The X-Men commentary series in anticipation of X-Men: Apocalypse continues here with the gang revisiting 2011's X-Men: First Class! After plans for a Magneto-centric prequel were quietly shelved, elements of that film were reincorporated into a prequel that looked at the formation of Marvel's Merry Mutant Team set during the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Listen to find out what scene drives the boys up the wall, what elements of the film they think the film does particularly well, and how the film as a whole holds up five years since its initial release!

Direct download: XFirstClass.mp3
Category:Commentary -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

Sam's thoughts on Zootopia:

At first glance, Zootopia doesn't look or feel like a traditional Disney film; it's closer in style and presentation to a very well-made Dreamworks Animated flick (Like if the Madagascar movies were actually good). It also felt like the film relatively came out nowhere with the first marketing I remember for it attached to The Force Awakens, less than two months before its actual release and a February release is always a weird thing. What it ended up being is a pleasantly surprising animated movie that continues the winning streak Disney Animation has enjoyed since 2010's Tangled.

Cleverly set up by a children's play in the film's prologue, Zootopia is the titular metropolis where animals that have evolved to fully communicate amongst themselves and dress and have jobs like well, us, all reside within boroughs representing the myriad of ecosystems they come from (Tundras, rainforests, etc.). Carnivores and herbivores have evolved beyond their predator-prey roots and co-exist peacefully but lingering prejudices and stereotypes about the various species subsist with the tension between predators and their former prey being the most evident. 

New to the city is Judy Hopps, the first rabbit to become a police officer at Zootopia and must deal with the bureaucracy, her peers, and parents underestimating her ability to stand toe-to-toe with much larger animals on the force led by Idris Elba's Chief Bogo. When tasked with her first major case, Hopps enlists the help of a streetwise, hustling fox named Nick Wilde (And voiced to perfection by Jason Bateman) for help in a city she's still unfamiliar with.

There are several things that put Zootopia a cut above other animated films (Again, usually Dreamworks...they're making yet another Ice Age movie?) and the most evident is the film's cast. Whoever decided Ginnifer Goodwin should voice a rabbit, Jason Bateman should voice a fox, Idris Elba should voice a water buffalo, and JK Simmons should voice a lion is a casting genius. The animators build on these pairings by making the characters subtly resemble the facial expressions of the actors voicing them.

And speaking of animation, this stands among the ranks of Disney Animated Studios and Pixar's best (Powered and rendered by the same engine that Disney previously used on Big Hero Six). Water, lighting, and fur (Which for a movie like this is especially key) effects are top notch.

The last major component of Zootopia's top-quality is that, taking a cue from Pixar, the humor isn't just aimed at kids but the whole family (I found it hilarious, last summer, that Inside Out had a Chinatown reference). The requisite gags hit on all levels and there's references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad that would fly over the average kid's head. 

With strong messages about the importance of following one's dreams and the dangers of prejudice, Zootopia delivers across the board as another standout from Disney. The offbeat tone and seemingly simple premise (The premise of animals living in a human-like world is not a new one but it's interesting to see it explored so deeply here) may catch viewers off guard initially but they'll settle soon. Definitely worth a look!

Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 11:46am EST