>Warning: SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD<<
Nothing screams a happy children’s film more than adorably animated fluffy animals, bright vivid colors, and the powerhouse “Disney” emblazoned all over it. Filled to the brim with an elaborately built world that definitely needs more than one viewing to take in — including a training sequence reminiscent of Mulan’s and pop culture references (the nod to Breaking Bad will solicit a smile even from the biggest curmudgeon), Zootopia has everything an audience expects and more. But it is far more than adults these days will credit an animated “children’s” movie to be.
In a world where animals of every kind live in harmony, Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin from Once Upon a Time) has already done the impossible and become the very first bunny to join the police force. What starts off as a very traditional plot of a bright eyed, optimistic go-getter trying to change the world with a jaded, cynical and very unwilling witness by her side, it quickly brings to light a much darker story that Disney has never really dared touch upon: the racial prejudice and lack of tolerance going on in our world. In this case, defined by the predators and prey of Zootopia.
It’s completely understandable so that the younger audiences will not be confused and is packed with the usual one liners, cutesy moments, and general merchandising tools, but those who keep up with the world (which should be everyone, unless you live in a cupboard under the stairs and even then, surely you’ll have heard of some news from the television) can see how the events of racism and terrorism are mirrored in the world of Zootopia.
When Hopps tells the media that the potential reason for why only predators are going savage is because it is part of their instincts to attack, she accidentally starts a rapidly expanding rift in the animal kingdom between the animals that want to separate themselves from the predators and those who want to stand with them. Little things such as a bunny mother scooting her child away from the tiger that sits next to them on a subway soon escalate to big peaceful rallies of predators surrounded by prey shouting at them to “go back to where [they] came from.”
The last blow that hits Hopps is when her friend Clawhauser (Nathan Engelhardt), an overweight, gregarious cheetah that works at the front desk of the police department, is packing his desk up to go to his new position somewhere in the underground levels because they think it’s too intimidating for guests to see a predator when they first enter the building. These scenes evoke the images we see and things we experience in our daily lives and hurt even more than you’d think when seeing it conveyed through fluffy animals.
Hopps realizes the change that she wanted to make for the world has broken the world apart into what it once used to be. Little does she know it is all part of a corrupt plan by Assistant Mayor Bellwether, a sheep (SNL alum Jenny Slate), because she was sick of the predators taking the limelight and thought that the prey should be the ones ruling the world. Despite her sowing the seeds of distrust amongst the animal kingdom, Bellwether was simply preying (hah!) on the stereotypes that the animals once came from. Even Hopps, with her ever positive outlook on life was prejudiced against Nick Wilde — a fox with the voice of Jason Bateman — when she first met him because of how she was raised. Her parents even gave her fox mace to protect herself from them in the big city. Once Hopps and Wilde learn to put aside their discrimination for one another and trick Bellwether into revealing her plans to the police, things end in the way Disney and Hollywood always end things. If only it were so easy for those we call humans in this world.
When the credits started rolling, I was at a loss for words over how to describe the feelings that were left behind. Who would have thought that Zootopia would be so weighted? Whatever the reason for why the animals were going savage had to be something monumental or else it wouldn’t live up to the rest of the movie. But for it to cut so deeply within the heart of our lives and for it to actually speak volumes for how we act towards our fellow man was earth shattering for a Disney animated film. Disney has never dealt with matters so rife with controversy and they executed it flawlessly. I left the theater feeling fulfilled which is a rare feeling what with all the shoddy, plot holed movies that get spewed out today.
Animated films have the unfortunate stereotype (hey there, prejudices!) that they’re only meant for children and also have a certain level of shallowness to their story telling abilities. But Zootopia manages to convey a message that is profound, heartfelt, and frank without coming off as terribly cheesy and shines a searchlight on the problems within our society today. Disney deals a blow that leaves you winded without you realizing you were in the fight to begin with; something mainstream audiences can swallow without it having been force fed to them, yet leaves them hungry and wanting more because they were just schooled in the gentlest manner possible. As Edward Hong ended with his recent black-ish article, Disney is taking a stand via animation towards changing the world. By reaching out to mainstream audiences in the Donald Trump era and telling them to not give in to stereotypes and prejudices of the past but to believe that you can change things for the better.
Judy Hopps’ first meeting with Chewhauser had him greeting her as “a cute bunny” which was something only other bunnies could call each other without it being offensive. Once she explained, Chewhauser immediately apologized for his transgression because he didn’t know and made sure to never call Hopps that again. Hopps’ parents were always afraid of the world but because of her, they came to accept predators for more than just negative stereotypes and learned to partner with a fox from their hometown for an extremely successful business venture. All you need is an open mind. Even with all the prejudice our world suffers from, there is still hope so long as people are willing to change things for the better. This movie could not have come out at a more appropriate time.
tl;dr Zootopia is basically a documentary about the racial prejudices within our own society disguised as a lovable animated movie with anthropomorphic animals and does so in such a smooth, effortless manner that even the most bigoted thinker can ingest it without choking on their tolerance deficiency.