Movie Reviews: 'Zootopia' and 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot'

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in Movies & TV
A rookie bunny cop and a fugitive fox star in a scene from the animated movie "Zootopia." Photo: CNS/Disney A rookie bunny cop and a fugitive fox star in a scene from the animated movie "Zootopia." Photo: CNS/Disney

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By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Anthropomorphism runs amok in the 3-D animated comedy-adventure "Zootopia" (Disney).

As with Disney's "Cars" franchise, which presented a world of automobiles with human traits, "Zootopia" personifies all creatures great and small. They jabber away among themselves as each earns a living in the bustling metropolis of the title.

Inside jokes and clever puns abound. City dwellers shop at Targoat, sip lattes from Snarlbucks, call up a ride from Zuber -- and make deposits at the Lemming Brothers Bank.

At the DMV, short for the Department of Mammal Vehicles, the lines are long and all of the employees are three-toed sloths who, true to their name, move at a glacial pace.

The newest arrival in this urban setting, where predators and prey live in apparent harmony, is Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin). A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rabbit from the suburbs, Judy is eager to fulfill her lifelong dream by becoming the first bunny officer of the Zootopia Police Department.

Through grit and perseverance, she succeeds, only to face resentment and prejudice from her peers as well as her boss, the imposing buffalo Chief Bogo (voice of Idris Elba). He assigns Judy to parking duty, while much larger cops (including an elephant and a rhino) take on important criminal cases.

Determined to make the best of it, Judy hops into action. As she racks up the tickets, she encounters wily fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a small-time con artist.

It turns out that Nick is a key witness in a missing "person" case that Judy wants to solve to win the respect of her co-workers. As natural enemies become collaborators and, ultimately, friends, "Zootopia" morphs into a buddy movie.

Directors Byron Howard ("Tangled") and Rich Moore ("Wreck-It Ralph"), together with co-director Jared Bush, keep the action moving at a fast pace. Unfortunately, the film takes a dark turn as the investigation proceeds, exposing the seedier side of Zootopia. Scenes of animal conflict and cruelty could frighten and confuse the younger set.

And that's not to mention the somewhat paradoxical naturist club where animals shed their clothes.

Parents will smile at references to classic films that will fly over their children's heads. Particularly amusing is Mr. Big (voice of Maurice LaMarche), a tiny arctic shrew who's a dead ringer for Don Corleone in "The Godfather." As the mobster threatens our furry duo, the wedding reception scene plays out in the background, and before long Mr. Big is dancing with the bride.

Overall, despite its mixed tone, "Zootopia" offers good lessons in tolerance, hard work and optimism. As Judy reassures Nick, "Life's a little bit messy. We all make mistakes."

The film contains occasional mild action violence, including torture, bullying, a naturist theme, some rude gags and momentary religious but not irreverent humor.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot movie still
Margot Robbie stars in a scene from the movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot." Photo: CNS/Frank Masi, Paramount Pictures

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

NEW YORK - When a movie's title is military code for an obscene phrase, potential viewers are likely to wonder what awaits them behind such thinly veiled vulgarity.

In the case of "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (Paramount), the answer is a fact-based blend of comedy and drama pervaded by a low moral tone.

Set in the early 2000s, the film tells the story of Kim Baker (Tina Fey), a deskbound reporter who impulsively transformed her life by becoming a war correspondent in Afghanistan. Her new surroundings in Kabul are wildly chaotic, both on the level of physical danger and, perhaps less predictably, on the plane of ethical decision-making as well.

Audiences are clearly supposed to be impressed by Kim's bold -- somehow feminist -- revolt against routine. They're also meant to see how her life is energized by her exposure to mortal risk.

If living on the edge invigorates Kim herself, it does little to add interest to her experiences. Professionally, she's disappointed to find the Iraq War gobbling up all the headlines back home. Personally, she gradually befriends her guide and translator, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), as well as fellow -- or is it rival? -- reporter Tanya (Margot Robbie), one of her few female peers.

It's typical of the film's gutter-level outlook (and vocabulary) that Tanya asks Kim, during the pair's very first conversation, whether it's all right for her to, um, foxtrot with some of the men in Kim's security detail. To Tanya's immense relief, Kim has no problem with that. What a pal!

Kim, as we've been shown, has left behind a boyfriend. Despite his lackluster personality, she's determined to stay true to him. But plot developments open the path to a largely commitment-free romance with dashing Iain (Martin Freeman), a photojournalist notorious for his womanizing.

In adapting real-life reporter Kim Barker's 2011 memoir "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa showcase the oppressive restrictions placed on women in some Muslim cultures. They also highlight the hypocrisy of some of the public officials -- personified here by Alfred Molina playing the Afghan attorney general -- charged with enforcing such mores.

Yet their film takes for granted the kind of off-kilter ethics that currently prevail in the West -- exaggerated, in this context, by the decadence-breeding perils of a combat zone. Thus Robert Carlock's screenplay gives an amused pass to cocaine-sniffing, drunkenness, alcohol-fueled promiscuity and even sex with animals.

A taste for porn featuring interspecies intercourse (specifically with donkeys) is treated as the merest foible of one of the script's background characters. In an obvious bid for gross-out bragging rights, we're given a glimpse of his favored fare, a peek clearly aimed to elicit giggles.

There remain at least a few taboos, however, that even a jackass would not wish to see toppled.

The film contains scenes of armed conflict with brief but graphic gore, drug use, a debased view of human sexuality, semi-graphic nonmarital bedroom activity, fleeting pornographic images including an act of bestiality, numerous uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.