Best of 2016, #1: Zootopia

What I Liked About It: 2016 will always be remembered as the year the Klan conquered America, but it’s also the year that saw one of the best (and most entertaining) movies about racism ever made. My daughter loves watching it, then we get to have in depth conversations about the dozen levels of racism subtly portrayed, from benign to malicious, and what’s problematic about each.

So many Rulebook Casefiles! Next week, we’ll spend the whole week on how the movie sets up the climactic scene, so for now let’s focus on one object runner that’s not part of that scene: Nick’s badge.
  • When Officer Hopps falls for the scam being run by Nick Wilde and his partner Finnick, Hopps naively puts a sticker-badge on Finnick, who is pretending to be a toddler.
  • When Hopps extorts Nicks into working with her on his case, Finnick laughs at him and puts the sticker on him: “She hustled you good! You’re a cop now Nick, you’re gonna need one of these! Have fun working with the fuzz!”
  • Later, when Hopps realizes that Nick has sabotaged the investigation, Nick sarcastically points to the sticker and says, “Madam, I have a fake badge. I would never impede your pretend investigation.”
  • Later, Hopps has convinced Nick to apply to be a cop, but then offends him, causing him to throw away his application and rip the sticker off.
  • Finally, after Nick graduates the academy, Hopps puts a real badge on him.
So the fake badge changes in meaning with each exchange: naïve maternalism, to badge of shame, to icon of sarcasm, to representation of dashed hopes, to earnest achievement.  Next week, we’ll focus on the exchange of three objects that are necessary for the plot, but this object is solely a source of meaning, and that meaning grows with each exchange.  

Storyteller’s Rulebook: More Thoughts on Object Exchanges

I’ve talked a lot about the power of investing objects with meaning and then exchanging them, such as here, here, and here. In this post on Iron Man, I followed one object throughout a movie. But is this common? I data-mined the checklists to find out, and yes, it pretty much is. Let’s ask the question, Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
  • Casablanca: Yes, the letters of transit, the song (if that counts)
  • Sunset Boulevard: Yes, his car, her car, her manuscript, the pool, the gun, the spotlights.
  • In a Lonely Place: No, not really. The book, maybe. Briefly with the grapefruit knife, and the phone.
  • Alien: Not really. The “mother” computer “changes hands”, I guess, but it can’t actually be placed from hand to hand.
  • The Shining: Yes, the ball, the bat, etc.
  • Blue Velvet: Yes, the ears, the strip of blue velvet, the party hat, etc.
  • Silence of the Lambs: Yes, the survey, the moth, the pen, the drawings, the dog,
  • Groundhog Day: Sort of. The pencil. The note he gives her about what Larry is going to say.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes, the greeting card, the surveillance photos, the boat, the tape recorder and the tapes, the oranges, the article about the boat.
  • The Bourne Identity: Sort of. The laser projector under his skin, the passports, the guns.
  • Sideways: Yes, the manuscript, the wine bottle, etc.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Yes, the helmet, the dragon’s prosthesis, etc.
  • Iron Man: Yes, the two heart devices.
  • An Education: Yes, the cello (It represents the burden of her education, David’s able to admire it and offer his car to it when he meets Jenny, making him seem less lecherous, etc.) The C.S. Lewis book, the map, the engagement ring, the letters.
  • Bridesmaids: Bill Cosby’s card, the baked goods, the shower gifts.
So, once again, common but not universal.