Disney has always made “feel good” movies. Whether the good feelings come from the songs, the wonderfully animated characters, or the goofy antics, there’s no denying that on a rainy day, Disney is just the trick to make you feel good again.
Beneath the playful tunes and jolly characters, Disney movies also make us think. “The Lion King” encourages viewers to embrace mistakes and learn from them. “Hercules” reveals that being a hero requires more than physical strength. And “Frozen” shows that the bond between family is one to be cherished. There’s always a message in the story. And Disney’s “Zootopia” presents a message that resonates today.
The movie begins with Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), an enthusiastic bunny with a dream to be a police officer in Zootopia. After graduating top of her class, she gets a job on the police force in the heart of Zootopia. However, her career starts out on a sour note. Underestimated as a tiny bunny, she is stuck on parking ticket duty. While writing tickets, Hopps encounters a trickster fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman). A mysterious series of events leads this unlikely pair on a journey to discover why predators are going missing in Zootopia.
Three themes in the movie stand out. The first is our society’s conflicted attitude toward the police. Over the past two years, countless cases of police brutality have been in the news. The very people who have pledged to protect and serve us seem to be doing just the opposite. Yet, we often forget that these wrong-doing officers are the minority. Judy Hopps, no matter what difficulty she is facing, always says to herself, “I want to make the world a better place.” Being an officer allows her to do that. And for real men and women, being a police officer allows them to do that too. What a noble and selfless cause. Despite the brutal crimes by a few officers replayed over and over there is a dedicated police force that maintains peace and keeps us safe.
The second theme is racial stereotyping. The conflicts between species in Zootopia mirror racial tensions around the globe. The cases of the missing predators unearths bitter feelings and false accusations, leading to divisions and unfair punishments among the once peacefully coexisting animals. The sharpness of one’s claws or teeth induce distrust and suspicion. Sound familiar? In this country, and surely all around the world, whole groups are being wrongly stereotyped. Black lives are counted for less. Muslims can’t go into any public place without being scrutinized. Women are objectified daily. This has to stop. No life is more important than another. If a fox and a bunny – predator and prey – can be friends, surely humans can show that same kindness and acceptance.
Lastly, the most profound message is: From the moment you are born, there is no person or stereotype that should tell who you are or what you can be. Judy Hopps was told to be a carrot farmer. Nick Wilde believed he would never amount to more than a sly hustler. These two had to break away from the stereotypes to discover their true callings and save a city from deceit and divide.
“Zootopia” offers more than just a heart-warming tale of cute animals. It reflects who we are and how we see ourselves. Prey or predator, there should be nothing that holds us down or keeps us apart.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.