Monthly Archives: March 2016

March 24, 2016

Best Original Screenplay* 1948: The Search


Winner in the category of WRITING (Motion Picture Story) at the 21st Academy Awards, presented March 24, 1949 at Academy Award Theater.

The other nominees were:

Louisiana Story – Frances and Robert Flaherty
The Naked City – Malvin Wald
Red River – Borden Chase
The Red Shoes – Emeric Pressburger

The Search was also a nominee in the category of WRITING (Screenplay); it lost to the adapted screenplay of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (The Search was the only film nominated in both categories.)

Screenplay is not accessible, to my knowledge.

First lines in film:

– Get them out as quickly as you can, but be careful with them; they’ve had a very rough trip.
– Yes, ma’am.

BROOM Hooray! We’re back on track, everybody!

BETH Sort of.

BROOM This was basically “Son of Marie-Louise.” It was by the same author, and it was the same weird thing, somewhere in between being a real story and a just-for-the-sake-of-depicting-important-issues story.

ADAM I found this much more affecting than Marie-Louise.

BROOM Were you annoyed that BETH and I sort of switched into making-fun-of-it mode, toward the end?

ADAM Well, I was sort of tearing up toward the end. I thought it was very sad. Even though it had all these clunky elements, it was still very affecting.

BETH I actually was crying in the beginning, and didn’t want either of you to know.

BROOM I knew.

ADAM We knew.

BROOM But I was moved also. I was moved basically until he started learning English, and then it became…

BETH Some other kind of movie.

BROOM Yeah. It didn’t work for me anymore.

BETH It was this weird combination of didactic, Disney-style educational film, mixed with these really moving, poignant scenes of shell-shocked kids being hustled through the system, which were probably pretty accurate. It made me really think about what that was like, and I hadn’t thought about what that was like. And I thought about your grandmother, and what these people went through.

BROOM She was a little older. But I felt the same way for the first half: there was something effective about its being in between — just like Marie-Louise was, but even moreso — in between a documentary and a fiction… kind of a transparently shoddy fiction. I thought it was such a strange and interesting effect that the movie essentially started with the boy running away from a documentary about him. There was a narrator, like a real documentary: “And now the children get in these trucks, but they’re very afraid…” And he couldn’t take it any more and ran away. I found that affecting. I was having the same thoughts you were: “Oh, right, of course it’s traumatizing. Of course these people are ruined for life.”

BETH Yeah. These kids can’t trust anyone, even kind adults, because all they know is the opposite.

BROOM It was striking to me: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie about a terrible event like a war or a genocide that’s purely about the trauma in the aftermath. The bad thing is no longer happening, but you’re living in a traumatized world.

ADAM Well, Sophie’s Choice.

BROOM But that’s about flashbacks, and this was really exclusively a movie about coping in the present. Yes, I guess Sophie’s Choice is also about “can you find love again, can you find meaning again, if you’re a traumatized person,” but what I was gonna say is — I’ve seen devastated Germany and France in so many World War II movies — Saving Private Ryan and the like — but somehow, because it was shot in such a pedestrian way on the real locations, and because we were in this mindset of thinking about trauma, I was really struck by it in a fresh way: “Wow, places that were normal are now just a crazy landscape of rubble.”

BETH That’s what Germany, Year Zero is. It’s also about a boy wandering around rubble. It looks so much like this, but it has a different tone.

ADAM I found it weirdly disturbing to see all the children running away from Americans. I wanted to be like “No no no, you misunderstood!”

BETH Right! But that’s how the Americans reacted too. That moved me.

ADAM The Americans weren’t really very… I mean, Montgomery Clift was like a child whisperer — but the matron was just doing her best. She didn’t have the touch.

BETH She did not have the touch. She was like, “Say something nice to them. Because I can’t.”

ADAM “Her parents were gassed.” [the matron, without a hint of sadness:] “I see!

BROOM It was a point being made, in the scheme of the movie, that she and her male equivalent were emotional clods.

ADAM Were you supposed to see her as having been redeemed and softened by the end?


BETH You don’t think so? I do.

ADAM I think the actress just wasn’t skilled enough to convince you of that.

BETH I think you’re supposed to see her as well-intentioned, doing her job as best she can…

BROOM Yeah, I think, as ADAM said, she just didn’t have the touch; she’s just one of those people, and such people still do good works in the world.

ADAM The actress was too kindly at the beginning and too brusque at the end to really show the character arc, but I think she was meant to be, like, a tough cookie in the system who softened. But maybe not.

BROOM Well, I think the logic of the “dramatic arc” only applies so far. I feel like this movie — just like Marie-Louise — was trying to be very open about the fact that its function was just to help you think about a thing in the real world. “We’re only telling a story insofar as that’s a good way of getting across the documentary content.” That’s what it seemed like to me. So I thought the matron character, and the dumb guy who was like “Ah! I see! This boy is afraid of punishment!” — the only point was, like: “Sometimes, in the happy friendly world, kids still encounter people who seem scary to them.” And that was it. It wasn’t supposed to be about what happens to these particular characters. That’s how I felt the whole movie: storytelling as a way of getting at reality; as opposed to storytelling as wonderful in itself. And I think that’s why I felt done with it after a certain point. When we were just in the anticipation-of-the-ending phase. Because this story was never a real journey, to me, it was just a scheme.

ADAM The pacing was very slow in a way that — I don’t know if that was just the forties, or the style of this movie in particular — but there were several minutes of just jeeps, or driving…

BETH “Why are we watching so much of this dinner party?”

ADAM The movie had a real surprising willingness to just let you listen to foreign languages and have no idea what was going on.

BETH I actually liked that about it, because I feel like that established a sense of realism. “Oh, this is what it would be like if I were there.”

BROOM I wondered whether that might be just that we were renting it on Youtube and maybe that kind of subtitling doesn’t come on automatically. But then I thought, “well, it’s working for me as it is.”

BETH No, Marie-Louise was like that too.

BROOM But that was a foreign-language film.

BETH Yeah, but sometimes there were other languages within it.

BROOM Well, Europeans are more likely to know other languages.

ADAM There was nothing you needed to understand. Everything got translated for you, ultimately.

BROOM Yeah, you’re right. It worked so well this way it was probably intended. And it was suitable since it gave you the experience of being one of these kids who doesn’t understand the language being spoken to them, most of the time.

BETH Right.

ADAM Next time they should make it from the perspective of the boy, where you can’t understand any of the words until two-thirds of the way through.

BETH Until you’re looking at pictures of —

BROOM Umbrellas and ostriches.

ADAM Tomatoes. “Pretty girl!” Montgomery Clift did look a lot like Tom Cruise, and he did have that wisacre-knucklehead “I’m sure of myself” charm of Risky Business Tom Cruise. He was really hot.

BROOM From the very beginning I thought, “Oh, he’s like someone.” After about ten minutes I thought, “Owen Wilson.” But later I thought, “No, it’s Tom Cruise, because Tom Cruise acts exactly like this, too.” The whole personal presentational style and demeanor.

BETH How he carries himself.

BROOM What he does with his face, his manner. You said earlier that he’s like a child whisperer, but actually — knowing in advance it was going to be about Montgomery Clift thawing this traumatized kid…

ADAM You thought of Rainman?

BROOM No. I thought it was indeed gonna be a “child whisperer” movie, and then I was struck by the fact that this American, “Steve,” was not actually particularly attuned to the kid; he was just a basically nice guy.

BETH He was also doing his best.

BROOM Right. He didn’t have a special kind of soft touch. He was just the kind of person where you can sense that he’s friendly. Even if he says the wrong thing, and yells at you when you say you want to find your mother. That was the moment when I really detached from the movie. It was obviously just to draw things out.

ADAM Even though I knew that they would find each other, I was legitimately worried that he would be taken to America and never find her. I didn’t actually think that was gonna happen, but it was still stressful.

BROOM So did you guys not share with me the sensation that we were a couple meters further away from this movie than we would be from most movies, as an audience?

BETH I did share that sensation, yeah. My impression of Montgomery Clift prior to this was that he was really intense, always kind of overplaying his roles, but here he was doing what the job called for, which was to be slightly dopey — you know, a normal guy, instead of an intense, suffering soul. And that impressed me, because I didn’t think that was part of his ability.

ADAM I can’t even think of anything else he was in.

BROOM What have you seen him in, BETH?

BETH Red River and something else, with Elizabeth Taylor.

BROOM We can look this up. A Place in the Sun?


BROOM I had his Wikipedia entry open because I just wanted to read this one thing into the conversation: “Clift’s second movie was The Search. Clift was unhappy with the quality of the script, and rewrote most of it himself. The movie was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award, but the original writers were credited.”

BETH He rewrote most of it himself?!

BROOM I assume it just means his part. Which is probably why we were scoffing at the absurdity of the dialogue in other scenes, and less so his scenes.

BETH Yeah. Interesting. How old was he?

BROOM Twenty-seven or -eight, depending on when it was filmed. He turned twenty-eight in 1948.

BETH So part of what I found problematic about the matron was her acting, but I also think she wasn’t given very good stuff to work with. Which contrasts with how good the mother was, because I think she also wasn’t given great stuff to work with, but she sold it. Also the British guy who ripped the vestments off the kid.

ADAM “Oh! You’re not a little Catholic boy!”

BROOM “Oh I see! That’s not his real name!”

ADAM That was still a heartbreaking scene, where the mother has to wait there excitedly.

BETH We had to suffer already knowing what was going to happen. It’s super-manipulative, in a way that isn’t okay.

BROOM That scene actually didn’t work for me. Because this obviously isn’t her son — we the audience know it and the writers know that we know it, because we know very well that our boy didn’t sign up for the choir when he first arrived — so when we’re watching her waiting in this room, we don’t feel suspense, we just feel like, “Ughhhh….”

BETH We feel dread.

BROOM Yeah, just dismay that we’re about to watch her get bad news and be sad. They make us sit with that for a while. I thought, “Does this map on to some emotion that’s relevant to this subject matter?” I’m not sure it does. It’s not awareness-raising in any real way. So that didn’t really work for me.

BETH But the whole movie is manipulative, in that it’s giving false hope to all of these people in this moment who might still have unresolved situations with their own relatives.

BROOM Well, it’s 1948 by the time this comes out.

BETH I guess by then most things have been resolved.

BROOM In fact, the movie was pretty clear that in real life, the mother would almost certainly be dead. It was only miraculously that she happened to be alive.

ADAM This movie doesn’t really shed any tears for Dr. Malik or the daughter.

BETH It sure doesn’t!

BROOM When they said that the father and sister were deported and he was left with his mother, I was so sure that the mother was going to die and it was going to be about finding the father and sister. But it was the other way around.

ADAM “Dr. Malik was known all over town because he was a good doctor.” Then there’s six minutes of them playing violin.

BETH That was a needlessly long scene.

BROOM No, that worked for me. The point was that he came from a place of culture, safety, beauty, and this magical sound of classical music that you’re never going to hear again. I felt like that was worth something.

ADAM Until you hear that angelic children’s choir…

BETH And you think maybe he was drawn to those voices. I think maybe that’s what we were supposed to think.

BROOM No, I could tell those voices weren’t Czech.

ADAM Very little actually seemed Czech in this movie.

BROOM He looked Czech, to me.

BETH The French kid at the beginning who was his friend was a good actor. I was struck by him prior to anyone saying anything. There’s a lot of pure cinema in this, which I appreciated — like the whole scene where they were running away.

BROOM You mean dialogue-free?

BETH Yeah.

BROOM I thought maybe you meant using real-world people and locations.


BROOM My opinion about Richard Schweizer is that his whole attitude, which is a very old-fashioned attitude — the fundamental idea of it kinda works for me: you admit that what you’re doing is propaganda, and then you tell a very schematic story — I think within that premise, Schweizer actually has good ideas. Like the picture of the dogs on the wall, that’s affecting; it works for me. Or, like I said, the scene of music-making at home. All these things, which are essentially filmic ideas, are good. But then the dialogue is like… it’s like what my grandmother would write. I feel like my grandmother had this old-world dramatic heart, where she would very much identify with the idea that the kid looks at the picture of the doggies on the wall and that means “mother” to him. She would have thought of that, and she would equally have thought of dialogue like “Oh dear, what is this that you’ve done!” This stilted, melodramatic attitude toward dialogue. I can believe that Montgomery Clift rewrote all the words that came out of his mouth, but he didn’t rewrite the actual content of the scenes, because they still served those weird functions.

BETH Yeah. There were some weird scenes.

BROOM When the kid is like, “I want to find my mother!” And Steve says “Just come have dinner! Go to your room!” That didn’t make any sense for the character.

BETHJeeps are from America! I am from America! I’ll be right back!

ADAM Did that boy serve any function other than to cry and make Karel realize he didn’t have a mother?


BROOM To be a wretched American. I didn’t enjoy his presence at all. Or his mother’s.

BETH Yeah, she was weird.

BROOM It seemed like amateurish actors for a lot of the parts. Except for Monty. I can imagine they budgeted more for that role and for the mother.

BETH And that guy, his army buddy who’s in Rear Window and a lot of other stuff.

BROOM That seems to be Wendell Corey.

BETH He was a solid sort of “If I’m here, things are gonna be fine” kind of guy.

[digression about Wendell Corey’s political career &c.]

BETH Do you have any final thoughts?

BROOM Before we wrap up I want to make sure we all talk about this as writing, since that’s the project. Oh, and let me establish: this is the year in which it starts to get skoovy about what award category to follow.

BETH Are you gonna write S-K-O-O-V-Y?


BROOM If I do transcribe it, I would go with the Y. A “skoovie” with an I-E would be a noun. You would put it on your mantelpiece.

ADAM You affix it to the back of your boat.

[digression about Boaty McBoatface]

BROOM Right, so, this year there was no “Best Original Screenplay,” there was just “Best Screenplay” and “Best Story.” This movie was the winner of “Best Story,” which we went with because “Best Screenplay” went to an adaptation, and we’re trying to follow the concept of “original screenplay.” Of course, there had been a “Best Story” category all along, so, yes, maybe we should have started with that. But there’s no backsies in this game. So this movie was the winner of “Best Story.” Do you feel that it had… the best story?

ADAM I think that the story will probably linger in our minds for longer than the writing will.

BROOM For sure. I don’t remember a single word from Marie-Louise, but I remember the gist.

BETH I don’t remember a lot of Marie-Louise, I have to say.

ADAM They were in the Alps. And they had to leave.

BROOM She was hiding upstairs and knocked a ball down the stairs and had to reveal herself.

BETH I remember that, but I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t told me. I remember the beginning the most, where they were in the shelter.

BROOM It was really the same movie: she’s a traumatized girl, and then she comes to live with sweet Swiss people.

BETH I think it’s a story that’s worth telling.

ADAM It’s The Secret Garden.

BROOM There was also a whole section about how the people who worked at the textile mill were going to work overtime for the sake of the kids, somehow. Sort of the communist section of the movie.

ADAM Do you think this is where Steven Spielberg got the idea to identify one child in a concentration camp by their garment?

BROOM No. But during the bloodhound scene, I thought, “If Steven Spielberg saw this, he’d say ‘That’s good! Use that.'” Where the kid runs away from the dinner table, feeling alone without his real family, to go look at a picture of loving doggies. Come on! That’s gold.

BETH But that scene wasn’t well directed.

BROOM I thought the shot of him looking up at the picture was the right shot.

BETH But the kid’s reaction wasn’t directed well. It was very exaggerated.

ADAM That’s why they needed Jonathan Lipnicki.

BETH He needed Steven Spielberg, to guide him.

BROOM I want to throw out this thought I had at the beginning: art that is made to serve the political conscience of a moment, in that moment seems the most profound, and in every other moment seems the most transitory. And this in itself reveals the falseness of our idea of what “profound emotions” are. That was my thought, almost immediately, when the movie started with, “You know this just happened in Europe; now we’re all soberly going to the cinema to honor it.” And that section actually ended up being moving to me. But I was thinking, “What makes someone pay to sit down and watch this?” I guess if someone told them it was good. But I feel like now, we go to see The Hurt Locker or something… well, I didn’t see that, so I don’t know…

ADAM Hotel Rwanda.

BROOM That’s the classic “no one actually wanted to watch it” movie. I’m talking more about these American military venture movies that get made all the time. For example: because I want to use my BAM membership, I’m totally going to go see the drone warfare ethical debate movie with Helen Mirren shouting into the phone. It looked like crap from the preview, but then it got pretty good reviews. But I thought, “Movies like that get good reviews because people get really high on this idea that if something is in the media, is politically important, and has some kind of ethical element to it, it’s deep.” But then after time passes — we had to rent The Search off of Youtube because it’s never going to be released on DVD; no one needs this anymore.

BETH But, at least at the beginning, in the first twenty or thirty minutes, I thought, “I’m so glad I’m seeing this!” Because there’s no way I would if we weren’t doing this project. But later my attitude shifted a little bit. I didn’t need to see this, really. But I’m happy to have seen that beginning. It moved me and made me think about the war in a way that I hadn’t before.

BROOM I concur with that whole paragraph. I had the same experience.

ADAM We’ll see in a year’s time which we remember more of: this, or The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

BETH This, I think.

BROOM I guess what I was saying is: it seems like this is more profound than — well, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer isn’t a good counter-example. You know, say, Mary Poppins. It might seem like Mary Poppins is about nothing, whereas this is about children in the war. But actually the function of art is not to be about

ADAM I’m reading Emma right now, on my phone, and it’s not really about anything; it’s about a couple of families in an English country village. And I was reading articles today about Emma and “simple-minded criticism that it’s not a profound enough subject to be art,” but of course that’s the whole point; because the subject is unprepossessing is what makes it psychologically compelling.

BROOM I wouldn’t say it’s “because.”

ADAM You’re right, it’s not “because” — because War and Peace is also psychologically compelling.

BROOM I know I praised the movie for being only half-fictional, earlier, so maybe it sounds like I’m being hypocritical, but I think it goes together: this movie felt like it was serving a documentary function, to me, rather than a more characteristically “artistic” function. And I’m happy for that, in a way, I feel like this is a nice way to convey things. It’s sort of a spiritual documentary; “think about this type of situation; we’re not going to talk about specifics.” But that’s a different experience from watching a profound work of art.

BETH I feel like it had a lot in common with a Disney cartoon. It had a message; it wasn’t subtle about it, it didn’t have a gentle touch. It wanted to get a specific point across. It was predictable in the way that cartoons are.

BROOM You’re talking about Mickey Mouse cartoons, or edutainment cartoons?

BETH I’m talking about Disney feature films; even contemporary ones, though I’m not sure I would draw parallels with Zootopia…

ADAM But like Lilo and Stitch.

BETH Yeah, or Finding Nemo or something like that.

ADAM Yeah, it had a Finding Nemo quality.

BROOM The plot was the same, sort of.

BETH It’s like, “You know she’s going to find her son, right?” And of course she is.

ADAM What’s another movie where one character is searching for the other character and they just miss each other, like three times?

BETH Well, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, where he’s looking for his bike and he passes it on the highway…

ADAM What’s that movie where one character goes over the hill right when the other one’s coming over?

BROOM That happens all the time! It happens so all the time that when it happened in this movie, it didn’t even register. It didn’t make even a single tick on the dramatic earthquake sensor in my head. We’re watching this to think about kids in Europe, and the story stuff is just the same old stuff. That close-call thing probably happened on the vaudeville stage all the time. My grandmother knew about that. “Oh, I’m afraid I must be going, I can’t stay any longer, Mrs. Smith! Goodbye!” “Goodbye!” “Ah, I’ve looked everywhere in the city for my wife!”

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM So do you think that praise is through war-colored glasses?


ADAM Clearly.

BETH And how could it not be? Everyone was affected by this big thing.

BROOM I’m just suspicious of that. Even as I was affected by parts of this movie, I’m suspicious about that impulse to be moved by the thing that one is supposed to be moved by in this historical moment.

BETH I don’t think it was because he was supposed to be, I think he just naturally was because he too was traumatized, in whatever way.

BROOM But when you heard that they were making — what was that movie called?

ADAM Flight 93.

BROOM Exactly! When you heard they were making that, didn’t you feel something like “I get what you’re doing, but…”

BETH Yeah. And that’s why no one saw that movie.

ADAM Lots of people saw that movie.

BETH Well. It’s not like a movie that anyone rents now. And I guess The Search isn’t a movie that anyone rents now.

BROOM We could do Flight 93 in a double feature with Hotel Rwanda.

BETH A masochistic afternoon.

ADAM You could do those with Team America: World Police.

Last lines in film:

– Karel-e!
– Maminka!


A complete radio broadcast of the 21st Academy Awards is known to exist somewhere out there, but I can’t find it online. Luckily, there’s also an archival film version, apparently complete, uploaded by the Academy here in what seems to be its entirety.

That’s right! This is the first one you can really sit back and watch like it’s Oscar night! Throw a party! Break out the hors d’oeuvres, the themed drinks, and place your bets on who’s gonna win!

Or you can just watch the salient clip for our purposes:

Very clearly, there is no acceptance speech. But who is the man who claims the Oscars? Deborah Kerr seems to be telling us that “––– will accept the award for the film.” Unfortunately the orchestra seems to believe the award has gone to King Kong so the name isn’t audible. (Something like “Ingdar Penninfeld.”)

(Later, when Ivan Jandl wins a special award for best juvenile performance, director Fred Zinnemann accepts, and we can see that he is clearly not the same man who accepted the writing award.)

Give it your best shot, everyone. This must be resolved.

March 15, 2016

Disney Canon #55: Zootopia (2016)


[This screenshot and the one at the bottom of the page are from the trailer, not the actual film. They’ll be replaced whenever the next entry in this series goes up. (The Big Hero 6 placeholder images have just now been upgraded to the real thing.)]

Full spoilers (and other kinds of spoilage) throughout. The reader is firmly advised to have seen Zootopia — now in theaters — before proceeding.

ADAM I thought that was high-class all the way. Solid quality, and pleasing. I’m happy to elaborate on that.

BETH I also liked it very much. I don’t know where I’m landing in terms of how it falls in the canon, but I was really into it. Those are my opening thoughts; we will all elaborate.

BROOM I had a very complicated reaction; I’m not sure I can make a one-sentence opening statement. I wanted to hash it out in conversation. I don’t know what it adds up to in one sentence. And maybe no reaction to a movie is really one sentence. So I’m not going to fake like I have one sentence.

ADAM That’s interesting, because I felt uniformly positively about it. I thought the characters were compelling and inspirational without being one-note, and I thought it was appropriately subtly topical, and it was really beautiful to look at and had a lot of imaginative jokes on the main theme. And I also think that a detective story was a good peg to hang it on, because everyone can find a detective story engaging for two hours, even kids. It wasn’t too complicated for kids to follow but it wasn’t insultingly straightforward either. It was more interesting than just “little girl moves to the big city.” That’s what I was afraid it was going to be, but it was more than that.

BETH Did you predict who the bad guy was?

ADAM I did only once it became clear that the predators were being framed. Because there was only one “prey” in the whole movie, other than Judy.

BROOM I guessed who it was when they got to the drug lab, and not before.

ADAM Yes, for me it was when she said “but who’s been framing all these predators?” which was right before they walked into the drug lab.

BETH I’ll just own up to not guessing. Then when I saw it who it was, I thought, “oh, duh.”

BROOM But I’m proud to say that I did guess, much earlier, that the victims were all suffering from the drug effects of the plant that she had elaborately named.

BETH I also knew it was a drug, but I didn’t put it together with the plant.

ADAM Yeah, if I had gone back and made a lineup of all of the things in the movie that we hadn’t used yet… It was pretty good about using everything it introduced. Even the sloth got reused, in a way that I found pleasing. All right, Broom, so what were your complicated feelings?

BETH Do you have ideological issues?

BROOM I guess you could frame it that way. I’m kind of surprised that you guys don’t immediately know what would be complicated about my response to this; I assumed that everyone would intuitively agree on what was complicated about this movie. But I guess not. The complication has to do with the purported topicality of it — the messaging of it — as it relates to the premise of the anthropomorphic world. Which is not a premise they invented for this movie, it’s a longstanding premise. They tried to both interrogate it and its metaphors, and also keep running with it. I didn’t know how to reconcile — and I was hoping to try to work this out now, unless it’s a just waste of your time because you really didn’t have any of these issues — but I didn’t know how to reconcile the message of it —

ADAM The message being “We are more than our biological origins, and you can be anything you want when you grow up, and don’t stereotype”?

BROOM Yeah, more or less. I took the message of it just to be a standard contemporary anti-bigotry message, as you’d find in any number of editorials and essays.

ADAM All right, so, on the one hand…

BROOM Well, wait, before we dig into “what Broom thought” — You personally did not have issues in this direction? It really worked for you, or you didn’t “go there,” or… ?

ADAM Well, yeah — though I’m not saying that I’m going to disagree with your view once you articulate it.

BROOM Yeah, but I think that an unarticulated ease with something should usually be left intact. I don’t want to claim that you ought to question what you didn’t question, if it just felt right to you. The important thing is, to you, it didn’t feel like a problem? Because I didn’t come up with my problem to try to be smart; I felt uncomfortable.

ADAM No, I didn’t feel uncomfortable.

BETH I think I’m somewhere in between you. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but it was also sort of on my mind: “What do I actually think about this?” Like when she was in the press conference saying cringeworthy things, I thought, “well, wait…” This is always my problem with movies: when I’m taken by them, when I’m wrapped up in the watching of them, I’m not really outside of them enough to talk about what I think about their ideologies. “I was just into the movie! What do you want??”

BROOM That’s why I wanted to pause the conversation before I start articulating this further. I think that if a movie worked for you, allowed you to get wrapped up in it, that means that whatever ideology we try to identify in the movie — if we identify it accurately — it’s something that your subconscious is comfortable taking on. I can say for myself that within the first five minutes of the movie — when they explained “This is how our world works: predators used to be predators, but not anymore! Now we live together!” and then they cut to different animals in an audience together, and one type of animal is being “a hick” — I just felt it, I felt immediately very uncomfortable.

BETH Because even the upending of those stereotypes — addressing them at all — is uncomfortable?

ADAM That hick fox — he gets to come back and be a pastry chef.

BROOM Again, I don’t want this to all be about the way I happen to end up expressing it… but I guess I’m really hearing that you guys didn’t have that experience at that moment. So I guess for me the issue is: we only want to watch movies where different animals are different kinds of people because that feels true about the world. And insofar as it feels true, that’s what we — from an ideological standpoint — would call “bigotry.” Now, I personally am very uncomfortable with the public rhetoric around bigotry because I think it doesn’t acknowledge the ways in which that perception of the world is natural and inevitable…

ADAM Natural and inevitable that what?

BROOM We can’t deprogram ourselves by deliberately “upending” these perceptions. Natural and inevitable that people experience other people as, essentially, different kinds of animals. A slow-moving person at the DMV seems like they’re from the slow-moving species of person. That’s a psychological reality, one that cartoons jibe with. At least for me. Do you disagree with that?

ADAM No, sure, I mean, Speedy Gonzales… But the part I’m not following is, what part of that seems uncomfortable to overlay on the way people are with each other?

BROOM Boy, so you really don’t feel it the way I do. Okay, let me see if I can formulate this…

ADAM If it’s too complicated to unpack, we don’t have to.

BROOM I can do it! I’m just reluctant to create a conversation that seems to be about the words I use to describe it, because for me it’s an intuitional thing, and I would rather you counter what I’m saying with your intuitions. But I guess your intuitions were copacetic.

ADAM My intuition was that all Disney movies have messages; in recent years they’ve all tended to be politically progressive messages. If you think about The Lion King as an early, ham-fisted politically progressive message, and then compare it to something like this…

BROOM I consider The Lion King to be the turning point, toward deliberate messaging.

ADAM But they all have deliberate messages. You know, Dumbo‘s message is “believe in yourself.”

BROOM But I think a refrain in our discussions about many of those earlier Disney movies was that while we might pick apart politically incorrect things that occur in them, probably the creators never consciously thought about those things. Those movies were a revealing of subconscious assumptions, because the artists were just using their intuitions to work out what would make a good story. There was a relative lack of deliberate philosophizing, which is exactly what allowed us to see the various stereotypes and subconscious ideologies. Whereas since The Lion King, it really feels like they run everything through a conscious censor, to make sure it makes sense, and then try to say something deliberately.

ADAM They’re not all expressly political. The message of Lilo and Stitch was “Ohana means Family, and Family means no one gets left behind,” which is not a political slogan per se. But here, what I appreciated about it was that it was a little smarter than The Lion King. The heroine has her own unexamined prejudices, and that creates problems; but she overcomes them, she’s not a bad person. And you identify with her stereotypes at the beginning, because the fox is shifty, he is a kind of con-man, but as you get to know him, it turns out not only is there a backstory that explains that, but also he’s so much more than that. It’s easy to identify with the progress of the hero, and that makes it a little more impactful. That’s why I didn’t feel uncomfortable with it. And I didn’t feel that they were essentializing any of the animals…

BROOM You didn’t? “Essentializing” is exactly the word. Why else were any of those characters assigned to those animals, if not the essentialization — racialization — geneticization — of personality traits?

ADAM But the villain was a sheep! And there was that hammy gay tiger who loved Gazelle! And —

BROOM But those are just a few foreground story-inversions of the actual operative premise of the anthropomorphic world. The whole idea of Zootopia — when we first heard about this movie two years ago, we thought, “A city of animals? That hardly even counts as a premise!” It’s just such a basic, ground-level thing, in cartoons. It goes back to Aesop. Why would we ever tell a story about a talking animal? Because certain people seem like that kind of animal. But what do we mean when we say people “seem like” an animal? We mean something very subjective, an impression, which nonetheless we might share with our whole community of peers, to whom it seems equally intuitive. Like, guess what, hicks with a Southern accent seem like they might well be a different species from me! And all my friends agree, it does kinda seem like hicks are a different species. So hey, you know what would be a great way to represent them in a cartoon: as a literally different species. That feels intuitive and satisfying. So then this movie says “We’re going to actually talk about this head-on,” but…

ADAM But for the most part, it wasn’t like all the rabbits only talked to other rabbits. I don’t think she even saw any other rabbits in the city.

BROOM I mean: what do the predators eat? — in this scenario where we’re claiming that they’re both actually and specifically predators, and not, at the same time.

ADAM They didn’t get into that I assume because it would be uncomfortable for human audiences, thinking about the sources of our food.

BROOM The metaphor is that minorities who cause fear in the majority because of stereotypes are depicted here as “predators,” but in this world they have none of the actual traits that predators have — except for the ones that are funny for throwaway jokes in the course of a scene. That all puts us in a very uncomfortable place. If we want to see each other as equals who should be treated equally, the premise of our depiction cannot be that we’re different species based on our different personalities or social roles.

ADAM I understand that, but… they were all mammals! They didn’t really get into their essential species natures. This is the first one I can think of where there was no love story, and I guess that was deliberate, because that would be a whole other level of uncomfortable conversations, if there had been any kind of sex.

BROOM How is what you just said not an expression of exactly the kind of stuff that the movie was ostensibly telling us to get beyond? Are the fox and the rabbit in the movie “just people,” who are essentially equal and can be in love? Or are they essentially different, in a “fox vs. rabbit” kind of way? In which case, what does that correspond to?

ADAM It doesn’t map on perfectly to human society, because they are essentially different, which is why there were no cross-species couples in the movie, because rabbits can’t mate with foxes.

BROOM Right.

ADAM But on the other hand, the movie’s not saying “therefore people are different species.” That’s just carrying the metaphor too far.

BROOM Then where does the metaphor end? What is the metaphor, in your mind?

ADAM The metaphor is that, like… I don’t think it does, nor did it feel to me like it — It neither intended to nor unintentionally landed on “different types of people are different species.”

BROOM You don’t think that’s the metaphor?

ADAM No. My mind didn’t go there while I was watching it.

BROOM I think your mind didn’t go there because that’s been the subconscious premise of all anthropomorphic cartoons, forever. Like, if there’s a Sidney Greenstreet character in a cartoon, the huge crime boss that you go into the back room to meet, and of course he’s a hippopotamus because hippopotamuses are really big — it works just like a caricature does, it says “Let’s admit that our response to this ‘type,’ when we talk about ‘types,’ is essentializing.” When they talk about “typecasting” in Hollywood, they’re talking about the fact that we see each other with these prejudiced eyes that are reponsive to superficial things. And a cartoon that shows such things as different kinds of animals, and has fun with it, is basically an embrace of that aspect of our nature. Which I think is good, because I’m very wary of all the rhetoric now about seeing past race. I think that you can’t deliberately see past what you are seeing, and cartoons show us that. So Zootopia was a cartoon in that spirit, that nonetheless was — on a storytelling and philosophical level — trying to say “Here’s what we’re gonna do about it.” I felt like the cartoon itself reveals why we can’t just think our way out of it, “nice” our way out of it. Here’s a cartoon where we’re watching a rabbit with big eyes getting beat up by a fox, and you can’t deny that the scene makes sense to people.

ADAM Right, but then a half hour later, you find out that the fox, when he was eight, got beat up by a bunch of rabbits.

BROOM Different fox, but yes.

ADAM And did that feel unreasonable?

BROOM That was in the context of “learning,” in a very deliberate way. That felt to me like “this one bit of the subconscious has for the moment risen into the view of the consciousness, so what do we say about it?” But we’re still surrounded by a sea of the subconscious, and the subconscious says: “the world is a city of different kinds of animals that are hilariously different from each other, and there’s a sight gag for each one.” That’s the unexamined ground-level. Then, yes, ever since The Lion King, there’s also this additional conscious element that purports to be an examination of it.

BETH I’m trying to think about how I would see it if I were a child, what I would take away from it. And I originally was angry with the parents for being so — you know: “We can’t expand our boundaries. Learn to be complacent; that’s the way to have a happy life.” I think rejecting that has been a message in Disney movies all along: “Push your boundaries! See what you can be! You can do anything!”

ADAM “I wanna see what’s over that ridge!”

BROOM Yeah, or as the lyric had it in this movie, “I wanna try everything!”

BETH And I think that’s a good message. And I like how it kept showing that she was put in these fear-inducing situations and refused to succumb to them. The race stuff is more complicated. Because I think what it wants me to take away — which is sort of what Sesame Street wanted me to take away — is that the world is made up of all different types of people, all different types of creatures, and you don’t necessarily know anything about them just by looking at them. You have to spend time with everyone and get to know them. And I think that’s what it was trying to say. You can’t make a judgment before you know what someone is about. Very basic kids’ stuff, but not at all offensive, I think. It’s not like I’m not hearing what you guys are saying, but I think — as far as messaging goes — it did it with a pretty light touch, in an unobjectionable way.

ADAM Yeah, I didn’t come away thinking “Idris Elba is a water buffalo with whom I cannot mate.” Although I get what you’re saying. It hadn’t occurred to me to think about it in those terms, but.

BROOM So, during the pivotal press conference scene, when she says, “well, there might be a biological component…”

BETH I wanted her to say “This is just what I heard the doctor say in the lab!”

ADAM That was pretty negligent of her.

BROOM I think they tried to introduce that she’s frazzled by the situation so she’s just reaching for things to say.

BETH Yeah. I wanted that to be more explicit, for my own child- empathy reasons.

BROOM I could see a whole story conference playing out, about how to set up that beat. But did you not at any point think, “Well, I don’t know what the rules of this world are! For all we know, the thing she’s saying could be true!” Because it’s not a question of any real principle, it’s just up to the Lords Of Disney, the writers who made up this fantasy story. Our faith — that these predators aren’t actually reverting to their original predator-nature — is purely a political-correctness faith. Because as far as anthropomorphic animals go…

ADAM But it was also set up by the whole movie. By the logic of the story — we’d been told at the very outset that predators and prey had overcome their tendencies…

BROOM Yeah: how and by what means? Total magic! We have no idea!

ADAM Right, but we already knew that was part of the internal logic —

BROOM So at this point in the story we’re challenged to have faith in that, a thing which has been completely glossed over…

ADAM It was obvious that Emmett Otter hadn’t suddenly turned into a bad person. That’s why they made him seem so meek.

BETH Yeah, I think that’s why they used Emmett Otter as the primary case.

ADAM Do otters eat meat? I don’t even know what otters eat. I guess so.

BETH Fish, I thought.

ADAM I guess that makes you a predator. There were no fish in this movie. Well, it is a mammal city.

BROOM I felt like they were very much in “The Bell Curve” territory here. The character says, “Well, if the science shows it…” and we the audience are supposed to be shouting “NO! No, the science would never show that!” And it has nothing to do with the movie — there’s no actual science to evaluate here — it just has to do with our political anxiety that it could turn out that way. Which in this particular movie…

ADAM But it was flatly refuted by this movie.

BROOM In The Three Little Pigs, guess what! The wolf is a dangerous wolf! That’s also a cartoon with talking animals. In this movie, at the beginning, a rabbit voice-over tells us that wolves are not dangerous anymore, and then later in the movie it’s called into question whether wolves are dangerous anymore. There’s no philosophical principle to which we’re referring here.

ADAM Understood. But given that the whole setup of the movie, for the first hour or so, is that predators don’t eat prey, suddenly when a mild-mannered family-man otter goes berserk in the back of a limousine…

BROOM Like I said, I was able to guess what was going on! Well before that, in fact.

BETH So would you not want your children to see this because you find it problematic?

BROOM No, I don’t think it does any damage. But… Well, actually my personal feeling — and I recognize that this is a fringe point of view — I think it does a certain kind of damage in suggesting that this underlayer of what’s going on — the basic perception of “different animals are different from each other, a predator is different from prey” — it suggests that society will be better off if we all fervently deny that that’s what we perceive. This felt like a cartoon about the virtue of that kind of denial, which is something that I already find discouraging in contemporary culture.

BETH That’s a good way of saying what your problem with it is. I get that.

BROOM I’m disheartened by all the public rhetoric about how much good we can do by denying — not what “is true” in some objective sense, but what seems true to us. And cartoons are about what seems true to us.

ADAM But I did think this movie was more progressive — or rather, a more second-order take on this problem. It didn’t actually say that all of the animals are the same, or that you can’t see that they’re different species.

BROOM For example: all Italians look like rats. [ed.: shrews]

ADAM Like, Judy was cute, and she did have bunny-like characteristics, but they were part of the benign variation in the grand mosaic that was the political fabric of this community. It wasn’t saying that she was not a bunny, or that bunnies are identical to elephants. If it had just been two different types of animals, it would have been creepier and more unsettling, but the fact that it was a thousand types of animals, it felt easier to take. And nobody was saying that all animals are the same — but all animals have the same rights. That kind of pluralism felt intuitively comfortable to me.

BROOM I was uncomfortable even before the plot went there, just in the fact that it was about whether she can be a cop. “No bunny has ever been a cop!” “Well, I’m going to, because I don’t believe in those limitations.” And then there are overt and overwhelming physical reasons — she’s like one-tenth the size of all the other cops.

ADAM Right, but then it turns out in the training that she has other virtues that compensate for that. She’s able to use her lightness and quickness to surmount the tundra wall!

BETH She has ingenuity!

ADAM She’s able to dash around the big rhino and make him hit himself in the face!

BROOM [feigning revelation] Ohhhhh! I see!

ADAM The movie explicitly addresses your objection and dispatches it.

BROOM No. Because my objection is not to the logic of the story — Does she get to be a cop? Oh she did, you’re right! I forgot! — I’m saying that visually, the impact of this as animation — what are we experiencing? This is not a thing that exists in the real world…

ADAM Well it is, actually.

BROOM Where someone is absurdly one-tenth the size of all their coworkers? That doesn’t happen!

BETH I actually had the thought, “They’ll need to make a tiny badge for her! They don’t need to do that with people.”

ADAM When women first started becoming police officers, it was a common objection that they were not physically as strong as men. But then it turns out that there are other things, other ways that women are different that makes them more talented police officers, like their emotional intuitiveness… Again, not to be essentialist… But I think gender is an instructive example. Gender is not like race; everyone acknowledges that men and woman are physically different in certain ways, and even emotionally different in certain ways, but it’s not… People nowadays ought to think that men and women have the same rights and the same ability to aspire to the same things, notwithstanding — in fact, precisely because of — their partial differences.

BROOM Wait. I mean, I recognize that that’s become a standard bit of rhetoric, that last part of your sentence there, but I’d like to hear you back it up: what do you mean, “because of their differences, that’s why they have equal rights”? How does that work?

ADAM No, I don’t mean because of their differences they have equal rights, I mean that once we acknowledge that the difference between men and women is benign and something to be celebrated, then it’s possible to appreciate the ways that men’s and women’s differences can inform and better institutions, as opposed to be something to be overcome. I’m thinking of, like, Sonia Sotomayor talking about “a wise Latina” on the Supreme Court, and why her different perspective is valuable. I mean, first-order feminism was all about claiming that women were the same as men, and latter-day feminism is all about saying that women are different than men, and not only is that okay, but it’s actually beneficial to men that women’s perspectives be included. So, to me, you’re right, with race it’s a much creepier thing to imply that there are physical or essential differences…

BETH But there are. I mean, it’s “creepy” only because we’re supposed to believe that everyone’s equal, but it’s…

BROOM My attitude about all of this stuff is that, like, race, gender — whatever categories you want to put people in — they have statistical meaning, but not individual meaning. But they do have individual meaning to people subjectively, because the way we experience the world is in terms of categories. And a cartoon of animals is about that experience, that unshakeable experience, that there are categories of things. It’s actually comforting to see a cartoon that says “Y’know, a little weaselly guy? He’s kinda like a weasel!” And you think, “Yeah! He is! Someone doing a Steve Buscemi impression is kinda like a little weasel character!” And that is bigotry. That is the essential thing that society is always trying to stamp out.

ADAM You’re saying this movie wanted to have its cake and eat it too, in that way.

BROOM I think the public rhetoric wants to have its cake and eat it too, and this movie was exposing that, in, to me, such a naked way. A cartoon about animal-people, I’ve always felt, is a bastion of admission that we do in fact see the world this way.

ADAM Because Robin Hood is tricky, and the rhino guards are stupid.

BROOM Yes! They’re rhinos! They’re leather-skinned, beady-eyed thugs!

ADAM I was thinking about Robin Hood a lot during this movie.

BROOM Yeah, because Nick was like Robin Hood.

ADAM He was like the fox Robin Hood meets George Clooney.

BETH A little bit.

BROOM Beth, did you identify with Judy? When she was crying, I thought, “she’s crying like Beth.”

BETH Yeah, I did.

BROOM ‘Cause you thought those were your parents, and that’s where you’re from, and now you’re in the big city.

BETH Not exactly. But when she was crying I thought, “That’s kind of like me.” So we both had that thought.

ADAM So this may have been the most flawlessly executed gender progressivism in all of our Disney movies thus far, and it was helpful that it wasn’t a love story, in that sense.

BROOM Do you know why that was the case? Because they didn’t mention gender once in the whole movie. That is what makes it an actual subconscious, intuitive progressivism.

ADAM Although I’m sure it was very conscious at Disney.

BROOM Well, I think that’s been a long process of being anxious about something that actually could have come so much more easily. We didn’t actually have to go through Pocahontas to get here. All you have to do is just make the movie. No one needed to see Pocahontas before they could accept Judy Hopps.

ADAM I don’t know. [My nephews] love Dora the Explorer, but I don’t think Dora the Explorer could have been made without Pocahontas.

BETH It’s so hard to say. But I’m kind of more on Adam’s side, because these things become part of the culture and then they seem like they were always there.

BROOM I think things become part of people’s actual subconscious interpretations of the world, and then that’s what they depict.

BETH Well, everything feeds everything.

BROOM But I don’t think that Lady — and the Tramp — was depicted as such a “lady” in need of a “tramp” because the writers thought “Let’s reinforce this stereotype!” It’s just what they had in them.

ADAM But they’ve been, like, thrashing their way out of it. Every single movie for the last thirty years has been trying and trying and trying. I know that Brave is not a Disney movie, but… Each one has been this, like, two-point-oh, three-point-oh, version of a feminist protagonist.

BROOM Yes, I totally agree. This movie just did it with grace: the protagonist is this bunny who happens to be female but it’s never necessary to mention it.

ADAM Although I think the fact that she was female worked into the story, you know? There were no other female cops.

BETH There was one other.

ADAM But most of the cops were male.

BROOM Maybe I’m just expressing my own private experience of this movie in saying that the feminism didn’t seem labored, but it didn’t seem labored in that respect. And I don’t want to learn the wrong lesson and say “Well, they had to go through thirty years of hard labor to get to that point.” They didn’t earn this by doing those other movies.

ADAM But they learned how to do this. Which was not intuitive to them.

BROOM It’s not the same “they”! There’s a generational shift over thirty years.

BETH I think culture was going through these same cogs, you know, in the Clinton era, so that was what was being reflected in Pocahontas.

ADAM As you probably know, there’s been a kerfuffle in the last few days because Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan for having “started a national conversation about AIDS,” and people freaked the fuck out.

BETH They really freaked out.

ADAM Right. And then yesterday, Hillary Clinton released a long Medium post in which she ate her words, and everyone is happy now.

BROOM Well, she ate her words for two sentences, and then just talked about her good record on AIDS.

BETH Are they genuinely happy?

ADAM Yes. Everyone seems to have laid down their arms. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that changed between the 80s and today, and things that seem totally right-as-rain and normal today — there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get to a place like that. And this movie makes me think of that, because Disney has been trying so hard not to be “the princess studio” for so long, and so badly, but finally, this felt more or less natural and graceful. And God bless you, John Lasseter. Finally you guys have more or less figured it out, and I’m glad of it.

BROOM Also in Inside Out, the gender was not a key issue in that movie.

BETH That’s right.

ADAM As we start to talk about “why are there no cross-species relationships” and “what do the predators eat” — it got me thinking: making a movie like this is actually very ontologically complicated! Figuring out how to depict a universe like this that will carry you along briskly enough that you don’t start thinking about, like, “where’s all the animal poop?”

BETH I like that we saw a preview for a movie in which an animal poops, right before this started.

BROOM That was the first onscreen animated defecation I’ve ever seen, and it was in the preview.

BETH And it was a bunny.

BROOM I believe that in the Silly Symphony era, when they made “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and they put a bunch of different animals in the bandstand cheering them on, they just drew it, without any reflection at all. Nobody talked about how that world worked; they drew it and subconscious stuff came out. And nowadays — first of all because of how things are nowadays politically, but also because the animation production process is so long and elaborate — it’s gotta get discussed. I mean, I’m sure there are still concept artists for whom the work is just a pouring out of the subconscious: “I just kind of imagined how their world might look and I thought maybe the traffic light would look like this!” And that stuff ends up in the movie, and something subconsciously true is being revealed there. But like you said, this is a complicated question, and one that the movie takes on in a very direct way.

ADAM But only in part. There’s a lot of sight gags about it, but they really keep you moving along. Part of the reason the movie felt so refreshing was because it moved so fast, and they had to move you so fast so that you wouldn’t stop to think about things like this.

BROOM But they also asked you to stop and think about it.

BETH At the end, the bunny and the fox are partners, but I’m not ruling out that they could get together.

ADAM Yeah, they’re like Scully and Mulder.

BETH They’re like Scully and Mulder, there’s a flirtation there, so in my child’s heart, I’m rooting for them, and I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not thinking about the problem.


ADAM What’s in the natural history museum in Zootopia?

BROOM I thought we were going to see people in there. I was interested to see.

ADAM I thought the nudist colony was one of the funniest jokes in the movie, precisely for this reason.

BROOM Yes, it was funny. It can be funny to knowingly play with conventions. But it means rising above something that made intuitive sense and artificially distancing yourself from it, going “Ha ha, what were we thinking!” And there’s always a real answer to the question “what were we thinking.” When you’re making fun, you’re always avoiding the real answer.

ADAM The Wikipedia “Talk” page is really going to get into these problems!

BROOM But — keeping in mind that there was like a 20-person team credited with “Story” — consider: this movie did not inherently have to begin with a narration stating that “Predators and prey used to be as you know them to be in the real world, but now they just get along.” They could have just started the story. Certainly the Silly Symphony of “The Tortoise and The Hare” just started right in; they didn’t narrate us in with “In this world, the animals act like people! Let’s see what they’re up to today!” Whereas this movie very conspicuously started with “Hey, you think that predators attack prey. Well, here they used to. But now they don’t anymore.” That’s throwing down a gauntlet and saying “Think about this!” And then later in the movie they really do make you think about it, because there’s a scene where at a press conference about whether predators are dangerous, a bunny says that maybe they have a genetic proclivity to be dangerous. You can’t tell me “oh, it just carries you along, you just roll with it!” This is a movie about a flub at a press conference! It’s about Hillary Clinton saying the wrong thing! Very explicitly.

BETH Yeah.

[digression about Hillary ensues]

ADAM So if I had sat down to write a movie about “all the animals live in a city together”… I mean, the mind boggles at all of the world-design challenges that that entails. Yes, I guess the rodents would have to live in a little town, and I guess the penguins would have to live…

BETH Right, there would have to be a very cold place.

ADAM Right, and a very hot place. Although if they have to go to the bank, what do they do? Well, you saw that water buffalo going through the blow-dryer before he gets on the subway, so I guess… Anyway, as a kid, my mind would have spiraled out of control thinking about these things.

BROOM At the beginning they showed some of the weather machinery, and I was surprised. “They’re really going to take the time to show how there’s snow there and rain there?”

ADAM They showed that?

BROOM They showed snow-belching machines and then rainforest showerheads, when she was on the train at the beginning listening to Shakira.

BETH It seems like what you keep coming back to is that everything is very consciously designed, in a way that it didn’t used to be, and that stories have become so much about integrating political agendas…

ADAM About answering objections.

BETH Yeah, starting from a defensive standpoint instead of just a “let’s tell a story” standpoint.

BROOM I think it doesn’t actually start there, but it goes there, with a sense of purpose about it.

BETH Because we’re so aware of all the criticisms that might be lobbied.

BROOM As soon as a movie starts up and shows cute animals of different species interacting like different “types” of people, I feel like “Okay, we’re in the politically incorrect world of gut feelings. I get it, I’m all for it, and I’m happy to watch this cartoon.” But then what the animals are talking about is “How are we going to get over our differences? Maybe we don’t actually have any differences!” and my head immediately starts throbbing. I feel like “Oh man, they’re screwed! They’re in for it now!” And that’s how I felt the whole time. I said I had a complicated reaction, so all that’s the discomfort side of it. I also thought it was great! I had a great time watching it; I love that they finally did a noir mystery.

ADAM I thought about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but of course that wasn’t a Disney movie.

BROOM Sure it was.

ADAM Wasn’t it Touchstone Pictures?

BROOM Touchstone was just Disney’s adult distribution arm. Yeah, it was like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which was already supposed to be like old Humphrey Bogart movies. And it was like L.A. Confidential. It was a New York noir and an L.A. noir mashed together. The city in which she arrived at the beginning was totally New York, and the city in which they investigated the mystery was totally L.A.

ADAM There was an actual intersection of Tujunga and Vine, which I think is in Burbank where the Disney Animation Studio is.

BETH There were lots of cute gags.

ADAM I liked the gag with escalator and the giraffe. I liked the gag with “Mr. Big” — even though it’s sort of obvious. When my high school did Guys and Dolls, they cast the Collins twins, of NBA fame, as the bodyguards for the shortest guy in school. So I’d seen that gag already.

BROOM When the woman was crossing Fifth Avenue and the donut was coming at her, and she’s saying [New Jersey accent] “Oh your shoes are to die for” or whatever, I thought, “Huh, they put in ‘a Jew’ and the Jew is a vole,” or whatever she was [ed.: shrew]. Then later: “Oh, she was an Italian.” Well, it really comes to the same thing.

BETH I really thought she was a Kardashian type.

BROOM She was a New Jersey Italian.

ADAM But they were from The Godfather — that’s a whole other country.

BROOM But that’s just it. A person could actually be Italian. Nobody at this table is, but it would just be like being ourselves, except we’d happen to be Italian…

ADAM But they weren’t really Italian, they were from The Godfather… Okay, I mean, I get it —

BROOM Understand: my discomfort when I thought she was a Jew was not, like, “Those are my people! How can you do this to me?” It was more like “Don’t you know that by your own rules you’re not allowed to do this?” Don’t they realize the dissonance? That’s basically the issue. Like, the whole movie is very carefully about the fox, and let’s be real clear about what the fox is not: he is not black. The fox is Jason Bateman; the fox is not black. She’s afraid of him, she carries pepper spray because of him, he’s a “predator” who’s not actually inherently dangerous but grew up being treated that way so now he’s cagey… but he is not black, he’s Jason Bateman.

ADAM I had forgotten that George Clooney is the voice of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Maybe that’s why I was thinking about George Clooney.

BETH Well, but also the glasses…

ADAM He was hot. Let’s just be honest.

BROOM Which one, Fantastic Mr. Fox, or this fox?

ADAM This fox.

BROOM He was no Robin Hood.

BETH I would agree that Robin Hood is sexier than this guy.

ADAM I don’t know, I liked this guy a lot. He was kind of a wiseacre.

BETH Eh, he had a polyester shirt…

BROOM Adam, in the pantheon of furry-dom, Robin Hood will always be at the top. This guy is just, like, supporting a pilaster at the bottom.

ADAM I kind of liked Gazelle’s tiger dancers with the glitter on their faces.

BETH I knew you did. They had some good moves.

BROOM I thought the idea of “Gazelle” was pretty funny.

ADAM So was that desk cop tiger who was into donuts gay?


ADAM Okay. He was playing, like, the gay friend from Mean Girls.

BETH He was “everyone’s best gay friend.” Which, again, I guess you can raise questions about…

ADAM So do you think a gay tiger can have an interspecies romance, because it’s non-procreative?

BROOM Did you guys really not experience some kind of internal buzzer when she says “Bunnies can call each other cute but it’s kind of offensive coming from you,” and he says, “Oh, and here I am, some stereotype of a donut-eating cop,” and then she says “You actually have a donut caught under your neck fat”…

BETH Yeah, so, what are you doing, movie?

BROOM Yeah, did you not have a moment of thinking “This is all amusing but what is the movie?” I’m not offended, but what is this?

BETH Yes. I kept asking, like, “So are you just trying to confuse us out of being critical of this, because you’re so aware that you’re, like, aware on top of aware?”

BROOM I want to be clear that I was never once “offended” by anything in this movie. It was all very easy to take, no problem. But talking about whether these movies are “dreams” or “theses”…

ADAM This felt like a thesis to you.

BROOM This felt like… an anxiety dream.

BETH Do you think that in ten years this will seem like an outdated way of making a movie about this subject?

BROOM Yes. I don’t think this will age well as an issue movie. But I think the detective story in it will make it watchable and it will continue to be sold for decades.

BETH So what would you liken it to, in the canon?

ADAM I assume Broom will liken it to the vulture Beatles in The Jungle Book.

BROOM No. I don’t think this exact thing existed before. The vulture Beatles were there just because some animator drew them and thought “it’s funny if we draw mop-tops, like on those silly mop-topped boys who are so famous.” And that’s it. I don’t think this kind of overthinking existed back then. It didn’t exist prior to The Lion King.

ADAM Well, they were making fairy tales, before.

BETH Right, they weren’t doing a lot of original stories.

BROOM Seriously: when the protagonist is sitting opposite the new mayor and saying “because of my gaffe at the press conference I don’t think I will be a good front for the new racial politics of the police department,” I was thinking “this is not a Disney movie! It’s a now movie.” And I was also wondering about the little kids in the audience — what is that worth to them? Thankfully, the lighting was really pretty the whole time.

ADAM It was really pretty to look at.

BROOM I wish everyone’s eyes had been smaller. Other than that, the look was great.

BETH I wish her eyes weren’t purple. That was distracting to me.

ADAM That just made her feel like an anime hero. What did you think of the lemmings that work at Lehman Brothers — I mean “Lemming Brothers”?

BROOM You tell me. Is that where you felt like you were depicted?

ADAM Was that a sly Wall Street joke? I guess so.

BETH Did you see the ad for “Zuber”?

ADAM “Migrate yourself.” I liked that the different species of animals had different logos on their iPhones.

BROOM I didn’t notice that. I saw that she had a carrot.

ADAM Yes, but the mayor or somebody had a paw.

BROOM I had the thought at one point that the DVD era — or Blu-ray era, or streaming era; the “you’re gonna watch it a thousand times at home” era — has created this aesthetic where they really pack stuff into the screen, which creates a whole different experience. It’s a little alienating; it doesn’t feel as much like you’re the intended audience. There’s the feeling that stuff is being lost on you constantly.

ADAM Yeah, I didn’t catch all of the movies that the weasel was hawking.

BROOM I saw that the three old ones were familiar, and then he said “even movies that haven’t come out yet,” and I tried to vacuum them up with my eyes but I couldn’t take it all in. But guess who will: people who buy it on Blu-ray.

ADAM [My nephews.] I think they’ll really like this. And this is a good soft introduction for kids to noir, which I approve of.

BROOM I kind of wish there were a politically-unburdened mystery investigation Disney movie.

[digression ensues about Jessica Rabbit]

ADAM I do think the pace helped forestall objections. This was a lot more frenetically paced than a movie from the past. It had so many scenes in it, so much happened, and there were so many characters. That was satisfying.

BETH And so many little cut-away jokes.

BROOM I will register a minor beef. They should not do double callbacks. A single callback is very satisfying.

ADAM They did a double callback to the pen.

BROOM Yeah. “It’s called a hustle.” The second time isn’t satisfying! You get to do it once!

BETH Yeah. That’s just, like, a basic rule.

BROOM And at the very end there was another one between the two of them.

ADAM Well, they kept calling each other “Dumb bunny,” “Sly bunny,” “Sly fox,” “Dumb fox.”

BROOM They just went a second round on a couple of things. You can’t do it twice!

BETH Well, maybe kids like that stuff.

BROOM They do.

ADAM Should we read the New York Times review?

BETH Yes. Which I think said it was more for grownups for kids.

BROOM I think texturally, and zanily, there was plenty to keep kids interested. Those kids in the theater stayed quiet the whole time.

BETH Yeah. They were into it.

BROOM But it still hurts my feelings, in a way. Because I feel like animation, this kind of pure world of the imagination, is the antidote to a lot of the anxieties that burden our public culture…

BETH You feel like no one can be free.

ADAM It’s a “critic’s pick!”

BROOM Of course it is! It was very good! I feel like in some ways this is a five-star top-of-their game movie. I just also wanted to scrub certain things out of it.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM That seems awfully offhand of the New York Times. Surely they recognize that these movies are important.

ADAM Yeah, that was kind of too short, too B-grade.

BETH It was dismissive, in a way.

BROOM It’s weird! Doesn’t the New York Times realize that…

ADAM That we’ve been doing this project for five years? More than that.

BROOM Eight.

BETH So what’s the next Disney release?

[we look it up]

BROOM 56: Moana, November 23, 2016.

BETH So Thanksgiving.

BROOM And 57: Gigantic, March 9, 2018.

ADAM I guess King of the Elves has been put on ice.

[Conversation continues very loosely. Too loosely to represent here. Then we decide to close it up.]

BROOM It had a lot of great stuff in it. In some ways it was a very satisfying movie.

ADAM I would recommend this, Madeline. Madeline will have already seen it by the time she gets around to reading this.

BROOM None of my reservations are reservations about the watching of this existing movie. They’re just about whether the existence of this movie is the ideal state for society. But guess what: here it is. It’s Zootopia folks! We’re livin’ in it!

BETH You could say that about so many things, though. Should this have been made? Should anything have been made?

ADAM The next one is the prequel, about the Zootopia civil rights movement. Which is actually much more serious; a lot of dead bunnies in that movie. Maybe the predators eat soylent, or something.

BROOM That’s it! They eat people! Where are the people? They’re being ground into meat.

BETH The fox was really into those blueberries.

BROOM Foxes do like blueberries, right? They must eat more than just mice.

ADAM I mean, what did Robin Hood eat?

BETH Everyone was really into that pie.

ADAM It was like a vegan paradise.

BETH I think that’s what we were meant to believe, that they all just eat vegetables.

BROOM It was made very clear to us in the nudist scene that they have no genitalia, so we know that things work very differently in their world. Maybe they all only exist, like, inside a computer, in a virtual reality, like in The Matrix. That would explain all these inconsistencies. All right, thanks, guys. See you again in November.


March 10, 2016

Game log 3/10/16

I’ve decided that I stand by the conclusion reached at the end of the previous entry, that writing in depth about videogames is like dancing in depth about architecture — which is to say: an interesting enough project for every now and then, but not worth cultivating as a habit.

However, I do like marking my progress — like getting my summer reading sheet stamped at the library! — and letting my fans and biographers see what I’ve been playing. So the most superficial and least interesting part of this habit is, for the time being, going to persist. Like, subscribe, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

I’m putting all the video trailers on the page, so to keep things compact, I’m making them small. You can zoom ’em up or not, as you like.

5/24/13: Humble Weekly Sale: Alan Wake, $1.00. (I already owned and had played Alan Wake, but was interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff in the bundle, which included the sheet music from the orchestra recording sessions.)

Alan Wake (2010): Remedy Entertainment (Espoo, Finland) [~ 20 hrs]
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (2012): Remedy Entertainment (Espoo, Finland) [5 hrs]

I’m listing the original game here because I found myself replaying it in its entirety (including the DLC, which I had skipped on my first go-round back in 2012), in preparation for playing the follow-up game.

I enjoyed and admired Alan Wake a lot more this second time around because I played it on a harder difficulty setting. This surprised me, since I have a tendency to choose “easy” mode on games where I’m more interested in the story than the challenge of the gameplay. It turns out that once the gameplay gets hard enough, the center of gravity shifts, and this can lift up the whole experience. Alan Wake aspires, unabashedly, to deliver the dramatic content and atmosphere of a TV miniseries, so my original instinct had been to treat it like a TV miniseries that happened to have a game in it. But viewed that way (i.e. played on “easy” mode), the drama is a no better than clumsy, dorky, fannish imitation of its models, and the gameplay is a tedious and repetitive routine that clogs up the narrative flow. Whereas when the gameplay is turned up to the highest difficulty level, it becomes a weighty thing-unto-itself, no longer inherently repetitive (because if something requires one’s full attention it never seems repetitive) — and the drama, by receding to the status of window dressing, becomes the most lavish and delightful window dressing imaginable (a Macy’s display with a moving train and animatronic teddy bears). By treating the game less like a storyteller it became a much better storyteller.

So that’s a lesson I’m going to carry with me. No more “easy” mode, at least not until I’ve played a game for a while on “normal.”

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is just the stump of a canceled sequel, not really a full-fledged thing, but hastily dressed up like one, and artificially prolonged, to make it salable. There are good ideas implicit here, and the combat gameplay is still pretty good, but clearly nothing is at its final stage of development and I couldn’t help feeling that my time was being wasted.

(The developers are Finnish, but the character Alan Wake is an American and his whole life has taken place in America so the title is pretty funny.)

5/28/13: Humble Indie Bundle 8, $7.00. Eleven games, many of them interesting. A great deal. Prior to this past month I had already completed:

Little Inferno (2012) [fascinating for being a satire on time-wasting games that attempts to transcend satire into earnestness — but none of that changes the fact that, at heart, it’s kind of a time-wasting game]

Thomas Was Alone (2012) [a memorable gimmick if nothing else: a thoroughly unremarkable “get the rectangle to the goal” game given a strange meta-poignancy by absurdly incongruous anthropomorphic narration and emotional music]

Dear Esther (2012) [experiential tone poem, walking around a richly atmospheric Hebridean island rendered in meticulous detail. Tremendous sense of place was enough for me; I was perfectly happy to disregard the soggy boggy narration and needless scraps of story]

Hotline Miami (2012) [ultra-brutal killing spree game in loving imitation of the movie Drive. Fetishistic “80s-sleaze-nightmare” atmosphere, very well done but I can hardly approve. Nonetheless I surprised myself by getting drawn into the well-balanced split-second gameplay.]

Proteus (2013) [another experiential tone-poem of wandering around an island, but this time a transportingly unreal pixelated one, rendered with dreamy simplicity. There’s really hardly anything to it and yet this feels to me like an important piece of latter-day videogame art. It somehow gets directly at one of the basic moods.]

English Country Tune (2011) [this is as good and as hard a pure puzzle game as any ever made. I consider myself something of an aficionado of pure puzzle games, and this beautiful, merciless piece of work is at the very top of the heap, clearly made just for aficionados like me. I also really like the title, which is offered without comment; I take it to be a reference to Michael Finnissy and/or the general tradition of serious composers doing sophisticated takes on traditional melodies, just as this game is a sophisticated take on the indelible folk melody that is Sokoban]

The bundle also included Awesomenauts (2012), but I’m skipping that one because it’s online multiplayer only, and I don’t play that.

So, remaining to be played this past month were:

Capsized (2011): Alientrap Games (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) [abandoned after 2 hrs]
Tiny & Big in Grandpa’s Leftovers (2012): Black Pants Studio (Kassel, Germany) [4 hrs]

Capsized is one of the countless games “with physics” where the imprecision of the physics means there’s no distinguishing between struggling with the game’s challenges and struggling with the game itself. To me that’s a vital distinction. After two hours of insufficiently specific frustration, I quit.

Tiny & Big has a lot of art-school verve in its aesthetic, and is built around a clever and promising mechanic: slice the environment, then push and pull the resulting pieces around. But then it doesn’t really develop, as a game or as a story. Its scope and duration felt like an indulgence rather than an idea. But it was still short, so why complain.

Intrusion 2 (2012): vapgames (= Alexey Abramenko) (Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia) [7 hrs]
Oil Rush (2012): Unigine (Tomsk, Russia) [abandoned after ~ .5 hrs]

Intrusion 2 is another “with physics” game, but this time it works completely. The chaos of contending with the physics is always part of the fun; the character is easy to control and thoroughly responsive — he’s just up against a world of mayhem, of increasing zaniness. Where the crazy cartoon inventiveness of Metal Slug always felt slick and commercial, this has a certain gleeful childlike abandon such as only a one-man indie project can have. And I’m no great enthusiast of boss battles but even I can tell that these battles (especially the final one, which took up a third of my play time) are something really special, carefully crafted with deep and obvious affection for all things boss-battle-y. Definitely my favorite game ever from Bashkortostan.

Oil Rush is a real-time strategy game, not really my cup of tea to begin with, and one where absolutely nothing about it is appealing. The wretched writing and voice acting was the first straw; the fact that simply pointing the camera where I wanted was infuriatingly counter-intuitive was the second. I allotted it half an hour to give me any glimmer of a reason to soldier onward, which it resolutely did not.