So, Zootopia is one of my favorite movies so far in 2016. I absolutely loved it. As I was watching, I've noticed certain things that it was taking about below the surface, and how well it excuted them to fit into the movie. I know some people are going to be like "keep your polictical connections out of a kids movie!" but it is so obvious what they were trying to do here though. I was moved by this movie, and after seeing it, it has a special place in my heart. Let's look at the synopsis, shall we?
“From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a wily fox who makes her job even harder.”
How does a movie about fluffy animals tackle real-world issues? Well, it does it nearly flawlessly, and it doesn’t make it a secret as to why that was their intention. It's basically one big allegory to the problems with society. Most kids movies aim for comedy, gags, and fart jokes, but in the perfect world of Zootopia where anyone can be anything, it proves to not be so perfect after all.
I got a lot of connections to our society while watching this, and I thought I would share some of them with you. Keep in mind that this is how I interpreted the movie, and that you may have interpreted differently. That’s perfectly fine, but this is what I took from watching it. This movie was great, as the ideas presented subtly relate to what’s happening today.
This post contains spoilers for Zootopia, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers, tread with caution.
Being the first bunny cop is not met without obstacles.
Judy Hopps, the protagonist, grew up in the small town of Bunny Borrow, where the bunnies, obviously, live. She wants to be different than all of her bunny counterparts: She wants to create good in the world, so she trains to become a police officer for the city of Zootopia. Most bunnies grow up to become farmers, then they settle down and have a family. That’s not the direction she wanted to take with her life, and despite the criticism of her family, she still works toward achieving her dream.
So she finally makes the cut, and is assigned to the Zootopia police force as the first bunny cop. She is not met with stereotyping, however. She’s a cute, but dumb bunny. What’s she doing fighting crime? Isn’t she supposed to be doing what her predecessors did? Picking carrots and making babies? Her coworkers, and boss especially, look down on her and crack jokes because of her species. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Judy encompasses the first woman, the first Asian, black, anything, who pioneered and changed the system that didn't allow certain groups of people to take on certain jobs. They were usually not taken seriously and were often looked down upon by people who did not believe in them. These groups, like Judy, prove that anybody can do anything if they are determined and motivated towards their goals, despite the discrimination that they may face while on the job.
Mayor Lionheart, the leader of the city, even said that they just hired her to win the sheep vote. Isn't that saying something there?
Racial...or species profiling and stereotyping.
To continue, she’s assigned the easy job of being the “meter maid”, which means she basically gives tickets out when their parking time expires. While on the job, she discovers a fox, and basically racially profiled him and believes he’s doing shady activity. She initially believes that all foxes are up to no good because of her childhood run-in with a fox called Gideon Grey, who bullied her and put her down for her species. She blindly believes that foxes, natural predators of rabbits are sly, cunning, and untrustworthy. She unknowingly carries this prejudice against foxes throughout the film, that proves to be troublesome later in the film.
Her opinion is quickly swayed as she follows him into an ice-cream shop where Nick the sly fox throws a pity party for him and his “baby”, and Judy is moved into buying a popsicle for them. After seeing him throw the popsicle away and turn them into “pawsicles”, which he sells to the business gerbils when they get off work, she assumes that what he is doing is illegal, when it in fact is not, and he has a permit and all the paperwork that allows him to do this. She’s surprised and is proven wrong by Nick. Her ignorance swayed her opinion.
People are quick to judge someone based upon the color of their skin, their religion, sex, anything. This can be due to a number of things, and ignorance is not always intentional. Sometimes a bad experience can shape our views on the people around us, and to me, that's what the movie was trying to address here. Disney is not trying to say that you're a blatant racist when you racially profile, it is saying that sometimes the place where you get these stereotypes from is due to ignorance and bad experiences.
The discrimination and stereotyping goes both ways.
But Nick isn’t innocent either. He calls her a dumb bunny and teases her about being a police officer, cracking jokes and being an all-around smart allec. But he’s just living up to his stereotype of being what a fox is supposedly supposed to be. The stereotyping goes both ways, and it’s causing disharmony between the two groups of mammals.
A little later on after coming across the savage jaguar, Nick comes out to Judy about his similar past to hers, where he was muzzled and teased just for being a fox by prey animals. This is what gave him his reasons for not believing Judy and not taking her seriously. He was teased, stereotyped as untrustworthy just because he was a fox. This is the reason why he confirms to his stereotype, because there's no point in trying to be somebody else when mammals have already made up in their minds what they think about you. He hides the fact that this hurts him by being what everyone wants him to be.
The goes to show that racism and discrimination doesn't just goes one way. It goes both ways and is experienced by both groups in Zootopia: by both predators and prey alike. This happens in the real world too. Black people are stereotyped, white people are stereotyped, Hispanics, Asians, anyone can have a stereotype that society expects us to confirm too.
It is also experienced by young and old alike. Both Nick and Judy were bullied at a young age, which caused subtle prejudice against each other into their adult lives. This is saying that, if left unaddressed, hatred can carry into the next generation. Children are not born prejudice against one another. Society is what fuels ignorance, which later morphs into prejudice. This is how hatred against marginalized groups was carried on for hundreds of years in America.
Predators are just "naturally" savages.
It's in their DNA.
Judy, shortly after catching the weasel that was just trying to nab a sack of moldy onions, wants to take on the case of the missing mammals when a young otter comes to the police station to report her missing husband. Despite backlash from the water buffalo police chief, she is given 48 hours to solve the case, and the case files she is given lead back to Nick Wilde. This starts the main plot of the story and they travel around Zootopia, collecting evidence to solve the case.
After dealing with a boss shrew and a savage jaguar that gave lead to where Mr. Otterton has gone, Nick and Judy are given lead to "Night Howlers", which, after hearing the savage jaguar mention them, Judy suspects they are wolves. This leads them to an underground facility where all the missing mammals have gone, in which have all turned savage. They overhear a honey badger talking to Mayor Lionheart about how it's in their DNA and that they need to come forward, but LionHeart argues that it will turn Zootopia against predators.
Judy is credited with busting the case, and in a press conference, she, blinded by ignorance, states that predators are just naturally inclined by instinct, which is causing them to go savage and attack other animals. It's in their DNA. It's biology.
DNA was also mentioned earlier by Judy's fox bully Gideon Grey. He says that bunnies are too weak and fragile to be police officers and that they are better off farming carrots and having kids.
This same logic has been applied to write off African Americans as "savage", and was further used to enforce stereotyping them in society, namely in police investigations and criminal activity. It was used even more during the civil right's movement, which was a big thing that enforced segregation laws. Can't have those wild, reckless blacks be functioning members of society, can ya?
It has also been used to stereotype the genders: Men as being "macho", and why they fit into "manly" jobs such as police officers, the military, etc, and why women are "weak" and "fragile" and should work less intensive jobs like nursing and secretaries.
The media further influences society's perception of predators.
So like any media in the real world, they eat this information up. While Judy becomes a hero for the prey animals, this turns to be a terrible thing for predators. Predators are highly profiled and species tension is higher than ever. There are riots, fights, and discrimination against the predators more than ever.
The media further influences society's way of thinking, just like in real life. The media picks and chooses what it wants to report, and this way of reporting, yellow journalism, makes some groups of people look bad. It can cause tension violence in response, further separating us as we becoming blinded by what we see in the media.
In response to this violence, Zootopia's popular singer, Gazelle, voiced by Sharkira, organizes a peace rally for the predators in response to the backlash that Judy caused. She wants both groups to oversee their differences and come together as one.
Celebrities also influence us and make efforts to bring us together as well. For example, Frank Sinatra would refuse to play for audiences and clubs that didn't allow black attendees and entertainers during segregation. And, more recently, celebs have spoken out against the Orlando Nightclub shooting.
Zootopia is heavily divided. Predators and prey are against each other, and Judy's own ignorance shows through when Nick suspects that she is subconsciously afraid of him. She even carries fox repellent with her. Judy tried to encourage him to join the police force, but he refuses, and leaves her to her own devices.
On a train, there is a scene where a bunny and her child sit next to a tiger who isn't paying them any mind, but, fearful that the tiger may be savage, she pulls the young bunny closer to her.
Subconscious fear against groups is common. People subconsciously fear people who wear hijabs, and suspect they're terrorists. People subconsciously fear Mexicans and suspect they're drug-dealing criminals who are here to take jobs. It even happens to police officers, and people think that they are out to hurt us when most want to help us. Fear is being induced by the media all the time, and to me, that's what they were trying to convey here.
"Fear always works."
Judy, even though she was held in high regard by prey, returns home to Bunny Burrow after feeling remorse for the trouble she had caused and resigning from her job as a police officer. She confirms to her stereotype by being a farmer like her family has done for ages.
While back at home, she comes across her childhood fox bully Gideon Grey, who has become a baker. Te rabbits talk highly of him and say he one of the best bakers Bunny Burrow had ever seen. He even apologizes for his ignorance and for the trouble he had caused her so many years ago. Then, her dad mentions the blue flowers and how a bunny had went savage by coming into contact with them, and that's when she realizes the case was all wrong.
After making amends with Nick and realizing her ignorance against predators, they gather evidence to support their case. They catch sheep in the act of making a serum that is turning all the animals savage, and attempt to take the entire train back as evidence against the case, but they end up crashing it. Nick has a suitcase full of the serum and darts however, and they take this back to the new mayor, Miss Bellwether. That's when they realize that she was behind this plan all along.
When Bellwether makes her big reveal as the mastermind behind the predator savagery, she says that over 90% of the population of Zootopia is prey and that it would unify the community to have the predators as a common enemy. This type of backwards thinking is behind many historical atrocities that had white Americans from different cultural backgrounds unite against non-whites such as forming Jim Crow laws following the Civil War and forming Japanese internment camps during World War II.
This simple quote from Bellwether perfectly personifies many of the current racial issues in the United States. Bellwether's manipulation of the masses has the prey population fear the potential savagery of the predators, causing instant distrust and calls for action against "any aggressive predator that looks savage."
In a post-9/11 United States, many Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans have been similarly ostracized with racial profiling and general prejudice based on this type of political standing and "us vs. them" mindset.
Seeing past our differences and coming together.
I could go on and on about other messages and things I have noticed in this movie, but I've been here far too long. The main message of this movie is a cry against ignorance. No, Disney is not taking shots at blatant racists or anything like that, it is just addressing common misconceptions that we have in our own minds about certain groups and how we cling to incorrect notions
about other cultures, races, religions, or, in this case, species.
On the surface, the city of Zootopia is a bunch of different species of animals living together in one big community. They have to coexist with each other, predator and prey, in order for everyone to prosper. But looking deeper, the movie reflects the world in general, but specifically reflects the United States, a country with all kinds of people of different races, cultures, and religious beliefs, all in it together as neighbors.
If true change happens and racial disharmony comes to an end, it will be because we have individually and collectively chosen to change our preconceived notions and learn from those who are different from ourselves. If a fox and a bunny can set aside their prejudices to work and live in harmony, there is no reason that different races from the same species can't do the same.
tl;dr version: We must set aside our differences and work together if we want to move along as a society.