Disney takes a leap with a non-princess female lead with smash ‘Zootopia’

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Ginnifer Goodwin gives voice to Office Judy Hopps in "Zootopia." Disney Animation photo

Ginnifer Goodwin gives voice to Office Judy Hopps in “Zootopia.” Disney Animation photo

Disney Animation’s bold new adventure Zootopia is continuing to set records and dominate the box office.

Zootopia took in $75 million at the domestic box office last weekend, making it the biggest debut ever for a Disney Animation movie.

The thrilling and thoughtful animated tale made another $12 million Friday, which pushed the critical smash – it is ranked 99 percent “fresh” at review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com – over the $100 million mark, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The movie is expected to gross another $40 million to $50 million through Sunday and beat out the new thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, produced by J.J. Abrams, to top the domestic box office for the second straight weekend.

Zootopia also has proven a hit overseas, especially in China, where it set the country’s new record for largest single-day gross for an animated film with $25 million on Saturday. According to Variety, the latest from Disney is creeping up on DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3 record as the top animated release ever in China: Zootopia is set to cross $100 million there this weekend, while the third film in the Panda series currently stands at a cumulative of $152 million after its January debut.

But the success of Zootopia is about so much more than the impressive numbers. The film represents a victory in a number of ways, not the least of which in proving that both adults and children will flock to a Disney animated movie starring a female character who is not a princess.

Directed by Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), the animated adventure tells the tale of Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a plucky small-town rabbit who dreams of becoming the first woman police officer of Zootopia, a diverse metropolis where predators and prey have evolved to the point in which they live side by side, although not always without friction. Through sheer determination and smarts, Judy achieves her goal of becoming the first rabbit officer but then struggles to prove herself as she faces prejudice and stereotypes.

Challenged by her hard-nosed chief (Idris Elba) to solve a puzzling case on a short timeline or lose her spot on the force, Judy reluctantly teams with a sly fox conman named Nick (Jason Bateman) to solve the mystery and must confront her own prejudices along the way.

Although it effectively conveys the timeworn kids’ movie message of “believe in yourself and you can do anything,” Zootopia proves an even more effective metaphor for the prejudice we see in our own world. It shows that movies, if crafted with care and creativity, can deal with complex issues like racism and institutional bias without coming across as preachy. Although I wouldn’t recommend it for little ones unable to tell separate fiction from reality – can you imagine the trauma and drama of a toddler watching their pet poodle kill a rabbit after watching the anthropomorphic Zootopia dwellers living in relative harmony? – the movie does a great job of acknowledging that we all have our prejudices and hang-ups but that we must work to move past them and treat all people with dignity and fairness.

Plus, it’s a wildly entertaining, stunningly animated, original story that youngsters, grownups and teenagers can all enjoy.

I was proud to be part of such a ballsy move for Disney,” Goodwin said in an Entertainment Weekly Q&A (which contains some spoilers, so be aware before clicking).

“It was described to me recently by one of my agents as a unicorn. I loved the analogy. The fact that reviews have been so incredibly supportive, the fact that the audience has been so loving, and that the box office is doing so well is a trifecta of impossibility. But ‘surprise’ is the perfect word for it, and that’s the word I use to describe what I felt when I walked out of the first screening. I’ve been working on this movie for years, and I knew what was coming, and yet I found the gut punch unexpected. I didn’t know it’d be able to hook me as a participant in the way it did as an audience member.”

Goodwin expressed to EW her hopes that a Zootopia will eventually get a sequel, which given its critical and commercial success seems a surefire bet. And that’s great news, because we need more movies like it.

Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios photo

Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios photo

Marvel finally embraces girl power with merchandise and contest

With the excitement intensifying about the upcoming release of Captain America: Civil War – the new trailer released last week garnered nearly 100 million views in the first 24 hours after its debut, according to MovieWeb – there are hopeful signs that Disney’s Marvel Studios is finally doing a better job of acknowledging and encouraging the power of women and girls.

Although Captain America: Civil War won’t hit theaters until May 6, Entertainment Weekly reports that Marvel is already fueling the buzz for the film with teases for a new line of merchandise. And this time, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) is front and center in toys, collectibles and apparel. The line-up is Disney and Marvel’s attempt to push the superhero into the spotlight well before the film’s debut.

It also comes after the furor over the dearth of merchandise featuring the super spy that surrounded last year’s release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which spawned the hashtag #WheresNatasha. Disney dealt with a similar controversy a few months later when disappointed fans couldn’t find merch featuring Disney Ridley’s heroic Rey, even though she was main character of the record-smashing sequel Stars Wars: The Force Awakens.

Let’s hope the Mouse House has finally learned its lesson and fans can find more female action figures on store shelves in the future. But that’s not the only way Disney seems to be looking ahead to the future in a way that encourages girls.

Disney, Marvel Studios, Dolby Laboratories, Synchrony Bank, Broadcom Masters and Science & Entertainment Exchange last week announced they were uniting to launch the nationwide “Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War – Girls Reforming the Future Challenge.”

Marvel, continuing to build on the success of the “Ultimate Mentor Adventure,” “Guardians of the Galaxy: Guardians of Good,” and “Ant-Man Micro-Tech Challenge,” is launching the “Girls Reforming the Future Challenge” to engage young women to further the Avengers’ goal of making the world a better place, according to a news release.

This program, supported by the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of National Academy of Sciences, seeks to inspire young girls to create positive world change for their generation and beyond through science and technology.

The challenge invites girls nationwide, ages 15 to 18 and in grades 10 to 12, to submit innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics)-based projects that have the potential to change the world. Each applicant will be asked to submit a short video demonstrating her project and explaining how her science and technology-based project could make the world a better place. Five finalists will be selected to come to California and present their projects to a panel of experts.

One grand prize winner will be selected from the five finalists to receive an internship with Marvel Studios.

Finalists will have the opportunity to inspire other young girls around the world by participating in a live global Broadcom Masters webinar during which the girls will discuss how their STEM skills enabled them to create their projects and become a finalist of the “Captain American: Civil War – Girls Reforming the Future Challenge.” The Grand Prize Winner will share her Marvel Studios Internship experience, giving girls everywhere a peek into STEM skills in action outside the lab and the classroom.

Each finalist will receive: Two round-trip tickets to Southern California for the finalist and her parent or guardian, including scheduled meals, ground transportation to and from organized activities, hotel accommodations, from April 10 through April 13, 2016; an opportunity to be on the red carpet at the World Premiere of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War at the Dolby Theatre on April 12; a tour of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California; and  $500, deposited into a high-yield savings account with Synchrony Bank.

Complete contest information will be available from March 11 through March 26.  Entries will be accepted through 9 p.m. Pacific Time on March 26. For application forms, official contest rules and more information, go to www.captainamericachallenge.com.

Halle Berry appears in the James Bond film "Die Another Day." MGM photo

Halle Berry appears in the James Bond film “Die Another Day.” MGM photo

Quick hitters

Halle Berry in talks for spy sequel. Oscar winner Halle Berry, who played Jinx Johnson in the 2002 James film Die Another Day, could be returning to the cinematic spy game. She is in talks to play a CIA head opposite Taron Egerton in Kingsman 2, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Director Matthew Vaughn is currently pulling together the sequel to his surprise hit Kingsman: The Secret Service, which grossed more than $414 million worldwide when it was released by Fox in 2015.

Shohreh Aghdashloo boarding Star Trek franchise. Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (House Of Sand And Fog, House Of Saddam) has joined the third installment in the Star Trek series, Star Trek Beyond, which stars Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, according to Deadline.

Deadline reports that sequel is undergoing some reshoots this week with Aghdashloo playing the role of the High Command of the Federation. Directed by Justin Lin with J.J. Abrams is producing, the film is still on track to be released July 22.

Amanda Seyfried signs on for Anon. Amanda Seyfried is re-uniting with her In Time director Andrew Niccol to star in Anon opposite Clive Owen, reports Deadline. In the psychological thriller  Owen plays a detective in a world with no privacy or anonymity, in which all lives are traceable and recorded by the authorities, who crosses paths with a young woman (Seyfried) who has no digital footprint.

National Film Board of Canada commits to films by women. The National Film Board of Canada will now allot half of its production spending to female-directed films, government film commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur announced Tuesday, International Women’s Day, at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, according to Variety. According to a recent report by the nonprofit Women in View on the Canadian film industry, women represented 17 percent of directors, 22 percent of writers and 12 percent of cinematographers in a sample of 91 feature films produced between 2013 and 2014.

20 women in Hollywood making a difference. The U.K.’s The Independent has compiled a solid list of “20 women in Hollywood making a difference behind the camera,” from Selma director and distributor Ava DuVernay to Mad Max: Fury Road’s Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan. Read it here.

Movies for Women’s History Month. From 9 to 5 and Frida to Elizabeth and A League of Their Own, Refinery 29 has compiled a list of 11 movies to watch for Women’s History Month, which is in March. See the list here.

Indie filmmaker examines the reasons for dearth of female directors. Independent documentary filmmaker Katy Chevigny has penned a thoughtful, must-read essay for Filmmaker Magazine in which she examines the reasons why women haven’t become more prominent among the ranks of directors. Check it out here.

Stephanie Allain speaks out on discrimination. Producer Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow) has written an interesting essay for Cosmopolitan about how Hollywood’s obsession with the bottom line often is just discrimination in disguise.

Studios are driven by the financial bottom-line. They green-light movies that they think will make money, and favor tentpole titles — action movies, superhero movies — that will perform well overseas. But blaming the bottom line doesn’t excuse you from responsibility for the racism and sexism that plays out in Hollywood, a racism and sexism so subtle and ingrained that many executives can’t see their own complicity. I’m a good, liberal person. I can’t possibly be part of the problem. Only that’s not true,” she writes.

“I’ve heard racist and sexist things come from the mouths of good, liberal people: Years ago, while casting a film, I sat across from a studio head who told me that audiences overseas “do not want to see a black person’s face 30-feet high. It’s not personal. It’s business.” I think he really believed that.”

She adds, “We now know audiences want to see themselves reflected on screen, and studios want in on the changing demographics — at least to an extent. It’s no coincidence that the new Star Wars features a black man, a Latino man, and a woman, or that a tentpole Young Adult franchise like Hunger Games got made even though there’s a woman at the center of it. They want to sell tickets. But the problem remains: Who has control over these projects? Who is directing them? Almost always white men. We need more films by and about people of color, including women, who want to tell their own stories.”

Read more of Allain’s essay here.


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