When the new Disney animated movie Zootopia first came out, I shrugged it off as another mindless kids movie I had no desire to spend money on. Besides, I was still recovering from the “Frozen” craze that swept the nation. But when my eighteen year old brother came home saying it was one of the best movies he’d seen in ages and that it empowered him to achieve his dreams, I decided I needed to give it a chance. It isn’t every day you hear a teenage boy talk about anything with enthusiasm, let alone an animated movie!
Zootopia is set in a world where animals have transcended their predator-prey dichotomy and now live together in relative harmony. Judy Hopps is an intrepid rabbit with dreams of becoming a cop, a profession no bunny has ever entered because of their small size and prey-status. She longs to trade in her small town farm life for that of the big city. After much struggle and hard work, Judy proves the nay-sayers wrong and graduates from the police academy at the top of her class. She soon starts work on the force in the sprawling metropolis of Zootopia, but experiences still more prejudice when she is assigned to parking-ticket duty instead of a real case.
While writing tickets, Judy meets the sly fox Nick, a notorious hustler and world-weary cynic. She coerces him into helping her crack the case of the fourteen missing mammals, despite her boss’s protests. Together with his street smarts and her detective skills, they are led on a wild goose chase to discover the truth and wind up becoming unlikely friends in the process.
Though this plot line sounds simple enough, it is actually chalk full of deeper meaning from beginning to end. By now, we’ve seen so many animal movies that we are familiar with each animal’s ‘stereotype’– the slow sloth, the fierce lion, the dumb sheep. Makers of “Zootopia” wanted to both play into these stereotypes and break them at the same time. According to film director Rich Moore in a recent LA Times review, “So maybe in the world of Zootopia it should be that sometimes they are cliche, sometimes they aren’t. That gives us that gray that better reflects our world. It makes Judy’s struggle and journey more authentic. Are we just who we’re born to be or do we have control over our destiny?” The message is clear: although you may be born a certain way or viewed by the world in a certain light, you can overcome anything to achieve your dreams.
When Judy and Nick eventually discover the missing mammals, they find that they’ve all ‘gone savage.’ They have seemingly returned to their predatory nature and are now unsafe to be around. Judy jumps to false conclusions, announcing that they were simply reverting to their biological instincts. In reality, the politicians injected them with a savage serum in order to spread fear among the public and maintain their political power.
At a time when society is grappling with huge issues like discrimination, racism, sexism, and pervasive mistrust (to name a few) this movie spoke directly to my heart. It was a reminder that no one deserves to be judged prematurely and that kindness is always a better alternative to fear or hatred. Everyone needs to see Zootopia, regardless of their age. Not only will you enjoy it, what with its colorful sets and incredibly relevant humor, but you will leave thinking about the big, important questions it raises. Plus, who doesn’t find bunnies adorable this time of year?!