SPOILERS! MAJOR ZOOTOPIA PLOT POINTS AND THEMES REVEALED BELOW!
Zootopia at a glance is a classic animated kids movie. A cute and unlikely hero, teams up with a sly and unlikely friend to take down an unlikely enemy. Peel back even just the first layer though and you'll find there is much more going here than just a cute kids movie.
It is pretty common these days for animated movies to contain some innuendoes and jokes for the parents in the audience that will just pass right over the kids. Zootopia does this as well but instead of just making jokes they did it with a political issue: Race. The question is how well did they handle it?
Let's take a look at a few quotes from Zootopia:
“I'm not just some token bunny.”
“Are all rabbits bad drivers?”
“Oh c’mon you’re not THAT KIND of Predator"
Wait what!? Did Judy Hopps just turn “Cute” into the bunny equivalent of the n-word?
These kind of quotes are really effective because the movie does a good job of making sure no particular species represents a particular race of people. When you hear phrases like this in real life its normally coming from one race and talking about another, but when all these cliche’s are jumbled up and then redistributed out of the mouths of adorable cartoon characters it's easy to see how harmful they can be and can make you feel a little stupid if you have ever used one of these stereotypes.. which is a good thing!
The above quotes all reference common real life stereotypes and phrases amongst humans, but Zootopia also manages to work in some animal themed stereotypes as well.
Like how foxes are untrustworthy or elephants have great memories. They dive into each of those and I really like how each unfolds. The elephant in question actually has an awful memory and is pretty standoffish when confronted about it. This helps show how unhelpful and rude it can be to judge an individual based on the stereotype of an entire race, (or in this case species) even if that stereotype could be considered positive. A great memory doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but I can imagine it would get old fast if everyone assumed you remembered everything when in fact you didn’t.
The Fox in question Nick Wilde, does live up to his stereotype, but we see in a flashback that he behaves this way because it is projected onto him from the rest of society.
This situation is even worse as it demonstrates how systematic racism and stereotyping is a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape because it's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Nick even says:
"If the whole world is only going to see a fox as untrustworthy there is no point in trying to be anything else."
So yes, individual scenes do a good job demonstrating race related issues, but does the movie as a whole deliver on this front because it can seem a little mixed at times.
For example lets look at Assistant Mayor Bellwether’s plan. Her goal is to create and manipulate a fear of predators so prey can be powerful? Even though they already make up 90% of the population? and everyone seems to live in relative peace?
What is her motivation? Was prey being oppressed? At 90% of the population it would seem like they are already in control. If anything you’d think the minority predators would be the ones suffering oppression, but they seem to be doing ok too, what with a lion being elected mayor and all.
Along side that you have Judy, who is discriminated against for wanting to be a cop because she is small. So is it Predator vs Prey? or Big vs Small? Bellwether even tells Judy: Us little guys gotta stick together! Ok thats great except, there are small predators too.
Small predators like Nick, who is discriminated against for just being a fox so maybe its not Big vs Small either? Maybe it's just specific species?
Then what happens if you compare Nick’s individual battle with systematic prejudice against Bellweather's ultimate plan?
On the one hand Nick's story suggests that prejudice is a result of the system and patterns of learned behavior over time.
On the Mayor Bellwether hand the movie suggests prejudice issues stem from a single individual, and by removing that one individual you can resolve most issues. Which is in fact how the movie resolves, but I think we can agree, not how real life works.
See what I mean by mixed messaging?
At times it feels like Zootopia has no particular issue to address, and yet all the tiny things it coves do happen in the real world. So maybe its not a lack of focus, maybe I just want their to be a simple answer to a complicated situation when in reality there isn’t one and that is not a bad message either.
What were your thoughts when you saw the movie, do you think it did a good job covering race?
Did you notice at all or am I really reading way to much into it (because you guys know I am often guilty of that).
Was the messaging clear? and if not does it matter because at least its a step in the right direction and hopefully there will be more movies like this in the future?