A hopping happy time had at the El Capitan for Zootopia

Disney’s new animated feature “Zootopia” is worth seeing more than once and one of those times should be at the Hollywood El Capitan for a fun educational experience and a chance to get Disney merchandise. This is a treat that Disney and animation fans don’t have in other cities and runs until April 10, 2016.

Get there early so you have time to view the production sketches downstairs and take a photo either on one of the three park benches in front of the Zootopia backdrop. Try getting the photos downstairs before the show or rush down after the end of the movie. It gets crowded after the show.  Just before you enter the theater, you can take photos with the statues of Judy Hopps and Nicholas P. Wilde. Before and after the show, the behind-the-scenes exhibit downstairs gives you an idea of how the filmmakers researched and designed all the mammal inhabitants of “Zootopia.”

Before the show, we were treated to organ music (songs from “Frozen”). Our MC, Jeremy, introduced Wendy from the Wildlife Learning Center. Wendy brought three live animals on stage. Don’t worry if you’re not in the very front seats because this close encounter will be live-streamed on to a screen above between informational graphics. First up was a lovely grey rabbit.  The bunny is followed by a red fox who unlike the bunny, would not make a good pet, we’re told. The final animal is famous enough to have her own Twitter account: Lola the sloth. The good thing is that the presentation clearly explains why only the bunny would be a great pet. You need more help on that or want to avoid the unwanted Easter Bunny June syndrome, you can always visit the Wildlife Learning Center (16027 Yarnell Street, Sylmar, CA 91342) or consult with the House Rabbit Society.

Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps also come on stage to perform a dance. Who wouldn’t love new Disney characters.

The movie itself is an animated success. Walt Disney Animation Studios has done what Disney Pixar filed to do with “The Good Dinosaur”: Provided a well-imagined society confined to one particular type of animal. In “The Good Dinosaur” it was dinosaurs, both herbivore and carnivore with a few mammals around to serve as possible meals for the carnivores or to be the varmints that all farmers hate. The human boy, Spot, begins as a varmint and ends up as a friend.

“Zootopia” is about anthropomorphic mammals without the intrusion of humankind.  The movie begins with an animated tiger hunting for a rabbit in a form we’re more familiar with, but that’s all in the fevered imagination of a young anthropomorphic juvenile rabbit Judy Hopps. In school play, she and her pals are explaining the history  behind Zootopia, a big city where mammals, predator and prey, first came together in peace. Judy lives in the rural town of Bunnyburrow with her friends and over 200 siblings. Her siblings aren’t there to back her up when she’s bullied by a fox, Gideon Grey (Phil Johnston). Predators may not eat prey any more, but some animals have more brute force and that makes them better at certain things such as bullying other kids or police work. Her parents have a rabbity notion that settling is better than dreaming because one doesn’t get disappointed.

Judy’s dream is to be the first rabbit police officer and as a young adult, she enrolls in the Zootopia Police Academy. By clever thinking, and hard work, she graduates as class valedictorian and becomes the first rabbit police officer. Unfortunately, in a squad room filled with bears, elephants, tigers, cheetahs and rhinos, who are assigned to look for 13 of the 14 missing mammals i their precinct, she is assigned by the water buffalo boss of the 1st Precinct, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to meter maid duties.

Using her good hearing and hopping abilities, she does double her quota, but gets hustled by two fox con artists Nicholas P. Wilde (Jason Bateman) and Finnick (Tom Lister Jr). Although she confront Nick, she realizes she can’t arrest or charge him. Her parents are overjoyed that she won’t be in danger, but on day two of meter maid duties, Judy is harassed and tired. She lets a robber, Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk),  run past her meter maid cart, but then hops in happy pursuit. Her size is an advantage over the bigger cops when the thief runs into the rodent designated areas. Judy may be a giant, but she’s small enough to get through the streets and even saves a certain well-to-do mouse, Fru Fru (Leah Latham) from being crushed under an errant donut sign.

Although Bogo is initially angry that Judy has left her meter maid post and caught a criminal, he’s even angrier when he’s forced to assign her to look for the 14th missing mammal, Mr. Otterton . Bogo can’t easily dismiss Mrs. Otteron (Octavio Spencer) who happens to come to his office while Judy is there and take Judy off the case when the assistant mayor Dawn Bellwether (Jenny Slate) sends a message that Judy has taken the Otterton case to the mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).

Although Otterton missing person file has only one photo and Judy doesn’t have access to the police database, she realizes that Nick might have some information about the case and pulls her own hustle with the help of a recording carrot pen (which you can purchase at the Disney store). As this is a Disney film, of course, they will solve this case, but Judy must overcome her own prejudices against foxes and fix the problems that her arrest brings about when the prey mammals begin to fear that the predator mammals have the potential to go savage.

Some people want to interpret the movie has a good way to explain race and racism. That might be dangerous as there exists a separate-but-equal feeling in the segregation of the species. Others feel that this is about more than race, but people with different interests and habits. One such person at El Capitan was furry person who prefers to be known as Kei Fox. El Capitan was his second viewing of “Zootopia” and he loved it. Viewing it for a second time, like myself, I’m sure he picked up things that you won’t notice the first time around. At the end, he proved that he knew all the words to Shakira’s song. The movie’s message for Kei Fox, who showed me a photo of himself dressed as Nick P. Wilde, was that this movie is about looking beyond preconceived notions and judging people as they are, saying, “This film appeals to me because we are so often stereotyped. It is a great benefit to us because it is all about stereotypes and how those aren’t not always right.” Later he wrote,  “As a furry, we have been often viewed negatively as sexually perverted, even vulgarly zoophilic (being sexually attracted to normal animals). These perspectives are false, created by others who lack understanding, seeking only to attack what they simply find to be unusual and easily misconstruing,” he wrote in an email that he sent to me later.

This movie reaches out to different people and has lessons for all. The show at El Capitan is an enhanced but safe experience for the first time or the second or third time. In addition, you’ll get to see the latest toys and Zootopia related merchandise that Disney has on sale and have a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate on your way out. The El Capitan Zootopia experience ranks as one of their best presentations and would be a great way to celebrate Easter, rabbits, animation or the joy of being a kid (no matter what age).

On Tiny Tot Tuesdays, families can enjoy the movie with lights dimmed and sound level reduced at 10 a.m. On select days, you can join a breakfast with Judy Hopps before the 10 a.m. show and get a commemorative photo. Seating is limited and requires an advance purchase with the purchase of a movie ticket. To call and ask about food and meal packages (at the Hollywood Dave & Busters), dial (818) 845-3110.

Showtimes are 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. $28-$15. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The movie is rated PG. VIP tickets which include reserved seating, popcorn and drinks for $28.  For more information or to buy tickets, visit El Capitan’s website. 



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