Zootopia: A Year End View

At this point, it readily appears that Zootopia will be number four in worldwide box office take for films released in 2016. Rogue One is likely to secure first place (it’s already at 654M after two weeks), pushing Zootopia down from third to fourth, behind Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, and Finding Dory. (Moana seems to be fizzling out, and I’m not sure it will even crack the top 5)

So Zootopia will be #4.

This is remarkable. I’d even say amazing.

This means that Zootopia has, very handily, cemented itself in this top 5 while being the ONLY film in that top 5 that is a new property – a whole-cloth brand new original film with zero reliance on an existing franchise.

In addition, Zootopia’s box office worldwide take is just a smidge down from Finding Dory, a mere 4M or so. It’s also only about 12% down from the current top placer (and soon to be #2 with Rogue One’s ascension), Captain America.

Which is to say, without relying on previous pent up excitement, demand, knowledge, fans, or anticipation, Zootopia rocketed up the charts to hang out with the so-called “big boys and girls”. *

It also garnered the top spot on Rotten Tomatoes rankings for 2016, at 98% Fresh.

And it did this with a very modest marketing push.

When I was visiting the Walt Disney Studio lot, I struck up a conversation with another attendee, and we got to talking about Zootopia. She mentioned she didn’t go to see the film while it was in theaters, because as she put it, “the way Disney was marketing it, I thought it was one of their filler movies.”

And maybe that is exactly how Disney thought.

If so, they were mistaken.

All this long windedness is really to underscore and illustrate that Zootopia’s success – that #4 position in amongst “bigger” films – comes solely from its own merits. Zootopia’s success is born through the strength of its story, the strength of its characters, and the strength of its storytelling. Zootopia is a movie filled with panache, with wit, with love, with beauty, with transformation, with delight, and with gravitas. It is a movie filled to the brim with possibility. Zootopia touches us dearly. In a movie about animals, it reminds us who we can be as humans.

It is the triumph of what good storytelling can be, and what it can do.

Judy, Nick, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, Cory Loftis, Josie Trinidad, Clark Spencer, Matthias Lechner, David Goetz, Jennifer Lee, all the voice actors and actresses, and everyone at Walt Disney Animation who worked on this film can stand proud with the art they have wrought through their hard work and dedication.

When Zootopia opened, few may have been aware of it. By the end of its long run, the world knew. **

Zootopia is not a movie that will ever leave us. We will carry it, and all it embodies, forward with us into 2017 and beyond.


* – Yes, I will be the first to admit that box office take does not necessarily equal quality. Quite the contrary, there are many, many examples of movies that are terrible on a whole host of levels – cinematically, story, narrative, action, excitement, story-telling, etc – that still manage to rake in gazabillions of dollars. As do their sequels. Even if it’s crappy titillation (and titillation can be great and wholly worthwhile, if it’s well-done titillation), it still gets butts into theatres. But here, Zootopia doesn’t play up the usual and safe/default tropes to entice viewers. There are only two major action sequences, with minimal violence and only one explosion (used more for humour than anything). There’s no sexy sexy imagery or action (nudity is used, again, more for humour). No giant set pieces. It’s not a typical “blockbuster”. Yet it nearly matched the very explosion-heavy, punch-heavy, skintight suit-heavy, giant set piece-heavy, and readily known next chapter in, Captain America (and it beat the pants off BvS, Suicide Squad, Deadpool…). And, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s also not the typical “kids” fare of either princesses, which can rake in millions from familiarity and little girls, or fart jokes (can I just celebrate that Zootopia tripled the Angry Birds Movie take?). Zootopia was a whole different animal. (Ha! Pun semi-intended…)

** – With more marketing and support, who knows what heights Zootopia could have reached… and what greater impact might it have had? We can only imagine.

Action Wednesday

I’ve put my money where my mouth is and doubled my monthly contributions to both Earthjustice and the NRDC.  With the incoming administration in Washington DC, they are going to need it.

I invite you to do the same.  A one-time donation, a monthly donation, of little or lots, whatever you can, take a stand.  Take a stand for health and safety and life and liberty and for the fundamental operating system of our planet.  Take a stand for that which the gods gifted to us.

You can donate to Earthjustice here.

You can donate to the NRDC here.

And, if you live in the USA,  I double invite you to call your State Senators to ask them to reject the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

Let’s stand together.

El-ahrairah’s new Owsla member

Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, has passed away.

I adore Watership Down.  The ending of the novel is one of the most beautiful and moving I have ever read.  It’s is wonderfully understated, with a moment of realization so deliciously woven from an obscure side-tale from earlier in the book and culminating with the ultimate fulfillment and expression of who Hazel was.  I re-read at least the ending once a year, and the book in its entirety frequently.  It is a story of great layers and depth, of characters and journeys, and, as befitting of a tale about rabbits for whom storytelling is paramount, it itself is a novel that features great storytelling.  It flows.

Adams was 96.  He led a good life and left an incredible legacy.


“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”



Architecture Monday

This one’s not built yet, but it’s already got me intrigued.  An insertion into and old former water tower, in the town of Noordwijk, Netherlands.

Through that lovely model we can see how this is an example of a building “designed in section”, which is to say that there has been a lot of attention placed into the interplay of rooms and spaces in the vertical direction.  We’re more familiar with looking at plan views, and evaluating how this room joins another room just next to it.  But the upwards dance is just as important in creating spaces that feel good and enlivening, especially in something like a tower which, by it’s very nature, can’t accommodate much spreading out.  The model shows off the complex interlocking rooms, with mezzanines, double height spaces, stairs criss-crossing, and the grand windows both high and low.

An adaptive reuse (yay!) that will house both a private home and some public areas, the tower will be capped with a viewing platform to look out over the rugged landscape.  Colour me interested!

Water Tower by Studio Akkerhuis

Wonder Wednesday


All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people.

For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems…

But all these stars are silent.

You – You alone will have stars as no one else has them…

In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night.

You, only you, will have stars that can laugh!

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

It’s usually “better” to describe what something is, rather than to create it through the negation of other things.

But, given how our minds work, and how they try to fit things into what we already know, and how easily they will say “oh yeah yeah yeah, I know that, what you’re talking about is this…”, there is value in trying to create a blank slate for something by pre-emptively letting the mind know “nope, that’s not what we’re talking about.”

In this vein…

Transformation is many things.

Transformation, however, is not:

Positive thinking
Wishful thinking
Faking Until Making
Glass Half-Full

Clearing away the mind webs that hang, oh so ready, to ensnare and cement down any view of transformation is a first step.

Inside of that cleared space, revisiting the list, what transformation may be shines stronger.

Discovery can begin.

Let’s go exploring.


* Wishful thinking was the pitfall I often fell into when I started my journey.  I was well familiar with wishful thinking, it was something I’d already done a lot (without really realizing it), so that was the web that kept snaring me until I noticed it…

Architecture Monday

I love train travel. I love adaptive reuse. A project that combines them both? Double love!

The need and desire: to make many unmanned and otherwise unremarkable train stops in the Netherlands both safer and more pleasant spots from which to catch a train. Without, as is common, breaking the bank. The design put forward: use that other ubiquitous transportation device, the leftover shipping container, to create something visually striking and with tightly integrated amenities.

The result: Combine the shipping containers like a series of toy blocks into a straightforward and recognizable form that is striking even from a distance. The containers at the ground level are mostly deconstructed down to structure to house the amenities. Painted white, they contrast strongly with the other, solid, containers painted black. Finished by white lettering, they all go together to make the whole station look sleek and proper.

A waiting room and flower & coffee shop sit nicely within glassed-in areas at opposite ends of the station. The use of frameless glass makes them look almost the same as the centre box, which is left open for the ticket vending machine. Besides being a marker of place – and a clock tower – the tall container is also perhaps one of the most striking bathroom experiences ever. Inside, the room extends up some 40’ to a skylight!

Great little project that takes some otherwise leftover bits and, with some strong design, turns them into a totally legit train station where you can sit protected, grab a coffee, and hopefully not daydream on that toilet, getting so lost in the clouds overhead that you miss your train.

Barneveld Noord by NL Architects

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

There’s a Chinese idiom I learned through my Kung Fu practice that translates to “Eating Bitter.”  Or, more fully, the willingness to eat that bitter.

In order to train and learn and gain skill and ability and accomplishments in the martial arts, you have to be willing to go through all manner of unpleasant periods.

Not every part of training will be fun.

Not every part of training will feel great.

Not every part of training will lead to immediate growth.

No, there is a lot of training that can/will be downright frustrating, boring, repetitive, difficult, painful*, challenging, embarrassing, weird, confusing, upsetting, and grueling.  Physically and mentally and even bits that will directly confront your identity and disrupt your view of yourself and lift up the mask of awesomeness that we all like to hide behind to expose who we are and what we’re capable of.

It doesn’t have to suck – that’s up to us whether we want to turn it into suck – but we aren’t going to be smiling and laughing all the time.  (And if we are, we ought to consider we’re not pushing ourselves enough…)  No, in those moments, they can seem downright ugly.

Yet, after all the training and after we’ve gotten through those sour times, those moments will recede in the background.

Instead, we are left with a sense of excitement and accomplishment, and only experience the newfound energy and freedom that comes from our training.

Most oddly, those blah moments may even become some of our fondest memories.

Kung fu is, of course, not all that different from other areas of our lives.

There are many things we can, want to, or are forced to take on.  Things as equally complex and deep and integral as Kung Fu, things that are physical, or mental, or spiritual, or interpersonal.

Most certainly, when we practice any field of self-cultivation, we are practicing Kung Fu.**

There will be times that are unpleasant, there will be things that confront us in ways we don’t want to be confronted, there will be times (many, MANY times, in my experience) where we will not look good and will be shocked by ourselves, there will be times where we seem to wallow in question and muddlement and sadness and uncertainty and will beg for the insights to come so it will be over.

We don’t have to suffer through that – that’s up to us whether we want to turn it into suffering – but we aren’t going to be smiling and laughing all the time.

And that’s normal.  To be expected.  And totally worth it.

For what’s on the other side is just like all that training in Kung Fu.

Once we’ve gone deep into it and worked through the muck, we emerge with unbridled joy and peacefulness and connection and relatedness and generosity and ease and grace and peace of mind.  There is freedom to be, no matter what the circumstances.

Self cultivation, of course, is also not divorced from the living of our everyday lives.  There’s a parallel here as well.

Live has a tendency to life all over us.  Things go awry.  Plans go sour.  Surprises happen.  Obstacles emerge.  Challenges drop from the sky.

Not everything or every day will be a picnic on the beach.

But if we develop, practice, our ability to eat bitter, and eat our way through all those life situations while bringing to bear all our self cultivation skills, we can ride the unpleasantness and emerge on the other side quickly, with our spirit strong and our experience of life still mighty fine.

And mighty fine is a pretty darn good life to have.


* As a martial artist we learn to distinguish between soreness and general ache versus sharp pain.  A good workout will leave you sore, learning something knew might make your shoulder ache, and that’s OK.  But a sharp localized pain equals something bad.  And overdoing it on things that render you sore will lead definitively lead to that sharp pain of injury.***

** Quite literally.  Kung Fu translates roughly to  “skill acquired through effort and time.”  So it doesn’t actually mean martial art or anything similar, and thus you can have kung fu in all sorts of places, such as good kung fu in cooking, in calligraphy, in speaking, and absolutely you can have good kung fu in the art of living peacefully, freely, generously…

***  Similarly, there’s a difference between eating bitter, and situations in life that are unhealthy, destructive, abusive, wounding, etc.