“Zootopia” might be the cleverest bait-and-switch Disney has ever pulled. All of the teaser ads and promotional materials are pushing the adorable Judy Hopps and her very funny encounter with the sloths running the DMV. What they conveniently leave out is that the movie is an on-point commentary about prejudice and racism, their origins, how they’re used as a weapon for political gain, and how we’re all guilty of them in one form or another. In fact, it’s tempting to resent the film a little, because it explains these subjects to children better than most parents ever could.
The film opens with an expository children’s play that explains how predator and prey in the animal kingdom have found a way to co-exist without, you know, one eating the other (though what the predators eat instead is never mentioned, outside of doughnuts). One of the stars of that play is the idealistic bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who announces on stage that she intends to be the world’s first bunny police officer, and many years later, against all odds and her parents’ wishes, she succeeds. She is transferred to the big city of Zootopia, where Sergeant Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to…parking duty. Ouch.
The urge to fight crime is strong, though, and Judy zones in on a seemingly untrustworthy fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, whose character bears an uncanny resemblance), only to become a victim to one of his many cons. Judy is desperate to prove herself to Bogo, and agrees to take on the missing case of an otter against Bogo’s wishes. Bogo initially fires her for insubordination, but instead gives her 48 hours to find the otter, after which Judy must resign if she fails. Judy leans on Nick – whom she has under her thumb because she has enough evidence to have him locked up – to guide her through the big city, even though Nick tends to cause more problems than he solves.
The National Geographic Channel has slowly but surely been making a presence for themselves in the field of TV movies, thanks – oddly enough – to having been provided with the opportunity to adapt a couple of Bill O’Reilly’s books. First came “Killing Lincoln,” starring Billy Campbell as ol’ Honest Abe, and, to keep things on a chronologically-accurate path, next up is “Killing Kennedy,” with Rob Lowe taking on the role of JFK.
NatGeo is going out of their way to make sure TV critics are well aware of this project, first of all by spotlighting it at the summer TCA tour and setting up interviews with various cast members, then by sending a few additional critics – including yours truly – to a press junket in Dallas, where we were fully immersed in the details of Kennedy’s final 48 hours. I mean, seriously, it was pretty amazing: we stayed in the same hotel where JFK and Jackie Kennedy spent their final night, met a few folks who were actually there that day, stood in the places where he gave some of his final speeches, and then went on a tour of various locations in the Dallas / Fort Worth area which were key to both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald over the course of those last hours, including attending a screening of “Killing Kennedy” in the Texas Theater, where Oswald was apprehended, and then we had dinner on the seven floor of the former Texas School Book Depository, after which we went downstairs one floor to a museum dedicated to the assassination…as is only appropriate, since that’s where Oswald was stationed.
Having watched “Killing Kennedy,” I will say that, first and foremost, the reason to see the film is not necessarily Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin as JFK and Jackie – although they both do quite well, with Goodwin in particular shining in the post-assassination scenes – but, rather, Will Rothhaar and Michelle Trachtenberg as Oswald and his wife, Marina. Rothhaar, who was with us throughout the tour of Dallas, is liable to get a serious career boost after the work he does in the film, and Trachtenberg will surprise many with her fluency in Russian…much as she surprised the producers of the film, who didn’t know she could speak the language until after they saw her audition. If you’ve got Kennedy fever, though, I recommend that you tune in early to watch “JFK: The Final Hours,” a documentary which, while perhaps a bit overlong, provides an amazing amount of detail about what Jack and Jackie did during their time in San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Dallas in the day or so before that fateful trip into Dealey Plaza. Plus, it’s narrated by Bill Paxton, who – you may or may not know – was actually in attendance for JFK’s speech outside the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth the morning he was assassinated.
Okay, enough of my yakking…not that it probably bothered those of you who were drawn here by the title of this piece, since I’m sure all you did was skip past all the opening paragraphs and go straight for the Rob Lowe interview, anyway. All things being equal, what I’d hoped to do was spend enough time with Rob Lowe to produce a Random Roles interview for the Onion AV Club, but we only had about 10 minutes together during the TCA tour, and we never managed to hop back on the phone in the intervening time, so that just never happened. As such, Bullz-Eye reaps the benefits of the “Killing Kennedy”material, while I continue to hoard the stuff he had to say about “Class,” “A New Kind of Family,” and “The Stand” until I am able to get on the phone with him. For now, though, I hope you enjoy his comments on playing the President of the United States.
The competition: NCIS (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), Glee (Fox), 90210 (The CW) Starring: Tim Allen, Nancy Travis, Kaitlyn Dever, Molly Ephraim, Alexandra Krosney, Christoph Sanders, Hector Elizondo
Executive producers: JackBurditt, Tim Allen, Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements, Shawn Levy, Richard Baker and Rick Messina
What the network says: “You can’t get manlier than Mike Baxter. He loves to have adventures while he’s traveling for work and, of course, he drives a pick-up truck. But Mike is about to find out that it’s not a man’s world anymore. While he might be king of the hill at work at an iconic outdoor sporting goods store, he’s the odd man out in a home dominated by his wife and three daughters. Today it’s a woman’s world, and this man’s man is on a mission to get men back to their rightful place in society. After being a stay-at-home mom for years, Mike’s wife, Vanessa, recently returned to the workplace and was quickly promoted — much to the dismay of her primarily male co-workers. Now that Vanessa’s work load has increased, Mike is pulled into more hands-on parenting than ever before. With things turned upside down at home, Mike’s last bastion of sanity – work – gets hit by change as well; his long-time boss and friend, Ed, announces that he’s grounding Mike from their catalogue’s international photo shoots and putting him in charge of the company’s webpage. But while adjusting to this new role, Mike discovers that the Internet might actually provide him just the outlet he needs, a platform that gives him a voice to appeal to those who agree that manliness is under assault, and a pulpit for his opinions about feeling like the last real man in a woman’s world. After all, men built civilizations, invented the locomotive and created ESPN, and Mike Baxter is determined to do what he must to reclaim his manly place in his home and at his job.”
What we say: It’s kind of hard to criticize “Last Man Standing” for having almost exactly the same mainstream manly-man tone as “Home Improvement” when Tim Allen freely admits that it’s something he’s making a conscious effort to re-stake his old territory. You can, however, criticize the series for not being very funny. Sure, it’s funny in a Tim Allen kind of way, but…oh, this way lies madness, so let’s just cut to the chase: basically, if you like broad comedy about a guy’s guy who’s annoyed with the fact that his brand of man is a dying breed, then you’ll like this show. I laughed a couple of times, but as I am not now nor have I ever been a guy’s guy, I walked away with little or no interest in ever watching another episode…which, come to think of it, is almost exactly the way I’ve always felt about “Home Improvement.” Based on this info, you can probably make your own judgement call as to whether or not you’ll have any interest in tuning in.
(8:30 – 9 PM, Oct. 18)
The competition: NCIS (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), Glee (Fox), 90210 (The CW)
Starring: Mather Zickel, Dan Fogler, Christopher Moynihan, Teri Polo, Amanda Detmer, Henry Simmons, Jake Johnson, Charlotte Labadie
Executive producers: Christopher Moynihan, Victor Fresco (“Better Off Ted”), and Ron West and Kelly Kulchak
What the network says: “Three modern male archetypes struggle as they search for their identities and try to prove that ‘real men’ really can use hazelnut creamer. Meet Will. Will’s grandfather fought in WWII. Will’s father fought in Vietnam. Will plays Call of Duty on his PS3 and drinks non-dairy hazelnut creamer. So what happened to all the real men? They’re still here — they just smell like pomegranate body wash now. Will’s evolved, sensitive nature is why his awesome wife, Theresa, married him. But he and his friends find themselves wondering… In a world of Axe ads and manscaping, what does it really mean to be a guy anymore? Will is more interested in finding the perfect gift for his son Nathan’s 13th birthday than in doing his job selling insurance; sensitive soul Craig still pines for his college ex, Lisa; and Kenny clamps down on his anger and asks himself, ‘What would Tobey Maguire do?,’ when his ex, Bridgette, starts seeing a guy who is everything he’s not and much better looking. After Craig crashes Lisa’s wedding to try to win her back, all three are faced with an opportunity to ‘man up’ and be like their forefathers.”
What we say: I swear it’s not because the lead character’s name is Will, but…I actually like this better than “Last Man Standing,” even though it’s ultimately covering a certain amount of the same ground. I think you can probably attribute that to executive producer Victor Fresco, whose presence always guarantees that the series won’t be 100% commercial. Speaking of ground that’s already been trod upon, there’s also an undeniable similarity between “Man Up” and Fox’s late, lamented mid-season series “Traffic Light.” (That’s not a bad thing for me, though, as I loved the series.) As for the cast, there are really only two matinee names: Teri Polo, of the “Meet the Parents” franchise, and Dan Fogler, who’s one of those guys who can take things so far over the top that he presents a major love-him-or-hate-him vibe. It must be said, though, that he pulls the majority of the biggest laughs in the pilot. As far as putting this alongside “Last Man Standing,” I don’t know if that’s a great move or not, since the similar premises will likely viewers to suspect that if they don’t like one, then they won’t like the other, but it’s not true: “Man Up” may not be spectacular, but it’s ten times funnier than its lead-in.