Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Critical Quick Review - Zootopia

Film: Zootopia
Year: 2016
Starring: Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Directed by: Byron Howard & Rich Moore

Quick Plot: Ginnifer Goodwin plays the voice of young bunny, Judy Hopps. Judy is fearless, determined, and filled with a strong sense of justice. She dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fears of her parents and the fact that no rabbit has ever become an officer. Despite all this, she succeeds in becoming an officer in the famed city of Zootopia. Zootopia is a massive, environment spanning city where all animals live together in harmony despite the differences of the past where predators hunted prey. Judy is in for a rude awakening though when she finds out that not only is she looked down upon by her fellow officers, but is also quickly taken advantage of by con-artist fox, Nick Wilde, played by Jason Bateman. Nothing will deter Judy from achieving her dreams though, even if she has to put up with discrimination and Nick's antics to do it.

What Works: The voice acting - Most of the voice work is done by Goodwin and Bateman and both are phenomenal. Goodwin is effervescent, delightful, and upbeat without being sickeningly cheerful. Meanwhile, Bateman is just the right mix of charming, sly, and smarmy. Again, considering most of the voice work is done between these two, it's vitally important that they engage the audience; which they do.

The comedy - Zootopia, like most modern Disney films, is fun for kids and often hysterical for adults. There are a number of references from animal biology to Breaking Bad for adults to catch. It's not as consistently comical as say, some Pixar films, but it's still good for more than a few laughs.

The animation -  This should probably come as no surprise, but the computer animation on this film is spectacular. The faces of the characters are marvelously expressive and the fine details on the fur are exquisite.  One of the trailers for the film was noteworthy for showing sloths working at the DMV. The big punchline of the scene is reliant upon the facial expression of one of the characters; if not for how incredible the animation is, this joke wouldn't have landed so well.

The message - Zootopia is a film that's largely about discrimination. I'll avoid going into detail so as to prevent spoiling anything, but the predator prey relationship and the history of it is at play throughout the film. Given the racial climate in the United States in 2016, it's an incredibly timely message for people to have presented to them.

What Doesn't Work: The message - Despite it being a timely message, it is a little ham-fisted; that is to say that the writers tend to hit you over the head with it too much.

The plot - It's predictable. I figured out who the villain was pretty easily into the film, despite the film trying to surprise with it. Additionally there's a scene, part way through the film in which the characters reach a conclusion about the situation they're in that doesn't seem nearly as informed a judgment as they should be capable of.

Is It Worth Your Time: Yes. Whether you're teenager, adult with kids, or adult without kids, Zootopia is a great amount of fun. Also, if you happen to be a Shakira fan, or ardent fan of sloths, you're in for an extra special treat. Go enjoy it!

Critical Score: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Just A Quick Update

I'll make this fairly brief so as not to take up too much of your time:

You may have noticed a decrease in the frequency of posting lately: if so, good for you for paying attention and I for one, appreciate that dedication! There's a reason for why that's the case though.

Lately I've been very involved with a number of projects, some of which I can talk about, others that I can't. One that I can discuss and reiterate is my podcasts on The Critical Android YouTube channel.


Yeah, it doesn't have a flashy name in the link yet since I don't have enough subscribers at the moment, but there's new podcasts being uploaded all the time about a variety of subjects. They are specifically made to be listened to without having to watch the screen, so if you're in the middle of doing something and need some background noise, they're perfect for that.

Also, I'm not too great with the whole video editing thing for the most part, sooooooo until I really get that part down outside of recording game footage, this is what you'll get. But I'm also looking for topics that you want to hear about, so please take the time to suggest things!

I'm also working on a couple of novels that I'm plugging away at, which have also taken up a good chunk of time to write. As you can imagine, this can be quite time consuming, but I was advised once by a very talented and successful professional author and journalist, that one of the most important things a writer can do is finish what he writes. So it's with that in mind too that I keep trying to plug away at these larger projects.

My sincerest thanks to any of you reading this, and it would thrill me to no end if you could like, subscribe, and comment on my YouTube videos. Only if you honestly like them though. I don't want to cultivate a pack of subscribers who are just padding my numbers, I want to make a community for people to really engage each other on things they like. I want people to share ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes about everything from the common to niche interests.

Thank you again everyone, and please keep reading and listening!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Open Letter To Nickelodeon - Regarding Legends of the Hidden Temple

Dear Nickelodeon,

You didn't have a hard task in front of you. Time, the internet, corniness/cheesiness and a rather original concept all combined to make and maintain a large fandom for a game show that hadn't aired an original episode since 1995 and has only been in shown in sporadic reruns since. I speak of course, of Legends of the Hidden Temple.

The announcement was made at the start of March, 2016, that a TV movie would be made, inspired by Legends of the Hidden Temple, and starring one of your network's 14 year old child stars. I can only help but wonder how you possibly thought this was a good idea. There are so many things wrong with this decision that even as I'm writing this, I'm wracking my brain for a place to start with trying to tell you just how far off you are.

First of all, you do know who the Legends of the Hidden Temple demographic is, right? It's the present day 20 - 30 year olds who were old enough to watch the game show when it ran, and wish that they could've been on it. What does casting a 14 year old do for this audience? Nothing. All it does is make the movie appealing to a pre-teen to young teen group who have no attachment to the source material. So I really have no idea here what you're trying to accomplish by making this be a movie.

Now I'll admit, I enjoy watching reruns of the game show and watching the kids run through the temple. Why? Because a lot of the time the kids are terrible at it, and it's fun watching them fail spectacularly. Now that may sound mean, but it is also exciting to see one of the teams squeak out a victory right as time expires. That's the fun of the unscripted drama that is the game show; you don't know what's going to happen, and the competition can be engaging whether it's between adults, or kids.

This doesn't translate to a television movie in any way. It takes away the competitive element that crates legitimate drama, and substitutes in a scripted drama that's not going to be exciting to watch. And I'm sure you're going to say something to the extent of, "Oh well our writers and directors are going to make an exciting movie," but you're not. It's just going to be a typical made for TV movie that plays up to certain cliches and tropes that we've all seen before and isn't going to do anything revolutionary. Let's face it, you're not exactly Pixar making Inside Out to capture the imagination of kids and adults.

So again, who are you trying to serve with this film? Are you trying to play to the kids who don't know what Legends of the Hidden Temple stands for, or the adults who have no interest in watching a made for TV movie starring a 14 year old girl and being only tangentially related to a beloved property from their childhood?

Whose idea was it to make a game show into a TV Movie anyway? Why didn't you just bring the game show back? You do realize why we watched the show as kids, right? The show created a game that we felt like we could potentially be on that looked like amazing fun. We saw a temple that kids were running through that we know actually existed. It's not like this was a film set made to represent a fictional concept; this was an actual set made for kids to actually run through and compete in. It didn't matter if we could realistically go on the show or not, the fact was that it was even remotely possible, and that in itself is exciting.

And why do we continue to watch the show long after its over, through the eyes of an adult? It's not just the nostalgia of it, it's how ridiculously bad yet awesome the show still is. It's paradoxical in a way; Legends of the Hidden Temple is actually very creative in how its structured, but also so terrible in its execution. Take for example the Steps of Knowledge round of the game. Most of the game show is a physical competition, but here we have an informational, knowledge based round that makes the game as a whole, more varied. That's great! But the "legend" aspect of things is so comically terrible. The "legends" on which the questions are based take so many liberties with history that it's laughable. Dee Bradley Baker is a tremendously talented voice actor, and was great as Olmec, but hearing him switch between voices on the fly to tell these stories is so corny, especially with the script he was given. Good concept, laughably bad execution, ultimately endearing.

Speaking of endearing, can we talk about the host, Kirk Fogg for a moment? Kirk was very likable but good lord could he stumble over his words like a drunk in a sand trap. If you listen to Kirk's commentary on the temple runs, it's abysmal. Here's a drinking game: take a shot every time Kirk misstates the name of one of the rooms in the temple: you will not make it past the first minute of the temple run; you just won't. Still, with all this, there's some sort of charismatic charm about Kirk that I can't deny.

See Nickelodeon, all you had to do was bring back the things that made Legends of the Hidden Temple work. Bring it back as a game show, bring back Kirk Fogg as a host, recreate the temple and the set, keep the rule set the same, and cast either kids or adults in the show. That's the great part about game shows, whether it's kids or adults playing, if you have an interesting format, it can still be fun to watch. Additionally, because of the property itself, adults are going to watch it anyway because it's more of what they liked to begin with.

Maybe you thought that reinventing Legends of the Hidden Temple would help bring parents and children together. Well, it could've done that as a game show, but thanks to the reasons I mentioned above, you've effectively isolated the potential adult demographic. I sincerely hoped you would've been smart enough to know how to handle your intellectual properties, but apparently I was wrong. People want the Legends of the Hidden Temple that we know we like, not the one that you think we should like. You might think it's clever to make a reference to "The Shrine of the Silver Monkey" in your movie and it will make the adult audience laugh, but that's missing the point. We don't want a reference to it, we want the actual shrine. We want the actual monkey. And more than anything, we want to see a bunch of people trying to put the damn thing together and win a trip to Space Camp for doing it. Well, for doing it ,grabbing the episode's artifact and making it back out of the temple in time; but we'll settle for the monkey.

The Critical Android