Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Zootopia: Disney Hits Us in the Feels Yet Again

I always knew my friends were the cutest in town, but I didn't fully understand how cute they could really be until we watched Zootopia on Friday.  As soon as the credits began rolling, one of them clutched their chest and announced that they felt so warm and fuzzy inside.  They each talked about different moments when they almost (or did) cry, and then gushed about the characters' various charms and jokes for the entire car ride back.  The thing is, they were totally right to react this way.

Zootopia is about a bunny named Judy Hopps who wants to become a police officer, but because of her size and species she's not taken very seriously.  She stakes her career on investigating a case of a missing otter, one of many predators that have mysteriously disappeared, and ropes in a fox named Nick Wilde to help her.  Judy has a ton of spunk, not letting the physical challenges of her small stature or the frowning opposition from everyone stop her from pursuing her dream.  Nick, on the other hand, basically wants to be left alone.  He's surrendered himself to the fox stereotype of slickness and slyness, and he's always ready with a quip against Judy.  However, she's not one easily put down.

(Source: movies.disney.com)

These two characters have an undeniable chemistry together that somewhat reminded me of Flynn and Rapunzel from Tangled.  Her bubbly, irrepressible optimism and his sarcastic realism create a fun contrast that makes for entertaining conflict and awesome banter - my greatest weakness.  Their budding friendship opens up a deep conversation about predator and prey relations in a society that has supposedly evolved past such barriers (*cough* the racial themes abound *cough*).  Theirs seems to remain an exclusively platonic relationship, although with Disney you can never be sure (I kid, I kid - mostly).

I can't stress this enough, but the movie is really, really funny.  Just look at the trailer and you'll grasp only a tiny portion of it.  My friend said they milked the movie for all it's worth, and I think she's right.  Every possibility of humor you can get from a world of anthropomorphic animals, you can be sure they addressed it at least once.  But it wasn't just the humor that they addressed. The story didn't wrap up quite so quickly or neatly like I expected, so I congratulate the writers for pushing the plot further and digging deeper into the bias theme than I had thought they would.

Zootopia has a wide scope: it's a feelsy and hilarious family flick and it's a beautiful animation, but it's also a sophisticated demonstration of unconscious social bias.  I admire Disney for tackling such a tricky issue, one that as a woman of color I could relate to in a world that often fails to recognize its own diversity.  Zootopia doesn't beat you over the head with its big moral lesson, thanks to the movie couching itself in lighthearted comedy and telling its story through the eyes of two relatable characters who both have to work through others' and their own prejudices.  While watching this movie you will laugh, you might cry, and you will hopefully think more critically about how you perceive others.  Thank you, Disney, for doing such a great job once again!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2

I will always consider Agent Carter one of the most woefully under-appreciated branches of the Marvel Universe - which is especially unfortunate considering how few great female leads we get in television these days.  You don't even need to be a Marvel fan to appreciate the superb acting, characterization, suspense and humor.  If you haven't seen the first season, check out my review from last year and watch it for yourself.

This season revolves around Zero Matter, a mysterious other-worldly substance that a super-sketchy company called Isodyne Energy has been researching.  Whitney Frost, the mastermind behind Isodyne, uses her status as a beautiful woman and actress to hide her true purposes.  Peggy comes to Los Angeles to figure out what Zero Matter is, and she stays to stop Frost from getting out of hand.  At the season's end, I wasn't sure how to feel about Frost, who had been a brilliant and powerful Madame Masque.  I don't want to give anything away, but I thought they could have wrapped up her storyline in a more nuanced way.

(Source: abc.go.com)

Peggy and Jarvis continue to have the best (platonic) on-screen chemistry I've seen in a long time.  On the outset, Jarvis is aching to join Peggy on her new adventures in L.A. for the adrenaline rush he remembers from their previous partnership.  Unfortunately, he learns the painful cost of Peggy's line of work.  I applaud James D'Arcy's portrayal of his character as he undergoes emotional tumult in his relationship with Peggy and his wife as the season progresses.  Speaking of, Ana Jarvis was a star addition to the cast.  Her personality was both unexpected and refreshing; I wish I had seen even more of her.  And Howard Stark is as eccentric as always (#MarryMeDominicCooper).

(Source: Wikipedia)

Honestly though, the two most interesting characters (aside from Peggy) were on the antagonistic side.  Dottie Underwood/Black Widow sucks in your attention like a super vacuum every time she appears; her presence always keeps you simultaneously uneasy and intrigued.  Also I'm 99.9% she has a crush on Peggy.  (Mostly because in episode one she dresses up as her and then demands why Peggy is not interrogating her once she's in custody.)  She's cunning, she's intense, she's sassy.  What more could you want from a villainess?

Meanwhile, Agent Jack Thompson is as much of a jerk as you remember.  This season, he's influenced by his mentor Vernon, the most obviously evil man since Senator Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels.  Vernon feeds Thompson's ambition to try to turn him against Peggy, and I kept wondering if Thompson would totally give in to the dark side.  Peggy repeatedly demonstrates faith in his goodness - way more than I would have had in her place - but the writers deftly keep him on the line between good and bad.  Made me look closer at him that I would have otherwise.

(Source: tumblr.com)

Now about the love triangle.  Although I consider love triangles my pet peeve, this one is tolerable thanks to the likability of both the men that fall for Peggy.  I like how they explored racial themes through Jason Wilkes, a black scientist who experiences discrimination similar to the sexism Peggy faced.  He's charming (see above GIF), and I appreciated seeing him as a love interest for a white female character.  On the other hand, Daniel has had two seasons' worth of development with Peggy, but their relationship has become complicated since he moved (ran away) from New York to become the chief of the Los Angeles-based SSR.  Since Peggy manages to have chemistry with literally everyone, she has no issues in that department with either Jason or Daniel.

There are so many other things I could talk about, but I've probably rambled long enough.  Season 2 had its flaws, but it still won me over thanks to its phenomenal actors, charming characters, and non-stop suspense.  Even though the ratings look grim, I hope Agent Carter is renewed.  They left a few loose ends, and I'd really like to know more about Peggy's brother.  He was very likable in the few flashbacks they showed him in, and I can't imagine they'd leave a character like that in the wayside.  Fingers crossed for a third season!