After initially seeing the trailer, I was so excited about the extensive world of Zootopia. The charmingly direct trailer explained how animals in Zootopia operated, while slightly hinting at the plot–but still keeping the story a mystery. As a largely conservative studio, Disney broke some barriers with its narratives. It may be called Zootopia, but it is far from it. The animals who live there understand the complexities and realities of a region of great diversity.
Spoiler Alert! Read at your own risk or go see the film!
Judy Hopps (Ginny Goodwin), a young and eager bunny from Bunny Burrow with a dream of being a police officer, gets to Zootopia with big eyes and a willingness to bring justice to every bully she encounters. She is met with a harsh, sexist, patriarchal reality of people telling her no, but she continues to say yes. Hopps meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), “con-man” who hustles Hopps into his daily antics of making a quick buck. Hopps and Wilde’s lives become intertwined when Hopps takes on a missing-otter case for the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department) and needs Wilde’s help. Together the two expose a city-wide scandal involving the mayor and assistant mayor. Hopper and Wilde become close until Hopps’ unintentional ignorance puts a wrench in between the two; fortunately they come together to solve the case and successfully get Hopps’ job back. It’s a classical Hollywood narrative about animals, but there is something noteworthy about Zootopia that everyone is raving about.
To quote Alison Willmore, a BuzzFeed News film critic, “Talking animals have come a long way” (Cite). Zootopia is Disney’s 8th non-musical film and it is one for the books. Aesthetically, the movie was well made. It has amazing animation, but it’s content is the most worth-while topic to unpack.
Zootopia is about representation; what better way to display representation in a cute light than 64 different species thrown together into one city? Yes, there are different sections pertaining to each specie (Tundratown, Sahara Square, Little Rodentia, etc.), but all animals come together to the heart of the city in a New York-esque fashion. Very early on, characters on all sides of the story explain to Hopps that the world is anything but utopian. Wilde, Officer Bogo (Idris Elba), and Hopps’ parents explicitly tell her that the world isn’t a Disney Movie. Meaning that while people have dreams, most don’t have the ability or privilege to pursue and accomplish them. Hopps’ parents don’t believe she can become a police officer and fear her being in a big city alone with predators all around her. Officer Bogo doesn’t
believe in her capabilities as an officer despite the fact that Hopps’ was the highest candidate in her class. And Wilde sees her as a bushy-tailed, big eyed bunny who has idealized Zootopia as a dreamland, perfect place; he unfortunately found out about the realities of the urban city at an early age, and became very pessimistic as a result. While Bogo, Hopps’ parents, and Wilde are harsh and rude, they are
representations of real-life situations.
Hopps battles sexism and gendered stereotypes from all characters throughout the film. From beginning to end, she challenges the patriarchal comments made by male figures in her life–her father, Nick Wilde and even the hippie animal. Her dream of being a police officer as a rabbit is unheard of for the time, and her being a small female is a main reason why. After becoming an officer for ZPD, her father refers to her as “Jude the Dude”–implying that she has to be masculinized to be in the role of a police officer. When Hopps approaches a male character, 9 times out of 10 the male will assume her uniform is a joke and make demeaning comments about it–the most common label of “meter maid. At the end of the film, when Wilde and her are on a case of finding a street racer, Wilde makes a joke about Hopps’ driving skills. Jokes about the ability of women operating motor vehicles is not new, and Hopps reacts by abruptly stopping and pushing Wilde off of his seat. These scenarios are common in the Hollywood narrative; Disney highlights these common patriarchal moments and challenges them through Hopps’ unstoppable mentality.
There has been discourse around the film that is critical of the analogies Disney makes throughout the film. After my first viewing of the film, I immediately tried making analogies of each group or character to specific real-life groups. It quickly got messy and unrealistic. After my second viewing of the film, I tried making different analogies but utimately got the same result. Because of the unsuccessful attempt at making analogies I came to the conclusion that Zootopia is a negotiated reading. Negotiated in the sense that audiences can come to many different conclusions and it’s difficult to see just one uniform meaning. I believe Disney did this on purpose. Willmore puts its nicely when explaining Disney’s attempt at making multiple connections to real-world issues.
The movie, to what is (for the most part) its benefit, isn’t one in which the characters or species are meant to correlate to real world groups. Judy, Nick, and the other Zootopia characters might reference things…but they’re channeling aspects of a conversation about race, not standing in directly for parties within it. (cite)
Zootopia is similar to America in regards to intersectionality. I think that is the entire point Disney is trying to make. While many people will be critical of Disney for the complicated tropes they are sharing, I applaud them for starting a conversation about race and gender– in a children’s film even!
What do you think of the film? Do you think Disney’s attempt at bringing this conversation to the screen is note-worthy? Let me know in the comments!