I almost didn’t go see Zootopia. The preview with the sloth just about did me in. While my more laidback friends thought it was hilarious, I’ve found that others of the bunny-ilk found it incredibly uncomfortable. But I’m a huge fan of Brian Kesinger, a Disney character animator, and when I heard he worked on the film, I agreed to see it.
Judy Hopps has wanted to be a police officer since she was a little bunny, even if it meant she’d be the first. Her resolve is strengthened when her friends are shaken down for carnival game tickets by a bully of a fox. She leaves the farm, works extra hard at the police academy, and graduates to great accolades by the mayor and a parking ticket book by the chief of police.
Meanwhile, in the town of Zootopia where predators and prey supposedly live in peace, fourteen predators have gone missing. Judy meets the wife of the missing otter, a family man, and offers to take his case. During her investigation, she meets/half-blackmails Nick, a popsicle-hustler fox, to use his connections to help. They eventually find that the missing predators turned savage and were captured for the protection of the city.
The plot of the movie would stand up to any live-action, buddy-cop, action/comedy. It’s not silly, the sloths notwithstanding. It is funny, and the action scenes are well done.
But while the credits rolled and JT chortled, Dev turned to me and asked, “Did I just read too much into that?”
“No!” I said. “This has got to be one of the most subversive movies in a generation.”
Because while the world-building is gorgeous and the characters are complex and imperfect, the message is both clear and subtle. It’s clear when Judy explains at a press conference that the predators went savage because it’s in their genetic makeup. It’s clear when Judy and Nick find a drug lab in an old subway car. It’s subtle when Judy tells Officer Clawhauser, “Ooh, ah, you probably didn't know, but a bunny can call another bunny 'cute', but when other animals do it, that's a little...” And when Nick can’t stop playing with the assistant mayor sheep’s wooly pompadour. And a million other references I missed because I’m a middle-aged, middle-class white woman.
It’s about racism. But not just blatant, in-your-face racism. It’s about the carelessness with which we treat each other out of ignorance and foolishness. It’s about political leaders who use the fear of the other for their own gains, to cause disunity in order to get more power. And how quickly we are to categorize and vilify others when we think we’re in danger.
I read another review about how the message was messy and not fully thought out. I think it was thought out. And messy. Because racism, bigotry, and bias are all messy, as well.
JT missed all this. He just thought it was a funny action flick.
There is some mild language and a couple of “oh my gods.” And a nudist colony (Of animals. Who aren’t wearing clothes.) as a stand-in for the typical cops-visit-a-strip-club scene.
But if you want to start a conversation about prejudice, bias, and privilege, and how a culture can quickly change to the detriment of an entire section of society, it’s an excellent flick. If you just want to take your kid to a buddy-cop film they can appreciate, it’s good for that, too. But if you’re the type who doesn’t believe in privilege, skip it.
Kersley Fitzgerald is a former Air Force officer, former Air Force wife, and current editor of Got Questions’ blog site, Blogos.org. She and her husband adopted JT from Thailand when he was 18 months old. He has spent the ensuing years teaching her more about God than any theology course could.