A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene,, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #80 - WEEK OF MARCH 14-20, 2016

Animated buddy-cop com has bounce

Zootopia (Walt Disney)

Voice Talents: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Idris Elba

Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush

Producer: Clark Spencer

Screenplay: Jared Bush and Phil Johnson; story by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, Phil Johnson, Jennifer Lee, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon and Dan Fogelman

Film Review

It has been said that Walt Disney never set out to make films for just one particular crowd but for all people to enjoy; which didn’t make them incredibly happy when he made the controversial adaptation of Song of the South regarding the depiction of African-Americans onscreen back in 1946. Seventy years later, the film still raises questions on how to work around the delicate topic on stereotyping in the era of political-correctness, despite it being part of the studio’s history (and hasn’t even been released on video as of yet).

Zootopia is definately something that would make Uncle Walt himself proud of in showcasing the importance of diversity in society and about overcoming prejudice within and on the surface in an entertaining and informative manner through the anthropomorphic context that the studio is best known for, wrapped into a buddy-comedy whodunit that is groundbreaking for itself.

Since she was a little bunny in her rural outland of Bunnyburrow, young Judy Hopps (Della Saba) always wanted to be a police officer and kept a sunny disposition between the worlds of the prey and predator as harmonic, despite her parents’ (Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake) cautionary attitudes. Surviving the rigours of police academy, the adult Judy (Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit officer on the force assigned to the megalopolis of Zootopia, a city that’s just as diverse in climate extremities and sizes as it is in its populace; as given by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) as part of his diversification program.

Upon on her first day on the job at District One’s City Center, Judy is given the menial task of parking meter duty by Chief Bogo (Elba) while her much larger fellow officers get the real assignments in enforcing the law. Whilst on duty, she’s suckered by Nick Wilde (Bateman), a wily fox con-artist with a condescending, cynical attitude who lays out the realities of life in the big city is no different to the survival of the fittest they supposedly evolved from millennia ago, yet she’s still remains an optimist.

In a missing person file ignored by Bogo of one Emmett Otterton reported by his wife (Octavia Spencer), Judy personally takes on the case and vows to have it resolved within forty-eight hours or turn her badge in. Learning quickly on how to outfox Nick, he is coerced into being her unofficial partner in solving the case by going through his unorthodox connections.

Through various – and hilarious – leads, they find that Otterton’s disappearance is also connected to a series of missing mammals across town of late and finding out that there’s something more sinister involved that threatens the peaceful coexistence that is Zootopia and shakes the beliefs of everyone, including the unlikely rabbit/fox partnership too.

What seems like something concocted in a desperate brainstorming session for a new project to work on, the filmmakers have surprisingly made a sturdy and substantial script weaving the very subjects Zootopia touches upon like speciesism (in place of and connected to hidden and bare-faced racism), fear and stereotyping as presented by believable characters to care about under directors Byron Howard (Tangled; Bolt ), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Jared Bush’s capable command of the underlying message at hand.

Goodwin and Bateman make perfect foils and allies out of each other as the main leads; both with histories in learning from each other, their imperfections and the potential they have in themselves, which is the main theme of the film. Almost stealing the show from these two are the Department of Motor Vehicle sloth civil servant Flash played by Raymond S. Persi in a painstakingly funny slow-mo satire on governmental bureaucracy, Maurice LaMarche doing a spot-on Don Vito Corleone spoof as the crime lord Mr. Big, Nate Torrence as the doughnut-loving sympathetic cheetah Officer Benjamin Clawhauser for comic relief at the police station front desk and Elba plays it tough as the hard-nosed police chief who slowly warms to Judy’s efforts and abilities.

Voice cameos by Tommy Chong as Yax, the way-down-to-earth owner of the local (G-rated) nudist colony and a cute gazelle pop superstar that oddly sounds and sings like pop superstar Shakira are impressive and fun, but the only odd-one out, and it grieves me to say this, is the legendary CBC anchorman Peter Mansbridge – as Peter Moosebridge – who feels like fifth wheel around here by being too straight-laced in his role. If this was filmmakers’ idea of Canadian content and in tapping in the tradition of laughing at ourselves, it’s pretty half-baked unfortunately (it’s actually part of their ideas of using various broadcasters/animals for international distribution, depending wherever you’re seeing it).

And Disney doesn’t do a bad job in poking themselves either (watch out for Elba’s very pun-worthy slapping around a certain animated musical and funny-animal versions of theirs and others recent titles by a weasel street hustler) in this family-friendly comedy caper and life lesson learning charming both adults and children alike that will make Zootopia as another instant classic in the making.

Rage against the machine

Your Heart Is a Muscle The Size of a Fist

by Sunil Yapa

320 pp., Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group Canada

Hardcover, $31.50

Historical Fiction

Book Review

It seems so long ago that the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) Protests – or the infamous Battle of Seattle – against the corporatization of the global economy remains very little in the collective memory of those who participated in it and those who watched fifty-thousand strong standoff against the riot police, while the powerbrokers remained aloof to the brouhaha raging outside of their sheltered conference and hotel rooms.

In a magnificent debut novel, Sunil Yapa brings about a powerful fictionalized account of that cold, rainy day in November 30, 1999 all together for Your Heart Is a Muscle The Size of a Fist situated from all sides of the event gathering with intensity and hopes for salvation for all its characters involved during those riots.

Mainly at the heart of the storm is one homeless runaway teenager, Victor, who’s got a huge stash of marijuana and a plan to sell it to the demonstrators there for a ticket out of town in search of himself since the death of his mother three years ago, gets caught among the throng and unexpectedly gets involved in the protests. Unaware of his presence is the Seattle Chief of Police Bishop, his father, who has enough on his hands to deal with security, possible civil rights violations, political pundits and such, holding out a glimmer of hope that his estranged son is somewhere out there still alive, looking to reconnect but forced to perform his anointed duties.

Others involved are officers Timothy Park who’s not afraid to use the full extent of maximum enforcement courtesy of the police armoured Humvee, ironically nicknamed the PeaceKeeper; alongside his Latina partner (and secret crush) Ju, formerly of the Los Angeles Police Department and veteran of the 1992 South Central Riots after the Rodney King trial that sees no difference of what is unfolding before her eyes, only with more empathy.

There’s two protestors, King the young eco-feminist activist with a guilt-riddled past and the aging radical hippie John Henry who has seen it all since the 1960s and ready to risk it all again with a sense of Gandhian calmness, even if it irritates his protégé in staying true to their non-violent principles against the police state. And also drawn into the protests is the Sri Lankan financial minister Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, a delegate looking to cut a deal in getting his country into the WTO for a more prosperous future but getting something more that he ever bargained for.

Yapa, who holds a MFA in economic geography; has a firm grasp on the events and their impact on with vivid accuracy places his characters in believable situations that are almost cinematic in respect, brutal when it comes and passionate when it arrives in a unbiased and unreserved story about finding traces of humanity among the chaos that followed in the Battle of Seattle without delving into too many clichéd notions.

Your Heart Is a Muscle The Size of a Fist is a stunning novel well-researched and straightforward with its own manifesto against globalization and, most of all, the search for redemption for all those involved in trying to make the world a better place for all instead of just the privileged few. Highly recommended.

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Sunil Yapa will make a book promotional tour appearance in Toronto on April 28 at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street). For more information, call 416-395-5577 or torontopubliclibrary.ca or eventbrite.ca.

Back in Plaid

The smash hit off-Broadway musical Forever Plaid returns to Toronto this springtime

Theatre Preview

After a two-decade absence from the local stage, the critically-acclaimed, award-winning musical/comedy Forever Plaid goes back to where they first wooed Torontonian audiences from at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge Street) May 17 to June 12, out to win over theatregoers again of all ages with their close harmonies and choreographic moves.

Written and originally directed by Stuart Ross as a love letter to 1950s doo-wop groups – and who also went on to direct other off-Broadway productions like the Keith Haring bio-musical Radiant Boy and others – in the form of the foursome ‘Plaid of Frankie, Jinx, Sparky and Smudge who met their fate on a bus route to their first major concert and make a “show they never gave” comeback with popular covers of “Love is A Many Splendored Thing,” “Heart and Soul,” “Moments to Remember” and many more back in 1993 at the Panasonic, then known as The New Yorker Theatre and still have their mini-walk of fame encasement in front of the venue.

Four years with 900,000 tickets sold and four Dora Awards for Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding Stage Design and Outstanding Performance for all four of its original line-up later, the independent theatre smash then went on the take off-Broadway by storm and various run around the world from London’s West End to Tokyo with the same ecstatic results, including a direct-to-video film version made in 2008 and a holiday show spinoff, Plaid Tidings.

Stage presenter Starvox Entertainment president Corey Ross said in a statement regarding the local revival of the musical: “We are thrilled to be bringing Forever Plaid back to Toronto audiences after twenty years. It’s a beautiful story and the frequent laugh-out-loud moments and timeless music are sure to delight audiences both old and young.”

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Tickets now on sale. For information, call 1-800-461-3333 or mirvish.com.