Kung Fu Panda 3 & Zootropolis 

So, it’s the Easter holidays here in the UK and there are two animated anthropomorphic animal movies in the cinemas. They both have impressive voice casts (Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and J. K. Simmons for Kung Fu Panda 3 and Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Shakira and J. K. Simmons for Zootropolis) and they both have messages about the importance of being yourself. Beyond that though they couldn’t be more different. One is just another predictable and forgettable kids movie, the other is an important parable with a great deal to say about life in the new millennium. One will not stick in your mind for more than a moment and the other is totally of the moment. Oh, and they both end with song and dance numbers but pretty much every feature cartoon does these days. 


Kung Fu Panda 3 (hopefully) finishes the story of Po, living in ancient China, who finally finds his family and becomes the mystical dragon warrior he is destined to be. Cue lots of street talk, jokes about body shape and a string of obvious sight gags. It is a formula Dreamworks have been rolling out since the first Shrek film fifteen years ago and, with the exception of two How to Train Your Dragon movies and Rise of the Guardians, one they have rarely strayed from. 


One the other hand, Disney who have been following their own conventions for many years have created something new. Animals living as humans isn’t actually something the studio have done very often. They clearly have lots of animal stories but The Lion King, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Oliver & Company etc all take place in world where people can exist too. Even the occasional mice in coats like in Cinderella, The Aristocats and The Rescuers are living in our skirting boards. It is only really with Robin Hood, Chicken Little and Mickey Mouse that they put them in our shoes properly. With Zootropolis though they have come in and created the definitive animal owned earth. 


The design of this world is brilliant and rather than just making all the animals roughly the same size they have created a complex environment where tiny rodents exist convincingly alongside pachyderms. It’s a cartoon world clearly, but it works in that context. The story centres around Judy Hopps, a rabbit who becomes a cop. She is constantly underestimated by all those around her because she is a bunny but as things progress it becomes obvious that she is harbouring her own prejudices. Predators within the community are devolving and turning savage and fear and superiority makes citizens judgemental of others. Whole groups within the community are marginalised or considered guilty by association. 


So it is that this is not a talking animal picture like Kung Fu Panda where the cheesy moral is to be true to who you are, it is a talking animal picture that is calling people out for racial discrimination, sexism and intolerance. It is a Disney cartoon condemning conscious and unconscious bigotry and with the Oscars so white issue, objections against gay marriage and Donald Trump it couldn’t come at a better time. This is an important message and it is great that it is part of a kids film. On top of that Zootropolis is an enjoyable, thrilling and funny movie with incredibly detailed and sophisticated animation, strong characters, catchy songs and great marketing opportunities. Sorry Kung Fu Panda, but this film just kicked your ass.

The Ripley Factor:
The protagonist of a film like Zootropolis had to be a female and Judy Hopps is probably one of the most empowered heroines Disney have ever drawn. She avoids presenting unachievable body images by having a totally unachievable body (she’s a rabbit), she doesn’t solve her problems with magic, either of her own or of a fairy godmother’s making, and she doesn’t always get everything right. She is a realistic role model (other than being a talking rabbit).


Kung Fu Panda’s main female character is Jolie’s Tigress. She’s empowered too but with her incredible martial arts skills she is a bit more of a cliche. She is also just a supporting player. 

Are these ones for the kids? 
Kung Fu Panda 3 clearly has fighting in it but it isn’t intense and I wouldn’t imagine it will disturb even small children. Still, it’s a PG so know that some of it is considered slightly scary. 


There is a slightly suggestive comment about dumplings.  


Zootropolis is also a PG and with wild animal attacks it is easier to see why. I did find my six year old sitting on my lap on occasion but she didn’t feel the need to look away at any point. There are a couple of jump scares. 


There is also a slightly suggestive scene with animals who are nudists.


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