I've been a long-time reader and admirer of Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at every film fan's Bible, The Film Experience, devouring all the entries from afar. The premise is simple: each week, a set movie is decided, and film bloggers present their favourite shot in the film, with their justification.
I thought I'd make like the protagonist Judy Hopps from this week's target, Zootopia, and take a step out of my comfort zone. Rather than just reading the articles, I thought I'd contribute with my entry, about my favourite scenes in Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush's fabulous Disney cartoon, which remains, at my time of writing, my favourite 2016 cinematic release.
Because I have a lot of feels about this masterwork, I'll list not one, but five scenes, in descending order, just so I get to ramble on about Zootopia for longer. ❤️
SPOILERS FOLLOW, so don't read if you haven't seen Zootopia yet!!
Five: pirate DVDs
The pirate DVD scene tickled me for many reasons, mainly because I love allusions to other movies, trivia and Easter eggs, and this scene contained them aplenty. The bootleg DVDs that the shady Duke Weaselton is trying to flog are all plays on Disney movies, past and present: Pig Hero 6 (Big Hero 6), Wrangled (Tangled), Wreck-It Rhino (Wreck-It Ralph), and three upcoming movies: Mewana (Moana), Giraffic (Gigantic) and Floatzen 2 (Frozen 2).
Personally, I could not get enough of the Frozen allusions in Zootopia, and howled when cynical Chief Bogo at the ZPD tells Judy to "let it go". The knowing film and pop culture references littered throughout Zootopia really were a welcome treat!
In fact, even Duke Weaselton's name is a play on a character name from a previous Disney movie: the Duke of Weselton in Frozen. In a savvy bout of voice-casting, Alan Tudyk does the voice of both characters.
Four: now you're just milking it
Although Zootopia is Disney, and with Disney, I generally know to expect a reassuring outcome, I must admit they had me fooled briefly in this scene. The way Nick's fangs were bared and the malevolence in his green eyes, not to mention the apparent terror in Judy's eyes, made me think for a second he had genuinely turned wild and really was going to eat her.
But, fortunately, in a nod to the first scene of the film, where Judy as a child had put on a play extolling her well-intentioned but naive belief that any animal could be anything they wanted, the fox and the bunny were just acting. Our hero remained intact.
Three: Gideon's Redemption
This scene played well because of the resolution it offered something that had occurred at the start: in one of the film's few distressing scenes, child!Judy had been scratched by a school ground bully, a fox by the name of Gideon Grey. The way Gideon was drawn, clothed and voiced gave the impression he was an anthropomorphic version of the 'hillbilly' trope. Judy had felt the brunt of his claws because she had stepped in when her helpless friends had their tickets stolen by him. Gideon, having earlier been embarrassed publicly by Judy at the school play, obviously felt bad blood towards her, and decided to teach her a lesson.
In the scratching scene, the actual scratch was masked, but, as with another Disney movie Tangled, when the witch stabs Flynn below the screen, sometimes it's what you don't see that is even more haunting. Here, you just saw Gideon pounce at Judy, him swiping at something, and then two savage scratch marks. Surprisingly intense for Disney.
Fast forward 15 years, and Gideon has learnt the error of his ways. He's doing well for himself, as one of the top pastry chefs in the tri-burrows and even partners up with Judy's parents. He seeks out his one-time prey, explaining that he had 'a lot of self doubt, that manifested itself in unchecked rage and aggression', offering personally baked goodness as a peace offering.
I like this scene a lot, for two reasons. Firstly, it gives Judy some closure for a fairly traumatic experience that occurred at the start of the film. I felt better knowing she had received a genuine apology. And secondly, Gideon's seemingly simple ramblings about 'night howlers' offer our heroine, when she seems to be at pit bottom, a revelation that reignites her sleuth senses, just when she was all ready to give up on her dream of being a police officer. This story arc both propels the plot along, and accentuates the film's overarching message: that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and anyone, no matter what shape or size, can achieve anything.
Two: Don't Know When to Quit
The aforementioned scratching scene did offer one ray of light: despite Judy getting wounded, she achieved what she came for: recovering her friends' tickets. This illustrates her resourcefulness and never-say-die spirit that may infuriate jaded co-workers, but makes her a tremendous heroine and a character female Disney fans can really look up to, regardless of species.
Judy's determination and grit in the face of man other characters who instantly judge her to be too small, too cute, too weak to be a police officer, carry her throughout the movie. Along with Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters, she represents my choice for #MovieCharacterGoalz of 2016.
One: Dumb Bunny
2016 is the year of the Odd Couples solving mysteries. In The Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe must put personality differences aside to investigate a missing actress. In Central Intelligence, big Dwayne Johnson and little Kevin Hart have to retrieve a USB stick. In Grimsby, sloppy Sacha Baron Cohen and slick Mark Strong have to team up to save the world. I could go on (I mean, Kevin Hart's been in two odd couple movies this year alone).
In each of these cases, I have enjoyed the chemistry in the duos, and the way the characters play off each other; how they go from hating to loving each other. But this dynamic works the best between Judy and Nick in Zootopia.
The two get off on a ropey start, when Nick cons Judy into paying for a giant ice lolly which he later repackages and sells to others for profit. Things get worse before they get better, when she, playing the cunning fox at his own game, entraps him into helping her on a case, which she is desperate to crack, to prove her worth as a bonafide cop.
Gradually, over the process of cracking the case, the two build a rapport. Then rapport turns to trust, as Nick confides in Judy about why it is that he's so crusty (the flashback sequence in which this occurs was even more upsetting than the scratching scene; I'm not ashamed to say I cried). But Judy, in all her well-intentioned loquaciousness, dubs predators as 'primitive savages' at a press conference, in doing so, revealing some subconscious prejudices of her own. Their friendship is shattered as a result.
In this scene above, Judy begs for Nick's forgiveness. Ginnifer Goodwin, who delivers some exceptional voice-acting in this movie, really shines in this scene, delivering a monologue embedded with regret, sorrow and pathos. Jason Bateman, equally as good, imbues Nick with good-natured cheekiness and playfulness.
I mentioned that Judy was a great role model for girls, and I think the fact that she isn't infallible, and committed this mistake, makes her more appeasing. Because like Judy, humans, too, are flawed. We all make mistakes, some of them colossal. Nick recognises this, and forgives her. But not before a bit of payback: recording her admitting that she 'really is just a dumb bunny'.
The shot above encapsulates everything about Judy and Nick's friendship that made Zootopia such a delightful movie. They bicker, they banter, but they've always got each others' backs. 🐺🐰