This weekend, Disney Animation Studios released Zootopia, an animated film focused on anthropomorphic animals living together in harmony. Sounds cute right? On the surface, Zootopia may sound like typical, lighthearted, Disney fare. However, the further you delve into the film, the more it becomes apparent that Zootopia is much more relevant to our culture than initially expected. Tackling such subjects as diversity, self-acceptance, social morality, individuality, and segregation, Zootopia challenges its viewers to defy social barriers and embrace diversified unity.
Judy Hops (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is anything but your typical bunny. Raised among an ever-growing population of carrot farmers, she has always dreamed of becoming the first bunny cop. After finally graduating from the Police Academy, Judy takes on the task of finding Mr. Otterton who has been missing for over two weeks. By her side is Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a street smart fox with a dark past. Through their investigation they discover a growing epidemic of predators who unwillingly turn savage. Prey begins to fear predator as the unity of Zootopia is threatened, and the lines of species separation are drawn. Together, Judy and Nick must work together to discover who is behind this conspiracy and save Zootopia.
At first glance, Zootopia is a culture that thrives in its diversity. It is a safe, accepting place for any individual. In fact, by providing different environments like the Rainforest District, TundraTown, and Sahara Square, Zootopia goes out of its way to welcome individual cultures. Zootopians look past differences, accepting one another's individuality while embracing their own. On the surface, Zootopia is the idealistic society everyone dreams of living in. But is it really as diversified and accepting as it claims to be?
For instance, when we are first introduced to Nick, he is standing in line at an elephant ice-cream shop. Once he gets to the head of the line, the elephant refuses to serve Nick's "kind", telling him to go get ice-cream from "his side" of town. Enter Judy who sets things straight and stands up for Nick, eventually buying the ice cream for him. It's a blink-and-you-might-miss-it scene, but it sheds a light on the darker, more serious tone that lies beneath Zootopia's warm and fuzzy exterior.
Throughout the film there are subtle tones of discrimination and animosity towards those who seek to break social stereotypes. A bunny who wants to be a cop? A fox who might actually be an upstanding citizen? Not okay. Even with predator and prey living alongside one another, there is an unspoken undercurrent of species separation. Ultimately, the diversity of Zootopia is undermined by the underlying social prejudice of its inhabitants.
In a way, Zootopia is an accurate representation of our current culture. On the outside, America adopts a persona of acceptance and equality. It encourages its citizens to embrace their individuality and revel in what makes them different. But beneath that welcoming exterior, there is a dirty layer of politics and pride that forbids any hope of unity. We call for diversity and representation but become offended when it results in labels.
In a time of fascist Presidential candidates, underrepresentation of minorities, and a national cry for diversity, Zootopia stands out as something much more than a child's film. It's an honest look at the problems plaguing our culture. It is not until the inhabitants of Zootopia look past their differences and refuse to acknowledge social stereotypes that they are capable of moving forward. With selfish motives and preconceived notions pushed aside, the animals of Zootopia are able to find unity without forsaking individuality. Maybe we could learn something from that approach.
Disney has done something truly incredible with Zootopia. Not only is it a well done film that the whole family can enjoy, it rises above being just another animated money-maker. Kids will love this film for its humor, lovable characters, and its visually immersive world. I loved this film because it dared to be different. This is a film that will hopefully stir people to make a difference. This is, Zootopia.