At the end of Zootopia, the diversity hire cop turns to the camera and tells the audience that profiling and racism are bad, and we need to work together to eliminate them from our society. At the end of London Has Fallen, the black president turns toward the camera and explains that the doctrine of isolationism is false, and while some would say America is responsible for the violence in this film with its indiscriminate drone strikes, a lot more people would be dead without them.
There have been way too many primary debates this cycle.
Zootopia is an original animated movie set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals. It follows Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first ever rabbit to be accepted into the Zootopia Police Department. Her excitement soon abates when Chief Bogo (the incomparable Idris Elba) assigns her to parking ticket duty, seeing her as incapable of performing anything more physically demanding due to her stature. Unsatisfied, Hopps assigns herself to one of several missing persons cases, staking her job on solving it in two days with the help of vulpine con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).
Bridge Has Fallen Down, sequel to 2013 “hit” Olympus Has Fallen, brings President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, who also produces) to London for the funeral of the Prime Minister, who had a heart attack while under anesthesia for knee surgery. After Asher and several other world leaders arrive, the entire thing turns out to be a trap, and bombs go off all over the city. Several leaders are killed, and Asher and Banning are forced into hiding. Back in Washington, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who has been promoted to vice president so he can take over like he did in the first movie, says ominous things in that voice you like.
It feels like there was a time warp to the late 1930s last weekend and propaganda is suddenly in style again. The nakedness of these movies’ political agendas scorches the eyes, and causes them to fail as films. One of the most important societal purposes movies serve is escapism, taking people away from their troubles, but chances are if you didn’t go to a Thursday night early showing of one of these films or the Tina Fey movie that nobody saw, you were watching Donald Trump list his penis as a qualification for Asher’s job. Movies exist in the context of the time they’re made and released, and these two competing against each other with the backdrop of a U.S. election cycle that is simultaneously one of the most important in history and also a national embarrassment creates the sense that there’s no escape, the opposite of what you should be feeling at the movies.
In Zootopia’s case, it’s doubly a shame, because this is a movie that could have been extremely rich in its detail and world-building, but borrows almost everything from real life as it ties itself into more and more knots to function as an allegory the world didn’t really need. Instead of building a city from scratch, the world is based heavily on run-of-the-mill big-city tropes, which are mostly unaltered by the premise. Instead of making a city out of the 12 biomes Zootopia is ostensibly divided into, they take what seems like an existing city and decorate it. Tundra Town is a neighborhood with snow on it. The jungle district is a neighborhood with trees on it. Little Rodentia is an up-scale residential area that’s been sized down. The movie is enjoyable enough, but when you break it down, pretty much every opportunity to be truly creative is missed.
Hopps quickly discovers that the missing mammals, all
super-predators, are being held in a facility outside the city because they’ve gone feral and tried to kill a fellow resident, something unheard of in this world. The movie switches conflicts midstream when Hopps cracks the case halfway through the film, but makes a misstep at the press conference by saying it’s in their DNA to be violent and dangerous. It’s also noted several times that predators make up 10 percent of the Zootopia population. Finally, nervous that the movie isn’t laying it on thick enough, Wilde turns to the screen and screams, “It’s black people! The movie is about black people!”
The well-meaning allegory — they expressly say that the racial scare the news of predators going feral sparks is based in stereotypes that are unethical to hold and
civilized white folk non-predators can go feral as well, the movie’s heart is clearly in the right place — becomes extremely offensive when examining the movie’s background, which details savage predators being tamed by their prey. If you apply the metaphor the movie is begging you to apply, this history goes to some very dark places.
For the part of London Has Fallen, it’s not quite as much as a missed opportunity, but the creative process also obviously phoned-in. The movie goes to extreme lengths to repeat its predecessor point-for-point. In both, Banning is either forced into retirement or contemplating it, but reinstated in the end as the movie’s events affirm his belief that his job is the most important thing ever. He spends most of each movie escorting an important person, either the president or his son. In both movies, Freeman lowers himself to a bit role that reduces him to a nice voice and requires next to no acting. They even have a recite-standard-patriotic-speeches-near-death thing going, with Defense Secretary Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo) reciting the pledge of allegiance while being dragged off in Olympus and Asher reciting the oath of office as he’s being beaten to death in London.
This movie is also too heavy-handed in its politics. It’s an alphabet soup of conservative talking points, beginning and ending with drone strikes and dealing with arms dealers, domestic surveillance and torture and repercussions. The hyper-focus on security and vigilance is both good and bad. It’s plot-driven — a Secret Service main character would necessarily be analyzing every situation for potential threats — but it also creates a complete detachment from reality and the way normal people think.
After the month-long box office reign of Deadpool, a movie little kids were desperate to see but absolutely shouldn’t have, it’s no surprise that Zootopia rocked the box office with a $75 million opening. It’s the highest ever March opening for an animated movie and Disney Animation’s best opening. Kid movies are a bit of a cheat code at the box office, and since the next one, Ratchet & Clank, doesn’t come out till April 29, get ready for a lot of anthropomorphic animals in the next few weeks.
London Has Fallen betrays the bizarre reality of its franchise, a reality that starts with the notion that it’s a franchise at all. Both movies opened to just over $20 million, which is just under a third of their budgets. Olympus ended up with a decent profit and London probably will too, but this is clearly a product of this production era in which studios are far, far too desperate to establish reliably productive franchises. They’ve already had to ask the star for money to prop this movie up, who are they going to have to beg to do a third or fourth one?
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. You only get the respect you fight for. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.