Category Archives: 3.5 Star

The Hippopotamus – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review


Based on the book by Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus follows disgraced poet Ted Wallace (Roger Allam) who is commissioned by his goddaughter Jane (Emily Berrington) to investigate a series of unexplained miracle healings that have supposedly occurred at Swafford Hall.  Jane has terminal leukemia but appears to be cured after a visit to the house.  Swafford is the country mansion of Wallace’s old friend Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine).  Wallace and Michael had a falling out some years ago, but he’s still part of the family, so he is given pretty much free range over the grounds where he meets with Michael’s wife Anne (Fiona Shaw) who apparently was cured of asthma.  The family is rounded out by the Logan’s teenage son David (Tommy Knight) and his older, more rational brother Simon (Dean Ridge).  David who is Ted’s godson, also wants to be a poet.  he house had always entertained various guests, but now they seem to be coming not for the English countryside but for the miracles.  The guests who  know how the miracles are performed, include a rich woman (Lyne Renee) brings her awkward teenage daughter (Emma Curtis) to be “cured”, and flamboyant theatre director Oliver Mills (Tim McInnerny) seeks a miracle for his heart condition.  Ted may be a drunk, and a lousy sleuth, but he has a fine nose for people, and something at the mansion smells rotten.  He soon discovers that everyone believes David has the “healing touch” and is responsible for the miracles.  It first manifested years ago when he saved his mother from a near fatal asthma attack with just a touch to her chest, now he continues to heal not only with his touch, but with his divine essence, a more powerful, more concentrated application of his healing powers.

The Hippopotamus was an extremely British film; dry wit, snappy dialogue, and the absurd magnified by a stiff upper lip.  Very enjoyable, but if you’re not a fan of British humour, you likely won’t enjoy it.  I laughed quite a bit throughout the story.  The performances were good, and I really think that Roger Allam fit the role perfectly.  Even though the film was set in the modern times, it still felt like an Edwardian mystery at times and that kind of lured me in.

Bottom Line: It seems that David naively did believe in his own healing powers, but he could have just been a horny teenager knowingly seducing everyone with the lure of his “magic” semen.

Rules Don’t Apply – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Howard Hughes is one of the most interesting people in American history.  Aviator, inventor, filmmaker, and possibly insane, Rules Don’t Apply opens with a packed newsroom awaiting a phone call from Hughes (Warren Beatty) who has holed up in an Mexican hotel room, to debunk a tell-all book about him, and prove to the world that he is still alive, and that he is not crazy.  The film then jumps back in time and tells us the story of hired driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), and one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins).  Hughes of course has a strict no dating policy between his drivers and his contract actresses, but naturally sparks fly between the two, but ambitions on both sides get in the way. 

She wants to be an actress, he wants to invest and develop land with Hughes.  Both want to meet their reclusive boss, and when he does arrive on the scene and each does get to meet him, things get a little crazier and a lot more complicated.  Beatty’s Hughes is a character I’d love to meet.  He was a bit nuts, but often times he was still the smartest man in the room.

The film was enjoyable, both as a look at a bygone Hollywood age, and as a fictional biopic of Howard Hughes.  Warren Beatty really stood out in the film, which is not surprising as he was screenwriter, director and star.  That aside, his performance really was excellent.  He walked a fine line between sanity and insanity, between genius and insanity. The film almost felt like Sunset Boulevard with Howard Hughes instead of Norma Desmond.  Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) had great chemistry with everybody, and I really enjoyed her singing too.  The film really brought together a great cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen and Oliver Platt among others.

At times I do think that the film lost it’s course a bit and couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a comedy or a dramatic tragedy, but overall the story was light and it was enjoyable.  The pieces they chose to show of Hughes’ life were interesting and they even managed to throw a few twists in that I did not see coming.

Bottom Line: I thought I should watch The Aviator to get some more Howard Hughes, but I decided to watch The Rocketeer instead.  I love The Rocketeer!

Free Fire – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Usually the climax of an action film is the shootout, in Free Fire, the entire movie was the shootout!  In 1970s Boston, two sets of criminals arrange a gun deal, but one of the henchmen (Harry) recognizes one of the other henchmen (Stevo) from a bar fight the night before because the latter assaulted the former’s cousin.  Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) are the buyers and Ord (Armie Hammer), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor) are the sellers.  Just when things are almost settled between the two sides someone pulls a gun and shoots someone.  Though they are initially split by geography and loose loyalties, it soon becomes a deadly game of “everyone for themselves” as everyone grabs a weapon.

Set entirely in one place (an abandoned factory/warehouse) the story is a bit claustrophobic, but I think it was saved by the characters and the cleverness of the dialogue.  While the action was completely over the top, I found it to actually be fairly realistic.  Even though they seemed to have an endless supply of bullets, our bad guys (because they are all terrible people who you can’t really root for)  do have to stop and reload.  Every one of them got shot at some point: a bullet in the arm, a shot in the leg, one man gets grazed in the head exposing his brain; and while it may be gruesome, the violence wasn’t glorified.   I also appreciated that the bad guys were not really good shots, it’s difficult to shoot and hit your target especially when you’re a target yourself, and have been hit yourself as well.

Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) pretty much stole the show, but Michael Smiley (Luther) came really close too.  I loved the dialogue he had with Armie Hammer, almost as much as I loved the back and forths between Copley and Brie Larson.  There wasn’t really a whole lot of a message or purpose or complexity to the movie which is fine, it was pretty much just a black comedy thriller about two groups of trigger happy criminals trying to survive by killing the other guys.  It was fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I think it’s safe to say this film was a bit of an experiment, so the runtime of 91 minutes was perfect.  I don’t think the film would have worked if it was any longer.

Bottom Line: It’s a good thing there’s no honour among thieves, because if the gun deal went down smoothly, Free Fire would have been an awfully short film…

All Nighter – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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J.K. Simmons.

I was thinking of leaving that as my entire review, but you deserve more….more J.K. Simmons that is!  I love J.K. Simmons, and this movie just kept that love going.  Simmons plays Frank Gallo, the no-nonsense, businessman father of Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) ex-girlfriend Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton).  Six months ago Martin had a disastrous “meet the father” night with Ginnie and Mr. Gallo, where he did everything wrong.  He didn’t pull out Ginnie’s chair for her, he sat down before her, he is a musician, he’s a vegetarian, he spilled wine on her father.  Things could not have gone worse.  Flash forward to today when Mr. Gallo knocks on Martin’s door looking for his daughter, not knowing that Martin and Ginnie broke up a few months ago.  Martin takes Mr. Gallo on a wild chase all across Los Angeles, meeting an array of characters, and following hints and slim leads that might lead them to Ginnie, who isn’t answering her phone.

As the night goes on, what you expect to happen pretty much does happen; Martin and Frank slowly warm to each other and end up forming a friendship.  They learn a bit about each other, and so do we.  We learn a bit about why Ginnie and Martin broke up, we learn a bit about why Frank broke up with Ginnie’s mother, and those same reasons are why he has a strained relationship with his daughter to this day.  The film was funny and just what I was expecting.  It carefully  balanced sarcasm and relatable situations with mild slapstick humour.  I think the term “predictable” is used too often when talking about movies.  I wouldn’t say that All Nighter was entirely “predictable”, I’d call it more of a “comfortable” movie.  I was comfortable with the way things unfolded because while a lot of what happened was what I expected, they also didn’t do the most expected things.  Martin did not get back together with Ginnie, and I’m glad he didn’t.  His character had fallen into alcohol and depression when she left, but the night with Frank did help him and moved him out of that funk.  To simply get them back together would have been a waste of every discovery Martin had made about himself that night.

The acting was very good, and I loved J.K. Simmons as the tough guy, sarcastic, smart-ass, in-charge-of-every-situation, father-knows-best character.  Emile Hirsch was very relatable as Martin and I think he wins the audience as a bit of an underdog.  The supporting characters were interesting, from Ginnie’s former co-workers to her former roommates.  Kristen Schaal and Taran Killam as Ginnie and Martin’s friends Roberta and Gary were funny at first, but in my opinion overstayed their welcome making their characters more annoying than humourous.  The other supporting characters simply did their job and didn’t stick around or return.

Overall though the film had some solid laughs and a decent narrative arc.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and would easily recommend it if you’re looking for some light entertainment for 86 minutes.

Bottom Line: I want J.K. Simmons to be my movie dad.

Last King – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Just a quick timeframe update, I’m now only 8 movies behind in my reviews, and am finally reviewing things I watched over the Victoria Day long weekend!  Why is this significant?  The films I’m talking about are still fairly fresh in my mind and I’m only a month behind!  Alright, for some reason I got on a little foreign film kick which was quite enjoyable.  I’d seen the trailer for The Last King on several of the movies I rented and was quite intrigued.

In the year 1206 the throne of Norway is in turmoil. King Håkon is murdered by the queen who is in league with Gisle (Pål Sverre Hagen) who clearly wants the throne for himself, but is also in league with the church, who wish to convert the country to Christianity.  In order to seize power he dispatches a team of Baglers to kill t
he King’s illegitimate infant son, Håkon Håkonsson who is being guarded in secrecy by two members of the Birkebeiner.  The Baglers (or Bagli Party) was a faction during the Norwegian Civil Wars made up principally of the Norwegian aristocracy, clergy and merchants. The Birkebeiner were another key group and at this time supported the King.  Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV, who ended the civil wars in 1240 and forever changed Northern Europe’s history through his reign.

Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro) and Torstein (Kristofer Hivju) race through the snow, the mountains and the forests to get the baby to the seat of the Norwegian throne as they’re hunted by the Baglers, stopping briefly at farms and homes that are loyal to them.  Along the way, we see Gisle jail his own brother Inge (Thorbjørn Harr), accusing him of conspiring for the throne and killing the King, and to cement his own path he conspires to marry Princess Kristin (Thea Sofie Loch Næss).  The political scheming and intrigue are probably not much different from what they are now nearly 800 years later, just that they skied a lot more back then…

The camera work was excellent, and director Nils Gaup finely balanced the action and the drama of the moment with light humour.  The action was great, and the scenery was beautiful.  The fights were well choreographed, and the ski chases were very exciting, all making for a very enjoyable medieval action movie. What makes this even more impressive is that it is actually based on a true story. I’m certain the story was embellished for the screen, and what we saw was not 100% historically accurate, but I still enjoyed it.

Bottom Line: There sure were a lot of actors from In Order of Disappearance in The Last King

East Side Sushi – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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After working long, early days for little pay at a fruit cart in Los Angeles (I think, I can’t remember), Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is robbed one day and has decided she needs to make a change in her life.  She is also frustrated with her night job at a local gym.  One day she sees a help wanted sign in the window of a sushi restaurant on her way home, and decides to apply.  Having worked in restaurants before, but unfamiliar with sushi, she still feels she’s up to the challenge.  Starting in the kitchen working prep and cleanup, Juana soon becomes intrigued by the culinary concept, and begins to experiment at home, recreating the restaurant’s menu with limited success for her Mexican-American family.  Eventually Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), one of the sushi chefs takes her under his wing, and helps instruct her, which pays off one busy night.  Making dishes in the back room for the front house chefs, Juana yearns for more, but the restaurant’s traditionally  minded owner Mr. Yoshida (Roji Oyama) doesn’t think that women should be sushi chefs, especially if they aren’t Japanese.  In a feel good story, Juana learns and adapts to the ways of sushi as she struggles to overcome both the racism and the sexism of the restaurant industry.  When she enters an online sushi cooking competition, will she have proven herself enough to realize her newfound dream of becoming an actual sushi chef?

There is something about food movies that seems to draw me in, even though I’m not particularly competent in the kitchen myself.  I’ve never had sushi before either, but I do like Mexican food, so the premise of a Mexican woman making sushi but blending the foods and flavours of her own culture into the dishes made  East Side Sushi look interesting enough to me.  The story unfolded as predicted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This wasn’t a suspense thriller and wasn’t going to have surprises around every corner.  It was a feel good story that was meant to entertain, enlighten and maybe teach a little.  I enjoyed the performances as well as the story and how it was told, and I’ll also admit I was pretty hungry after watching.

The film hits all the usual notes and reminds us to take chances, get out of your comfort zone and to believe in yourself.  All in all, a solid little indie film that was worth watching.

Bottom Line: I still haven’t tried sushi, but I did go to a great Mexican place here in town last week.

In Order of Disappearance – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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On the evening that Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) accepts a citizenship award, his son is murdered after becoming involved with a vegan gangster called “the Count” (Pål Sverre Hagen).  Nils had dutifully plowed the roads of his small town after immigrating to Norway from Sweden, but now finds himself plowing through an escalating gang war as he seeks revenge for his son’s death by killing his way to the top of the criminal mountain.

Nils’ wife leaves him as she struggles with the depression brought on by the death of their son.  Alone, Nils beats up and shoots low level gang members as he tries to discover who was behind his son’s death, eventually turning to his brother (Peter Andersson), a former gangster himself who points him in the direction of the Count.  The Count doesn’t have it easy either though, he sees his operatives being killed and assumes it’s a turf war with a Serbian gangster named Papa (Bruno Ganz), with whom he had previously had agreed to split the town’s drug trade 50/50 to avoid violence.  He’s also fighting with his ex-wife over visitation times and the raising their son.  As the Serbians move into town to fight the Count, the bodies start piling up, and the Count’s son is about to be kidnapped by the Serbians and held hostage for the final reckoning in the film’s climax.  Of course the boy is kidnapped by Nils before the Serbians could get him, but there is still a final reckoning.  Remember that Nils is a grief-stricken father, so he actually takes care of the boy, keeping him safe and shielding him from the violence of his father’s world.  This was a very well done film on so many levels.  There was action, there was suspense, there was drama and even heart.  There was also a lot of extremely black and extraordinarily dry humour.  Each time a character is killed, there was an “in memoriam” style card on screen, with a logo to represent their allegiance in the story, which was a nice touch I thought.

Nils was actually a very relatable character for someone taking out gangland style justice, which speaks to the skill of Stellan Skarsgård.  He expertly balances Nils’ violent side and at the same time his vulnerable side. The character has probably never been in a fight but is going up against seasoned killers and criminals.  The film does a great job showing how easily an average person can turn into a systematic and determined revenge-seeker.  Aside from Skarsgård, there were quite a few other recognizable actors.  Pål Sverre Hagen was quite humorous as the Count but he also played Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki and was in The Last King (which I’ve recently watched and will review soon) which starred  Kristofer Hivju as Torstein and  Jakob Oftebro as Skjervald who were also both in this film.  Peter Andersson played Nils’ brother Egil was Nils Bjurman in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, and German actor Bruno Ganz has been in lots of things (Remember, Night Train to Lisbon, Unknown, The Reader, Downfall, Manchurian Candidate to name a few…).  The scenery and setting were wonderful, I really rather enjoyed this one.  If you are in the mood for a foreign language crime drama with quite a bit of a dark humour, give this one a try.

Bottom Line: We know this in Canada, but In Order of Disappearance reminds the rest of the world that you don’t mess with the snowplow guy….though Nils was less likely to block your driveway than he was to plow your car over a cliff…

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Never go back?  Well, if we didn’t go back we wouldn’t get sequels to movies that we enjoyed, though sometimes the follow-up does diminish the original.  I don’t think that was exactly the case with Jack Reacher Never Go Back (or Jack Reacher 2 if you prefer), but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first film.  That being said, I still believe that Jack Reacher can be a successful action franchise and still put out a few more good films.

Jack Reacher has been on the road, travelling here and there, righting wrongs, bringing criminals to justice and quietly assisting the army.  He’s stricken up a friendship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has his former job.  Communicating by phone, it seems they will finally meet up in person and have that dinner they’ve discussed but Major Turner is arrested on treason charges.  Reacher thinks the charges are just to keep her out of the way and prevent her from solving the mystery of two soldiers murdered in Afghanistan; soldiers she sent on an investigation; soldiers who were getting too close to the truth; soldiers she still feels responsible for.  Reacher finds the file on Turner, and inside it is a file on him as well, a file that suggests he has a teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) he never knew about.  Naturally the girl is threatened so Reacher has to bring her along with himself and Major Turner as they cross the United States tracking down clues and beating up bad guys as they get to the bottom of the frame-up.

I liked it, but felt it was turning into a family road trip movie rather than a spy/action thriller.  I signed up for a spy/action thriller.  Fortunately there was enough action to carry it, and it was shared pretty well between Cruise and Smulders.  Cruise as Reacher did have more action scenes, and more important ones, but Smulders’ Major Turner was quite capable on her own (Smulders herself was Deputy Director of SHIELD Maria Hill if you remember).  That was great, but I thought that the addition of their teenage travelling companion really slowed the movie down though.  Danika Yarosh did a good job, but the character herself didn’t seem to fit.  If the premise is that Reacher thinks the bad guys will harm her to get to him, and that Reacher is the best at what he does, does it make good strategic sense to bring her along with you?  Maybe once they’re “safe” call someone to pick her up, or send her off to be watched by someone he trusts?  The lawyer played by Rosamund Pike in the first one perhaps?  His old sniper friend (Robert Duvall) from the first movie?  Wait, he might have died in that one, it’s been a few years and I can’t remember.  Regardless, Reacher has contacts out there that he could call upon to keep the girl safe, which might have allowed for more action, more suspense and the the story to unfold a little better.  Who knows.

I think since we’ve had films like The Transporter and John Wick where the action has been amped up so much that action movies are continually trying to outdo themselves which is getting harder and harder.  Jack Reacher Never Go Back did a very good job with the fights, but I think the original was actually more “action packed”.  I liked the story, and was a little surprised by one of the reveals of the plot.  Not a bad film, but it played the “family” card a bit too heavily I thought.

Bottom Line: I liked Reacher a lot more when he drove a Chevelle SS…this one needed more car chases.

The Wave – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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I’m not normally a fan of “disaster” films, but for some reason The Wave struck me as something worth watching.  A town on a lake, by a mountain in Norway sits ten minutes from disaster at any given moment.  The mountain is unstable, and there have been landslides before, the rock tumbling into the lake below which causes a wave that floods the town.  Around the turn of the century it happened and a tsunami wiped out the town.  The scientists know it will happen again.

Krisitan (Kristoffer Joner) is a geologist who has just taken a new job in another city and is preparing to move with his family (wife Idun played by Ane Dahl Torp and his children Sondre and Julia played by Jonas Hoff Oftebro and Edith Haagenrud-Sande) to somewhere inland and leave his friends who work at the station that monitors the mountain.  On his last day, after the cake has been eaten, and his desk cleared out, Kristian and the team notice an abnormal reading.  The team pass it off as being within safety limits, but promise the concerned Kristian they will continue to monitor it.  Naturally this wouldn’t be much of a movie if the main characters all move out of town safely…. In a bit of a cliche, Kristian does worry about the data and returns to the station even though his job is done.  Disaster does strike, the readings get worse, and the mountain is in motion.  With his wife working her last shift at a hotel with their son in tow, and Kristian and their young daughter saying goodbye with one final sleep in their old house, the race is on as the alarm sounds and the entire town has ten minutes to get to higher ground and escape the imminent wave.

I think I enjoyed this Norwegian disaster-thriller because everything seemed plausible.  The characters were smart but not supermen.  Kristian was a very intelligent geologist who used his training and knowledge to detect and diagnose the shift in the mountain, but he didn’t (and couldn’t) do anything to stop it.  Idun was a strong and intelligent woman, who kept her head and evacuated her hotel guests but got trapped saving her son.  These really seemed like real people doing what they were supposed to do in the event of this disaster that hey knew loomed above them.  They didn’t find a way to save the town, they didn’t save everybody, they didn’t escape without a scratch.  The town was devastated, lots of people died (including characters that were developed so we would have an emotional attachment to them), and lots of people were injured.  The disaster itself wasn’t caused by anything overly exaggerated like Godzilla, or an asteroid, or explosions, or mining, or any other sort of “man shouldn’t be doing this” situation, this was just caused by nature.

The film does a good job showing us what sort of people choose to live and visit this town that is known to be in a “danger zone”, and they are really just regular people, not thrill seekers or anything like that, but regular everyday people, living their lives but also living in a heightened state of alert.  The Wave also does an excellent job building the suspense before the climactic disaster occurs.  The movie really focuses on the characters and their development rather than dazzling action scenes which makes the whole thing work.  The cinematography and the effects were very good, as was the score.  Director Roar Uthaug did an excellent job making us care about the family, and masterfully broke the story down to three acts: calm before the storm, the wave, and the results.  I really enjoyed the cast, and it was nice to see that the family involved were just a normal family, not downtrodden or divorcing or angry, just normal.  They didn’t need a gimmick attached to them so the audience would care about them.  Kristoffer Joner was excellent as the likeable guy at work, and as a dedicated family man.  Ane Dahl Torp equalled him as his hardworking wife.  I really did enjoy her, and I knew she looked familiar.  I had to look it up, but Dahl Torp was in Dead Snow, the 2009 Nazi-Zombie flick!

Bottom Line: This could almost be an anti-Hollywood disaster film.  Much better than the effect filled spot-fests we’ve been fed before.

Zootopia – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review


Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it.  Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child.  But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony.  Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes.  Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force.  To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage.  Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…

The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience.  It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew.  Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices.  Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though?  When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear.  Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.

Bottom Line: Okay, the Shakira song from the film is still kind of stuck in my head….as is the Rock’s “You’re Welcome” song from Moana…. curse you Disney.

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