Category Archives: Vinyl Records

Rocks In The Attic #590: Abba – ‘Super Trouper’ (1980)

RITA#590.jpgWhen I inherited my parent’s record collection, I picked up a few gems from my Dad – mainly classic rock and a little bit of soul and R&B – but from my Mum I got Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack plus her Abba collection.

My Mum had studio albums four, five and six (Arrival, ABBA: The Album and Voulez Vous) from when they were at the peak of their powers, plus a couple of compilations. She must have stopped buying them after Voulez Vous, as this record – Super Trouper, album number seven – and their eighth and final record, The Visitors, never entered our house.

I’ve since found albums number one (Ring Ring) and three (Abba), so just a few more and then the collection will be complete.

The one thing I really like about the Super Trouper album is the locked run-out groove at the end of the record. At the close of the final song, a live rendition of The Way Old Friends Do from a performance at London’s Wembley Arena, the audience applauds and cheers, and then the groove locks out so that applause never ends. It’s a nice little trick; just a shame that they didn’t use this on their very final studio record due to the subtext this would bring.

Hit: The Winner Takes It All

Hidden Gem: On And On And On

Rocks In The Attic #589: Nino Rota – ‘The Godfather (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

RITA#589.jpgAll hail the greatest cinema in Auckland – the Event cinema on Broadway in Newmarket. Not only was this the location where I met both Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle, but last Friday night they played The Godfather.

For a long time, The Godfather has been among my favourite films. I first saw it around the age of 17 or 18, and was immediately obsessed with it. It was probably the first film I was obsessed with as an adult. Prior obsessions as a teenager included the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens, so The Godfather was definitely a step-up, being such a decorated film and a more serious one at that.

I don’t know why the film struck such a chord with me, but it’s something I’ve never become tired with. I have a number of books on the film – Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book and Mario Puzo’s original novel being early targets, and Harlan Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy being a happy find in more recent year. The soundtrack of Nino Rota’s score sits on my record shelves – a strange Australian pressing with a murky green cover – and of course, I have the Coppola Restoration of the trilogy on blu-ray. At University, I remember walking through a field to the supermarket with my housemates, feeling like Michael walking through Sicily accompanied by his bodyguards.

Seeing a film on the big screen is always a different prospect than watching at home though. You notice things that you would never have noticed in hundreds of home viewings – a character’s glance, a line of dialogue, the way the light falls on an object outside of the immediate foreground of a shot. It’s also nice to see it in a room full of people. The screening I saw was almost sold out, and full of much younger people than I was expecting.

As a film, it shouldn’t be so good. It goes against so many cinematic rules. The lead protagonist is clearly Michael, yet we don’t see him until a good five or ten minutes into the film, and even then he is introduced as a supporting character. Vito is initially offered as the film’s hero – or anti-hero – but his gunning down towards the end of the first act provides the film’s first challenge, a shake-up to decide not only who is going to become the patriarch of the Corleone family, but also the film’s lead protagonist.

By the end of the film, Michael’s actions have transferred him from protagonist to antagonist, and the stone-cold denoument where Michael’s study door is slowly closed on Kay, is matched only by the ending of The Godfather Part II where he sits alone to contemplate the terrible things he has done to his family.

Speaking of which, I’ll be seeing a screening of The Godfather Part II this Friday night. Same cinema, same seat probably. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Pickup

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Rocks In The Attic #588: Various Artist – ‘The Wrestling Album / Piledriver: The Wrestling Album 2’ (1985 / 1987)

RITA#588I recently saw The True Story Of Wrestlemania, a 2011 documentary produced by the WWF (I refuse to refer to the organisation by any other initials). I really enjoyed it, not only to see the years I knew like the back of my hand (Wrestlemanias I through VII), but also for the years after that I’d missed, after I’d…er…grown up.

I have a real soft spot for that classic era of WWF. I don’t regret missing the so-called ‘Attitude’ era of the late ‘90s where everybody seemed to wear black, guzzle beer and walk to the ring to awful music from the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, but that first six or seven years was a technicolour blast of entertainment I really loved at the time.

RITA#588bSo it wasn’t a hard decision to pick up this two-LP set a few years ago on Record Store Day. The original 1985 record is presented in clear red vinyl, while the 1987 follow-up is presented in clear yellow vinyl. But it’s not the first time that I’ve owned The Wrestling Album.

In 1990, a friend introduced me to WWF, and from Wrestlemania VI onwards, I was hooked for a solid two years or so. I was such an addict, I would spend all my pocket money and paper-round money on anything wrestling-related, which to begin with was very sparse. Sky TV had the rights to transmit WWF in the UK, and as I was the first person that we knew to get Sky, I became the supply guy, taping shows and sharing them with friends at school.

RITA#588cIt took the rest of the UK a little while to catch on, but eventually other things started filtering through. I still remember the day when my local newsagent started stocking the official WWF magazine – the July 1990 edition featuring Macho King Randy Savage. A short while later, Toys R Us started stocking the official line of WWF figures, including the to-scale wrestling ring. This is where my obsessive collecting streak started – I had to have it all, anything I could find with that official silver and gold logo.

I wasn’t waiting for UK shops to catch on to the WWF buzz either. By this time, I had already joined the WWF Fan Club in America and was ordering merchandise directly from them. T-shirts, posters,  videos, whatever. And that’s where I first came into contact with The Wrestling Album.

The thought of a record performed by the superstars of the WWF was too much to bear, so I saved up and sent off for it alongside a bunch of other stuff. And this was in the pre-internet days when ordering anything from the USA would take at least six weeks to arrive. I still remember my Dad arriving home from work with a box the size of a child’s coffin, full of official WWF merch.

One thing was wrong though. The album I’d ordered as a record had turned up in a different format. It was still packaged in the 12” LP cover, but instead of a shiny black disc inside it had a white plastic cassette tape stuck to the front. I remember being disappointed about this, but what the hell (my 38 year old self secretly rues this switcheroo as I’d now kill for an original pressing).

As an album, it’s pretty forgetful except for the inclusion of Rick Derringer’s Real American, which from this point forward would become Hulk Hogan’s theme tune (his cartoon show theme tune by the WWF All-Stars is also included on the record). Rick Derringer deserves a lot of credit, not only for Real American – a bloody brilliant song – but for producing much of the record, and making it sound reasonably good. I’d hate to think what it would have sounded like, without his input.

The rest of the record is an embarrassing karaoke sing-through of covers and originals by wrestlers from the WWF rosta at the time of recording. My eleven-year old self didn’t bother listening to the album too much, preferring instead to listen to the free tapes that would be sent to me as a member of the fan club. These tapes featured the entrance music to the current members of the WWF at the time and were far more interesting – the futuristic synth drone of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, the guttural growl of The Legion Of Doom, the Communication Breakdown borrowing theme of the Ultimate Warrior.

RITA#588aI wasn’t aware that there was a second edition of The Wrestling Album – subtitled Piledriver – until it was released retrospectively in this RSD edition. That record leans more towards the entrance music for the wrestlers, with Koko B. Ware, Honky Tonk Man, Slick and the tag-team of Demolition all contributing music that would accompany them to the ring in the years following. Again, Rick Derringer is in the producer’s chair, and again this gives the record an air of legitimacy that would otherwise be lacking.

Hit: Real American – Rick Derringer

Hidden Gem: Demolition – Rick Derringer with Ax & Smash

Rocks In The Attic #587: ZZ Top – ‘ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour’ (1976)

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I saw this record posted in the fabulous Facebook group On The Turntable Right Now last year sometime. And if there’s something I don’t like, it’s finding out that there’s a classic-era ZZ Top album that I don’t own. Laptop. Discogs. Wait. Postman. Open. Needle. Done.

ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour is a promo-only radio sampler from 1976, designed to promote the band’s world tour in support of 1975’s Fandango! The tour would last through 1976 into 1977, with 1977’s Tejas recorded during breaks in the schedule.

RITA#587aAs a record, it’s the very first ZZ Top compilation and a forerunner to the band’s first official compilation, 1977’s The Best Of ZZ Top. In fact, the tracklisting is virtually identical, with only a couple of changes. Worldwide Texas Tour opts for six songs per side, The Best Of has only five; the extra songs being Precious And Grace and Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings, while The Best Of opts for Francine over Brown Sugar (presumably with the slow blues quota already filled by Blue Jean Blues).

The Worldwide Texas Tour is where ZZ Top’s glitzy image really started. Prior to this tour, the band’s live shows were minimalist operations, concentrating more on the music than anything else. This time around, they wore studded Western suits and toured with a full stage-set including plants, props and a Texan panorama backdrop.

Say what you want about the spectacle of 21st century concert performances, but would you ever see a band like U2 touring with a longhorn steer, a black buffalo, two vultures and two rattlesnakes?

Hit: Tush

Hidden Gem: Heard It On The X

Rocks In The Attic #586: Walter Carlos – ‘Switched On Bach’ (1968)

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I’ve been hearing a lot about this record recently, as I make my way through the Beatles Anthology Revisited – a sublime 28-hour ‘unofficial’ podcast I managed to hunt down online (despite it being continually taken down at the behest of Apple).

An influence on the Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road – if only a technical inspiration – Switched On Bach pointed to the way that a Moog synthesiser could be employed on record. I’m sure the Beatles would have been paying close attention to this album before they utilised George’s Moog on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Here Comes The Sun, Because and I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Thankfully, the Beatles’ use of the synthesiser was relatively subtle and not as plinky-plonky as Walter – now Wendy – Carlos’ homage to Bach. It really sounds like music conceived inside a computer – which of course, it is – and it’s not hard to imagine this sounding so futuristic back in the late ‘60s. It still sounds futuristic!

Carlos would repeat the formula in 1971 on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, this time playing the Moog to reproduce a couple of Ludwig Van’s big hits.

Hit: Air On A G String

Hidden Gem: Sinfonia To Cantata No. 29

Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

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Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box

2017 Best Picture Nominees – Ranked From Worst To Best

Oscars Academy Awards
Every year I try and see all of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s a fruitless campaign – most people I know here in New Zealand don’t really give a hoot, and are just waiting for the next popcorn blockbuster to arrive after the awards season has ended. I like the annual challenge though; it keeps me sane.

BlunderOn some years I’ve managed to see them all before the awards ceremony – easy to do when there were only five films nominated. They increased this to a maximum of ten films from 2009 onwards, and so a mixture of late New Zealand release dates combined with increasing ticket prices and having children, has made this more and more difficult each year.

Blunder 2
This year, I’ve finally finished watching all nine nominees, just a month or so after the awards. It’s nicer to see the films before the awards, just so that the awards themselves don’t affect your opinion, but I’m happy just to have seen them. Here are the nine films ranked from worst to best, in my humble opinion of course:

Fences9. Fences (Denzel Washington, 2016)

In an adaptation of August Wilson’s 1985 play of the same name, Denzel Washington directs himself in the lead role opposite Viola Davis as his long-suffering wife. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a film not only so dull, but with such an unlikable lead character, it’s a wonder they didn’t develop a new category for it. Denzel has played unsavoury characters before (Training Day, American Gangster), but his portrayal of Fences’ Troy Maxson really takes the biscuit.

Maxson is a failed baseball talent who now supports his family in the 1950s by collecting the city’s garbage. He takes out his insecurities and anxieties on those around him, and with many speed bumps along the way, the film is ultimately a tale of redemption and forgiveness.

My main gripe about Fences is that it’s an adaptation from a stageplay – always a marker of a boring watch. Adaptations from plays always fail to feel cinematic, and Fences is no exception with the film taking place in only a handful of locations. As a result, the drama is as boxed in as the characters find themselves.

The other unfortunate result of a stage to screen adaptation is in the language. Stageplays usually have a very particular rhythm, a specific beat, and this can be jarring on film. I really struggled through the first act of the film – essentially a one man show, as Denzel does nearly all the speaking without letting up, designed to keep theatre audiences engrossed but not ideal for keeping cinema audiences entertained.

Viola Davis is as watchable as always, in a Best Supporting Actress-winning role, but even she doesn’t have much to do except for one particular Oscar-baiting scene in which she reacts to one of the film’s major plot points. Denzel seems to sleepwalk through his performance, but I think my appreciation of him diminished after seeing a few interviews where he came across as bitter – almost angry – at his low chances of being recognized as Best Actor or Best Director.

I’ll accept that Fences did come close to redeeming itself in its very nice final scene, but watching the film in its entirety had felt like such a chore. I even had to swallow it in 15-minute bite-sized portions in order to avoid being stricken with permanent narcolepsy.

Moonlight8. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins,2016)

The eventual winner of the Best Picture award – despite what Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway might say – Moonlight is a low-budget coming-of-age drama about a young black boy, Chiron, played by three different actors across three different stages of his life. The film also won for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali).

I was bored to tears with this film. It looked great, and the performances were fine, but the story just didn’t resonate with me. I’d like to think that the Academy awarded the filmmakers with Best Picture as recognition of what they managed to make with such a comparatively small budget (US$1.5m) and in such a short timeframe (twenty five days), but the cynic in me wonders whether the award was a political move to redeem themselves after the OscarsSoWhite contoversy of recent years.

Hidden Figures7. Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

A Sunday afternoon Hallmark movie by any other name, Hidden Figures tells the true story of three female African America mathematicians working at NASA during the early ‘60s space race. There’s nothing particularly exciting about this slow-paced film, and if anything the subject matter comes across as a little patronising to audiences (did you know, black people can be intelligent too?).

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this film, and if Moonlight wasn’t recognised by the Academy to tick a few diversity boxes, this one definitely was. The film’s inclusion in this list seems to prove that by extending the Best Picture category from five films to ten, there’ll always be a bit of deadwood in the mix.

Hacksaw Ridge6. Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016)

Hacksaw Ridge, directed by recovering alcoholic and practicing anti-Semite Mel Gibson, is a film of two halves. Another true story, the film concerns conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who enlists as a medic in the US Army during World War II.

The first half, a morality tale about Doss’ struggles through basic training, feels like it comes from the same Sunday afternoon Hallmark channel schedule as Hidden Figures. But then it turns into a war movie with a battle sequence turned up to eleven, deliberately intended to out-shock the beach landing opening of Saving Private Ryan.

The events of the final half of the film are so unbelievable that if it were fiction, it would be too fantastic to be taken seriously. A title card at the close of the film lists Doss’ achievements, and if anything the film can be accused of underplaying these accomplishments in order to retain believability.

Hacksaw Ridge is a good film, but not a great film, and only a shadow of what Gibson had achieved with the pure cinema of the last film he directed, Apocalypto.

Hell Or High Water5. Hell Or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016)

Voted as the best film of 2016 by New Zealand film critics, Hell Or High Water is a real head-scratcher of a nomination. Genre films tend to be largely ignored by the Academy – except in the technical categories – and so the inclusion of this unremarkable heist film doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The story of two West-Texas bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) and the two cops on their trail (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham), Hell Or High Water could have been so much better, particularly with the acting talent involved. Taylor Sheridan’s script – despite a Best Original Screenplay nomination – doesn’t flesh out the characters very well, and the film felt like a wasted opportunity.

The one truly exciting sequence – involving a machine gun – was fantastic, and one of my favourite moments of 2016 cinema.

Arrival4. Arrival (Dennis Villeneuve, 2016)

As I mentioned before, genre films are usually ignored by the Academy, and none more so than Science Fiction. Arrival is slightly different to your usual sci-fi fare though, with a focus on the humanity of interacting with alien creatures.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play scientists – a linguist and a physicist, respectively – who are enlisted by the US Army to make first contact with the inhabitants of one of twelve alien spacecrafts which have visited Earth.

The film has lots of new ideas, and a fresh approach to what is essentially a retread of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Plot holes aside – would they really have only sent a linguist and a physicist? What about a biologist at the very least? – the film was entertaining and engaging up to the last second, although I don’t think it warrants a Best Picture nomination.

Manchester By The Sea3. Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

Selected as the Best Original Screenplay by director Kenneth Lonergan, and Best Actor in Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea is a tough watch. The film opens on loner Lee Chandler, a janitor with something ominous in his past, who is pulled back to his hometown after a death in the family.

Affleck’s acting win is well deserved, and he’s as magnetic as ever in the title role, with slowly revealing flashbacks eventually disclosing the events that have made him what he is.

Affleck’s accomplishments were overshadowed by two lawsuits by female co-workers, who accused him of sexual advances during the filming of the hoax documentary I’m Still Here in 2010. Both cases were eventually settled out of court. While I’m always suspicious about such matters (there’s usually no smoke without fire), it does seem strange that two essentially unproven incidents were brought up seven years later to discredit his nomination – particularly by those who had no involvement at the time.

La La Land2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

If Moonlight was the blackest film among this year’s nominees, La La Land was undoubtedly the whitest. I usually dislike musicals, so I wasn’t expecting anything special from Chazelle’s film. But what a surprise – catchy songs, likeable characters and a nice script left me loving the film.

La La Land tells the story of two people who fall in love in modern-day Los Angeles, one a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling), the other a struggling actress (Best Actress-winning Emma Stone). The accusations of Hollywood whitewashing come from the subject matter of jazz music – originally an African American art form – being explored by a pair of honkies, with only one black member of the cast (John Legend) in a minor role. Well at least they didn’t get Harry Connick Jr. to play that role!

I’ve been humming the songs in my head ever since I saw the film, and I’ve even contemplated buying the soundtrack – something I never thought I’d hear myself saying about a musical in the 21st century.

Of the two frontrunners for Best Picture, do I think La La Land is a better film than Moonlight? Of course I do. But do I think it should have won Best Picture? No, that should have been awarded to…

Lion1. Lion (Garth Davis, 2016)

Lion affected me greatly, and it was the first time in a long time I saw a film and then asked everybody I knew whether they had seen it or not. Most films released these days don’t speak to me as personally as Lion did, and it’s usually only foreign-language films that provoke that kind of personal advocacy in me (2007’s The Edge Of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Turkey), and  2006’s Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France) being particular favourites).

An Australian production, Lion tells the true story of a young Indian boy, Saroo, who by a twist of fate becomes separated from the rest of his family in India at the age of five. Adopted overseas into an Australian family, an older Saroo begins the impossible task of searching for his long-lost family.

In the hands of an American production, Lion could easily sway into the same Hallmark channel territory as Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge. Instead, the film feels like a foreign-language film (the first half of the film is actually in Hindi and Bengali anyway) simply by merit of being produced outside Hollywood.

Sunny Pawar is absolutely captivating as the young Saroo, and while Dev Patel’s performance as the older Saroo was recognised with a Best Supporting Actor nod, it’s surprising that Pawar wasn’t recognised also.

Definitely my film of the year, I’ll continue to recommend Lion until everybody I know has seen it. If you can get to the end of the film without a tear in your eye, then you’re dead inside.

Honourable Mentions
Not every film gets blessed with recognition from the Academy – some wouldn’t even want it, as it can be both a blessing and a curse – but these are my other favourite films from the year (in alphabetical order):

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) – a great, Hitchcockian thriller set in the confines of a bunker. Tense!

Deadpool
(Tim Miller, 2016) – Marvel Comics get sweary.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople
(Taika Waititi, 2016) – a funny, sweet slice of Kiwiana.

Midnight Special
(Jeff Nichols, 2016) – a wonderfully paced thriller harking back to classic ‘70s sci-fi.

Moana
(John Musker & Ron Clements, 2016) – Disney’s beautifully rendered love-letter to Polynesia

Sing Street
(John Carney, 2016) – a wonderful bit of ‘80s nostalgia from the director of 2007’s Once.

Split
(M.Night Shyamalan, 2016) – at last, a Shyamalan film we can all get behind with an outstanding performance by James McAvoy

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
(Gareth Edwards, 2016) – not without flaws, but a nice standalone war movie set in the Star Wars universe.

Zootopia
(Bryon Howard & Rich Moore, 2016) – another Disney animation to rival the best of Pixar’s output.

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