One might say this past box office weekend “diverged” yet again from what we might expect, what with a certain animal-filled film topping the charts once more, and a new dystopian teen action movie and a faith-based family flick trailing behind. But one thing is for sure, there were plenty of options for everyone!

Obviously the big opener this weekend was Allegiant, the third in the seemingly endless Divergent series. Since we’ve no more Hunger Games to look forward to, this is how we were supposed to get our fix of a teen girl saving the world from a fascist government and winning the heart of an Attractive Teen Male at the same time (because she’s “different from other girls”), right? Well, shockingly, Allegiant tanked both critically and monetarily. Sure, it holds the #2 spot with a gross of $29 million, but when its predecessors, Divergent and Insurgent, made almost twice that much their opening weekends, that’s a failure of apocalyptic proportions.

The other new face on the scene this weekend was Miracles From Heaven, a little faith-based number with some minor star power (Jennifer Garner) which holds the #3 spot with a weekend gross of $14 million, a full million over its budget. Sure, it looks like it’ll give us all the warm fuzzies walking out of the theater, but this whitewashed family film couldn’t hold a candle to the colorful and progressive Zootopia, our #1 box office champion yet again for a third week in a row, with a gross of $37 million. But more on that later. Much more.

I also want to point out some interesting spikes in indie films this past weekend. Charlie Kaufman’s weird stop-motion gem Anomalisa shot up a whopping 5,000% and holds the #18 spot on the charts, rocketing from last week’s #63 spot. This is certainly attributed to a 500-house increase in theaters showing it, which is also peculiar since this increase should have happened before the Academy Awards, for which it was nominated for Best Animated Film. (It rightly lost to Inside Out, but I personally recommend Anomalisa if you enjoy strange existential cinema by way of creepy lonely puppets and superb voice acting.) Another “anomaly” in the indie scene comes from Hello, My Name Is Doris, which sits at the #14 spot up from #42, with 124 more theaters showing the Sally Field-starred picture, which last week was only showing in eight!

Now, with that all said, the main thing I want to focus on this week is why I believe Zootopia will not only continue to destroy the box office, but why it is actually a vital masterpiece - not only for the younger generation to whom it seems to be aimed, but the adults that take said children to see it. Yes, Zootopia may seem childish to the untrained eye, with a city entirely made up of animals and lacking humans, loaded with puns about everything from clothing labels to pop stars, and plenty of bright colors and catchy songs, but Zootopia is unlike anything else.

It’s even still beating the abominable hit Frozen, which again, started to “let it go” after its first weekend with a 53% drop, compared to Zootopia’s 37% drop. There are two reasons for this, in my opinion. The first of which is that Frozen, despite its gorgeous animation, incredible songwriting, feminist storytelling, and overall infinite rewatch-and-quoteability, is still a princess movie. Now, I know plenty of male moviegoers (myself very much included) who are on the Frozen bandwagon, and I’m by no means saying Frozen is a “girl movie” (who still says that anyway? Whoever you are, stop it), but rather I’m saying that princess movies appeal to a narrower demographic than, say, a mystery-comedy with loads of wildly different characters and comedic styles. 

Zootopia still gives us a feminist-centric protagonist character arc (I’m calling it right now, we’ll see lots of Officer Hopps costumes this Halloween), but offers plenty of other characters of varying genders, ages, and species to which the audience can relate. The second reason has to do with the genre; like I said earlier, Frozen is a princess movie, but Zootopia is a full-blown crime mystery, abundantly laced with comedy and expertly fleshed-out character development. Don’t misunderstand me: Frozen is a classic in my book, and I’ll fight you if you speak ill of the chilly princess perfection, but Zootopia is bigger in every facet of storytelling, and I think that is what’s keeping audiences coming back every weekend!

And with the adorable adventurous creatures of Zootopia, one could also argue that the tone is similar to the upcoming Illumination film The Secret Life of Pets. Talking animals are always cute, and they sell. I can’t speak for Pets just yet since we still have a couple months until its release, but the trailer comes off as a bright, fun journey that can be easily understood in one sitting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Animation has given us a fun night at the movies since the dawn of cartoons, but what sets Zootopia apart is its message, and how the characters convey that message.

I promise this isn’t going to be an essay on a reading of Zootopia (you can, and should, seek that out once you see the movie!), but a quick summary. This is a story of a law official who has dealt with gender (and species) stereotyping her entire life, teaming up with someone she also stereotyped due to her upbringing, in order to find missing animals…only to discover inherent systematic stereotyping and prejudices overtaking the city she has vowed to protect, as well as her own personal prejudices that she didn’t even realize she had. This movie could not have come at a better time: racism and sexism seem to be a social virus we cannot control, prejudices and ignorance stain everything down to the last news story and social media post, and not to mention, it’s harder than ever to trust our law officials who are supposed to be protecting us.

Zootopia speaks, unflinchingly, to all of these areas, while still managing to make us laugh, and it humanizes every single character with none of the characters even being human. It is a rare gem of a “kids movie” that every single person should see, regardless of age. It presents acceptance, education, love, and hope not as a political sermon, but as an optimistic path toward progress and healing, no matter your beliefs, age, race, culture, gender…or species.

Go see Zootopia. You’ve still got a few days until Batman v Superman comes out, so there’s plenty of time. Bring a friend, or go see it alone. “What? See a kids movie by myself?” Yes. Everyone should see this movie, and apply its message. We owe it to our world, and to ourselves.

Plus, those sloths are hilarious.

-Adam Stutsman

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