and simple, to beautiful, to horrifying. I don’t know what the technical term is, but I like to think of this animation style as “squiggly, like Dr. Katz.”

Despite the crudity of the images, some of them become unexpectedly beautiful. In one scene, when Bill receives a bad diagnoses, he removes his trademark hat and slowly runs a hand over his head. It’s heartbreaking.

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Writer, director, and animator Don Hertzfeldt mixes humor, horror, pathos, and hope in fairly equal measure, although the story has a tendency to veer into the grotesque and the bizarre.

"In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week."

“In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week.”

As the narrative slowly winds its way along, we discover that Bill’s memory is starting to fail him, and some of the things we’ve seen (including flashbacks to Bill’s childhood) may never have actually happened. There’s a lot of musing about the nature of time (“The passing of time is just an illusion, because all of eternity is taking place all at once“), life, and death (“Each cell in the body replaces itself and dies as the years pass“). You become convinced that it means something.

You have no idea what that “something” is.

Yes, it’s one of those movies: the kind that’s kinda quirky, funny, and depressing, but that ultimately leaves you with the suspicion that even the creator didn’t know what the hell he was going for. Kinda like a Wes Anderson movie.

As a long-time stick figure fan, I give It’s Such A Beautiful Day credit for the way it makes us care for poor Bill. For most viewers, however, it’ll seem too bizarre and disjointed to be regarded as anything more than a deep Netflix curiosity.

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ZOOTOPIA

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2016 – Social lessons abound when a rabbit police officer teams up with a con artist fox to fight crime in an anthropomorphic animal metropolis.

I’ll admit it right off the bat: Zootopia is a good movie. The story is funny and lighthearted, the characters are easy to like, and the voice acting is fine-to-excellent. I enjoyed it, had a few laughs, and walked out of the theater pleased with the viewing experience.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer [“GINNIFER”?!?] Goodwin) always dreamed of becoming the first rabbit officer on the Zootopia police force, despite the fears of her small-town parents. Her idealistic hopes are challenged when she arrives for duty and encounters the pompous Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons, playing every J.K. Simmons character), the hostile Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, in a role that amazingly might NOT be used to argue that he’d make THE PERFECT James Bond), and the cynical Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, doing his best smug Jason Bateman-ing).

Despite initially not liking each other AT ALL, Judy and Nick surprise us all and soon prove to be the perfect crime-fighting team. When they discover that members of the city’s predator species are “going savage” and reverting to their animalistic instincts, they have to overcome a sinister conspiracy and a whole bunch of they’re-just-animals-but-you’ll-probably-relate-this-to-the-current-political-situation-in-America prejudices to save the day.

Disney isn’t re-inventing the wheel with this one. The lessons of Zootopia are your typical kid lessons: believe in your dreams, be yourself, don’t judge others. It’s a safe, middle-of-the-road film that avoids major missteps, but lacks any truly memorable moments. The dearth of real challenges or surprises somehow works and makes for a comfortable, easy watch.

Everything you’d expect is in here. There’s the “Depressing First Day” sequence, where Judy realizes that life in the big city isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s the “Turn In Your Badge” scene, where the Chief gives the upstart young officer 48 hours to solve the case. There’s the “Heart of Gold” scene where the snarky Nick reveals that he’s just a big softie after all. There’s the “Tragic Misunderstanding” scene where just when you think our leads are going to get together, they have a falling out.

None of these things are bad. I’m just saying Zootopia isn’t Aladdin or The Lion King – it’s not even Frozen. It isn’t a generation-defining animated movie, but it’s good vanilla entertainment. And, as an unexpected plus, there are actually moments that won’t go over the heads of every kid in the audience!