Thursday, March 10, 2016


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Zootopia (Walt Disney Pictures, 2016) – Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush. Writers: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston (s/p). Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, & Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon (story). Dan Fogelman (additional story material). Voices: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Jenny Slate, & Maurice LaMarche. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 108 minutes.

In the opening scenes, we see the Bunnyburrow school play being enacted by Judy Hopps (Saba; later by Goodwin), a bunny, and her classmates describing how predator and prey behaved before the establishment of Zootopia, a city where mammals are equal. Judy, to the horror of her parents Stu and Bonnie (Lake and Hunt), wants to be a policeman and make the world a better place. Stu and Bonnie are humble carrot farmers and do nothing more exciting than sell vegetables from a stand by the side of the main road. Judy is not your usual timid rabbit. Neither are her 275 brothers and sisters. She takes on the bully of her class, Gideon Gray (Johnston), even though he’s a red fox, the rabbit’s main predator.

Judy’s parents cannot deter her when she’s old enough to attend the Police Academy. At first, she’s humiliated by her inability to complete an obstacle course, but she steels herself and uses innovation to graduate at the top of her class. This, however, does not stop her father from a teary goodbye as she boards the train to Zootopia.

Zootopia is divided into five districts to accommodate the various habitat needs of the diverse mammals that live there: the Downtown District, Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and the Rainforest District, all of which are reached by train. Judy travels through each wide-eyed and amazed until she reaches the downtown station. All Zootopia denizens walk on two legs and wear the appropriate clothing of their occupations. Judy confronts an enormous Times Square-style animated billboard where popular singer Gazelle (Shakira) welcomes everyone to Zootopia.

At the police station, her small stature almost goes unnoticed by the doughnut-eating, portly desk sergeant, Clawhauser (Torrence). But once he looks down and sees her, he immediately insults her.

All the other cops in the briefing room are exceedingly larger than Judy, but she’s not shy. Chief Bogo (Elba), a powerfully built Cape buffalo, is bigger than the rest and dominates the podium. He mentions that they have a new recruit but also notes that he doesn’t care and gives out the assignments. Fourteen citizens of Zootopia have gone missing and after he divides the districts among the larger policemen he gives Judy parking ticket duty. She tries to protest, given the nature of the situation at hand, but he bets her she couldn’t give out 100 tickets an hour. She successfully hands out 200 tickets in an hour (including one to herself).

Citizens are starting to complain to her about her prompt ticketing when a store owner begs her for help in a robbery. Duke Weaselton (Tucyk) has just run off with a duffel bag of stuff he stole and she pursues him. The hilarious chase ends when the weasel takes a giant doughnut from an advertisement in Little Rodentia and throws it at her. She uses the doughnut to catch the weasel and roll him into the police station. Chief Bogo remains unimpressed.

Back on duty, Judy notices Nick Wilde (Bateman), a red fox (she has a can of fox repellant on her belt from her father), skulking around an elephant ice cream parlor, and decides to investigate. Inside, she hears him ordering a “jumbo pop” and being refused by the elephant proprietor. Out of nowhere, Nick produces a little fennec fox whom he claims is his kid. Nick’s story is that the little one has always wanted to be an elephant and even has a cute elephant mask. Judy is moved and convinces the elephant to sell them a jumbo pop, even when Nick gets her to pay for it, pretending that he forgot his wallet.

Judy feels good about herself until she drives around and sees Nick melting down the jumbo pop into glass jugs. She follows him to Tundratown where the liquid is refrozen into smaller bits to be sold to a queue of lemmings. When she confronts Nick about this con, he has a logical answer for every deed.

Back at the station house, Judy is still lobbying for a real case when Mrs. Otterton (Spencer) gets past Sergeant Clawhauser and begs Chief Bogo to find her husband, who is one of the missing citizens. Judy volunteers for the job and Chief Bogo almost nixes it when Deputy Mayor Bellwether (Slate), a sheep intercedes and overrules him. To Judy’s chagrin, she agrees to solve the case in 48 hours or resign.

Since Chief Bogo will not put Judy on their computer system, she needs to get her information in a different way. Using her tape recorder pen, she hoodwinks Nick into helping her. They find out that Mr. Otterton visited a yoga expert at a new wave spa and speak to the proprietor, Mr. Yax (Chong), who takes them into the spa. Judy is shocked at first that all the animals are naked, but bravely proceeds. The elephant yoga instructor remembers nothing, but Yax remembers it all for her, even the license plate number of the car Mr. Otterton drove up in.

How to trace the license plate number? Nick has a friend named Flash in the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). After a seemingly interminable time, the two learn the vehicle was a limo belonging to a “Mr. Big.” Nick does not want to go there; he sold Mr. Big a supposedly wool rug that was made from skunk hide and does not want to get “iced” (literally) by the Mafioso mammal. But Judy gets him to go. The limo is torn up inside from claw marks and they find Mr. Otterton’s wallet when two polar bears catch them and bring them to Mr. Big (LaMarche), a shrew carried in by the biggest polar bear. He indeed does want to “ice” Nick, and his minions open a trap door in the floor and hold Nick and Judy over it when his daughter runs in and tells him how this policeman saved her from being crushed by a giant doughnut. Mr. Big decides to help them if they attend her wedding.

The claw marks in the car were made by Mr. Otterton who, for some unknown reason, had “gone wild” and had attacked the driver. Judy and Nick visit the driver in the rain forest district and find him cowering in his house with claw marks on his face and muttering something about “night howlers.” Suddenly, he goes wild and attacks them. The chase leaves the two tangled in vines and suspended over a chasm when Chief Bogo and the police arrive. The driver has disappeared and Chief Bogo demands Judy’s badge. Nick vouches for her and gets Bogo to relent, calculating that she still has 10 hours.

The revelation that the missing citizens are all predators and all have “gone wild” gain Judy her first press conference and a meeting with Mayor Leodore Lionheart (Simmons), a pompous, condescending lion who proudly introduces Zootopia’s first rabbit policeman. It doesn’t go well. Her analysis alienates Nick and throws Zootopia into confusion and a veritable race war of predator against prey.

Back in Bunnyborrow, the “night howlers” clue strikes a memory in Judy’s mind and she runs to find Nick. After a tearful apology she regains his support and the two learn from traffic cameras that wolves captured Mr. Manchas and took him to the town dam. Here, they find 14 cages filled with snarling fierce predators, including Mr. Otterton. They also learn that it was Mayor Lionheart who locked them all in there.

Zootopia is an excellent family film with great plot twists, clever humor, lovable characters and lots of good clean fun. The hour and 48 minutes passed before I knew it. I was engaged constantly, wanting to know what was going to happen next. I’ve said it before, Disney made the best corporate decision ever by buying Pixar. The digital effects were superb and the animation realistic. The casting is perfect in every way. The story never lagged and the soundtrack never got in the way. Parents, take your kids to this one. There are good lessons here about friendship and prejudice. The two last lines are: Nick: “Sly bunny!” Judy: “Dumb fox!” My only question (which the movie never answered) is: if Zootopia is 90% prey and 10% predator, what do they eat, if not each other?

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Edwin and Neals’ Fish Bar
345 East 6th St. New York

A “Fish Bar.” What could that mean? All sorts of images went through my mind as I chose this two-month-old East Village seafood restaurant. The space is not pictured on their website and, when I arrived there, I knew it wasn't for good reason. Outside, the big window and airlock door are trimmed in fashionable New York black and the lit sign above the window states simply “fish bar” in lower case with “Edwin and Neals’” appearing in much smaller type in an outline of New York State on the door.

Inside is a beehive of activity. The bar is full of chatty, drinking people with not a seat empty. I completely missed the Captain’s Station because it was a small laptop sitting on the end of the bar out of my sight to the right. The main dining area to the left was packed with diners, not a seat in view. I tried to stand out of the way, but there was precious little room to do even that. A server rounded a table heading for the bar approached me and said, “One moment.”

When he returned, I announced my reservation. It was then I saw the tiny laptop in the corner. He led me to a possibility of two seats at the long table he had just skirted, one facing the back wall, one facing the window. I chose the latter. The four tables at the window were all occupied and the long table where I sat now had seven of the eight chairs filled with customers. The two tables in back of me were also filled. Wow, I thought, this place must really be either good or cheap. It was only a little bigger than my living room.

The décor is minimal: white stucco walls with ship’s wheels and crab mallets mounted thereon, dark wood bare-topped tables with a rough finish (I almost got a splinter), and sturdy, comfortable chairs. I’ve seen comparable places on waterfronts in New England. I couldn’t tell if music was playing because the various conversations drowned out all other sound.

My server had to bend down so that we could hear and understand each other. He brought me my water and the single card food menu and asked if I wanted a cocktail. I asked whether they had Beefeaters. “No, we have Spring 44. It’s domestic.” I agreed to have him make my favorite martini with this new (to me) gin. It was surprisingly good. I learned later that the company that makes it is based in Colorado. It doesn’t have the character of Beefeaters, but it’s not flowery like Bombay Sapphire or the trendy gins.

The food menu featured Shares (first courses big enough to share), Fish Bar Dinner (basic fish dishes made simply with Sides), and Mains. There were nine beers brewed in New York, one from Connecticut, one from Pennsylvania and one from Georgia, three white wines and two reds.

As I was reading the menu, two lovelies to my left were paying their check and leaving. I commented on their beauty and one recommended the octopus cassoulet. I was considering that dish but the inclusion of bacon was deterring me because of Fridays in Lent. She assured me that the dish doesn’t have that much bacon. I thanked her and they left.

A young couple took their place soon after as I finally made my decision. We started chatting as their appetizer was served. The next thing I know, the young lady asked me if I would like to taste their sweet and sour calamari with peanuts and cilantro. When I said yes, she put almost half of her appetizer in my bread dish. I commented that she reminded me of a good friend who always did the same thing. The calamari were well made and tender and the dark sauce was indeed a sweet and sour flavor, speckled with sesame seeds.

As I was eating, Ivan came over to take my order. I listed my three courses and the order they should arrive and told him to time everything so that no two dishes come out together.

The oyster list was impressive, but the first east coast oyster category was crossed off. No problem there, because I prefer the west coast oysters. I ordered two each of the three west coast varieties. They were served on a rectangular silver platter on a bed of crumbled ice with a lemon wedge and three sauces; horseradish, garlic and cocktail tomato. Ivan pointed out which were which from left to right, but forgive me, I didn’t write down their names. The first two were the smallest and were brinier than I’m used to west coast oysters being, but they were good. The next two were a little larger and less salty, and the third two were perfect. I tried each of the sauces on every other oyster. All good.

The couple to my left were enjoying a lovely Austrian white wine, but I ordered the Tres Palactos Pinot Noir from Chile. It was great with the second course, which was the main attraction for me at Edwin and Neals’. That course was Buffalo frog legs. Tender, delicate frog legs in a mild form of Buffalo sauce with garlic and what they called a spicy slaw. I loved it. 

But the “slaw” was actually celery sticks and a carrot stick with a bleu cheese dressing poured over them. It took a lot of coaxing but I actual tempted the young man across from me to try frog legs. I think he liked it.

It was time for my main course, a dish I’ve never had before. The cuttlefish ribbons with caviar were served in a simple bowl in a pink cream sauce. One might think that cuttlefish, being related to squid, would taste similar. They do, but they’re a different texture and slightly more tender. The adventure was worth being good on a Friday and not having the cassoulet.

Ivan listed only three desserts and only one was interesting, so I ordered the fried bananas. The crispy rolls were served on vanilla ice cream with lightly whipped fresh cream on top. I was so satisfied I forgot to order coffee.

I knew when I left why Edwin and Neals’ was so busy that night. The food is really good (even innovative), the ambiance is extremely informal, and the prices are very reasonable. But the next time I hear someone call Henry’s End “cramped,” I’m going to send them here.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

1 comment:

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