“That was better than I thought it was going to be.”
The boys and I were walking out of theater number eight when my oldest, Matthew, offered his assessment of the movie. We had just finished watching the latest Disney movie, Zootopia. I had to agree with him. I didn’t go in with very many expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by the movie. Plus, it was one of the few movies that kept his younger brother Colin’s attention the entire time, so that was a good sign (usually, by halfway or two-thirds the way through a movie, he’s already asking me “how much longer” the movie is).
What I enjoyed most about the film were the generally positive messages that the film espoused. Without giving too much away, the film is about a utopian city in which animals—predators and prey alike—live in harmony with one another. The opening of the film provides the necessary exposition in which the audience learns that animals have evolved beyond their base instincts of the “hunters v. hunted.” Zootopia is a place where “anyone can be anything,” where an optimistic young rabbit named Judy Hops, the film’s wide-eyed protagonist, can be more than a “dumb bunny” and achieve her dream of becoming a police officer. Of course, once Officer Hops actually gets to Zootopia, she realizes that things aren’t quite as wonderful as she thought they’d be. She comes across a case that need solving, and it’s this evil plot that takes up the majority of the film.
At the core of the movie is the question of whether or not people (or, I guess animals in this case) can really be anything they want to be, or if at some point, “biology or genetics or instinct” get in the way (these are somewhat mature concepts for a targeted audience of 8-year-olds, so kudos to Disney for tackling them). Also central is the question of what people would be willing to do—what values or basic freedoms would they be willing to sacrifice—when Fear threatens their seemingly utopian society.
In stark contrast to Zootopia is Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, which is where I spent most of the day as I finished up watching the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones. Between early morning and late night viewings while the boys sleep, I managed to binge-watch the entire series in the last few days. The dark, film-noir part-crime, part-psychological thriller was about as different from a cute, animated family film as you could get.
Jessica Jones is gritty, violent, and at times, almost unbearable to watch. And while I generally stay away from things that are too violent, the violence in the series is necessary to the storytelling, to understanding the danger and trauma that the heroine experiences. I haven’t read any of the comics that inspired the series, so I was a little apprehensive about watching the series. But the series does a good job of introducing the title character, Jessica Jones, to its audience. We learn very early that Jessica has had super strength since she was a child, her powers emerging shortly after the death of her parents and brother.
At the urging of her adoptive sister, Jessica tries to use her powers for good—to be the superhero that the people of Hell’s Kitchen need. Unfortunately for Jessica, a criminal psychopath named Killgrave with powers of his own (mind control) sees her use her super strength and, as most villains would do, uses her gifts for his own purposes. To make matters worse, Killgrave falls in love with Jessica, and he uses mind control to make her do whatever he wants. She is his captive for months, unable to make any choices of her own as he uses her—mentally, emotionally, and physically. None of this is seen (thankfully) except in brief flashback. Instead. we meet Jessica six months after freeing herself from Killgrave; the series begins with her struggle to free herself from his control even as she deals with the aftermath, PTSD and otherwise, of what was done to her.
The show is smart in its treatment of PTSD, sexuality, and power. Kristen Ritter is excellent as the title character and David Tenant’s take on the villain Killgrave is a performance I won’t easily forget. There are no easy answers, no neat morals like those in Zootopia for sure (although both Jessica Jones and Zootopia are Disney properties). What Jessica Jones does instead is ask a lot of important questions—questions about the nature of consent, about how point-of-view and societal (not class) privilege can distort how we interpret our actions and those of others. I finished the series feeling both satisfied and not at all—satisfied by the questions it tackled and unsatisfied by the fact that even when answers are clear (the show does not shy away from calling Killgrave a rapist), the solutions are not.
Of course, after spending so much time in the shadows of Hell’s Kitchen, coming up for air in the brightly colored animated world of Zootopia was a welcome distraction. And seeing how much the boys enjoyed the movie made me glad that the grown-up world of Hell’s Kitchen is still many years away.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.