Zootopia does not take itself quite as seriously as our first two movies, but the lessons learned are no less relevant. Admittedly, I thought this was a Pixar movie until someone was kind enough to tell me otherwise. And that didn’t even happen until the day after I watched the movie. Zootopia just felt like a Pixar movie. There was a distinct lack of musical numbers, Judy Hopps was certainly not a princess, and the story seemed so connected to this world. Now, I will be the first to tell you that Disney movies are excellent at teaching relevant lessons; however, the stories themselves seem to be disconnected from this world. For example, Aladdin teaches a beautiful lesson of friendship, loyalty, and honesty, but it does so in a story filled with a magic lamp, an excitable genie, and an anthropomorphic carpet. Similarly, Tarzan shows us that family are those who care about you most, not necessarily those who look like you, but we will never find ourselves in the position of having to steal the hair of an elephant’s tail to fit in with our gorilla friends. Disney films tend to offer genuine, applicable life lessons through the medium of a fantasy story disconnected from our own world. Zootopia felt different.
Yes, I watched the movie. The entire movie is all talking animals without a single person involved. But the movie was not about animals. Even while watching it, I didn’t view the characters as their respective animal. I saw people. People I have met. People I have encountered. People I know. People I love. And that is what this movie is about. It does not take much imagination to see every character and every situation in Zootopia mirrored in our world. If you ask me, I don’t think it was meant to take much imagination to see this. Most Disney movies take us to another place for a little while then deliver us back to our world with a little piece of internal wisdom with which to better our lives. Instead, Zootopia boldly confronts the issues of our world. More impressively, it encourages (dare I say challenges?) us to do the same.
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), other than being one of the greatest poems we possess, can teach us an important lesson here. When interviewed about his poem, Dodgson was asked if it had any sort of meaning behind it, be it political, economic, social, etc. Dodgson replied by saying that he did not intend for it to have any meaning; he just wanted to write something nonsensical. However, he went on to say that if people can find some meaning from his poem, whatever it may be, then he was all right with that. I use this to say that there are multiple ways to view each scenario in Zootopia. What I took away from various scenarios in Zootopia may not have been what you interpreted the movie to be saying. And neither of these interpretations may have been what was originally intended. Clearly, Zootopia wants us to think about the plights of our world, but which plights it wants us to wrestle with specifically is much less clear. I consider this to be a good thing.
Judy Hopps illustrates this point wonderfully. Judy was discouraged from becoming a police officer for her whole life. Her parents told her to give up on her dreams and be content with settling. Her elementary school bully told her that she would never amount to more than just a dumb bunny. And her training officer in the police academy emphatically pronounced her dead after every failed exercise. Even after Judy achieved her goal of becoming the first rabbit officer, the persecution continued. The chief couldn’t be bothered to take her seriously, assigned Judy to be a meter maid, and set her up for failure when he reluctantly agreed to give her two days (and no resources) to find Mr. Otterton (the police had this case for two weeks and were unable to make any progress). There are (at least) two ways to view the troubles faced and triumphs won of Judy becoming the first rabbit police officer. This can be seen as a woman (as Judy is indeed a female rabbit) fighting her way into a predominantly male vocation and succeeding. We can also see this as Judy being someone of a minority race facing and overcoming the challenges of entering an entirely white field for the first time. Stories such as Jackie Robinson come to mind here. What’s even more fun is that these are each very adult conclusions to make. I’d be willing to bet that the conclusions children reached from this story are quite different. And this is only in the first ten minutes of the movie! The rest of the film has scenarios that can be interpreted in multiple different ways.
In typical Disney fashion, Zootopia provides us with a movie that is both meaningful and enjoyable for children and adults equally. Again, huge Disney fan here, so I may be a bit biased. But what is impressive to me is that they pulled this off without this movie being a musical. Whether young or old, we all appreciate a great song. Disney creates some of the best, which is a large part of what makes these movies so accessible to all people. However, Zootopia achieved this accessibility and enjoyability without the use of original Disney songs. The story, characters, and introspective nature of the film were just that good. Oh, and the humor was great! There was enough simple, understandable humor to keep the children entertained, but it did not come at the cost of clever humor that the adults could enjoy. A little rabbit falling into an oversized toilet is hilarious for children. While anyone who has ever been to a DMV will appreciate the cleverity (let’s just agree this is a much better way to say “cleverness”) of having the Zootopia DMV workers be sloths. If Zootopia is going to carry lessons for both children and adults, it is only fair that it offers humor for both, as well.
My name is Chuck, and these are my thoughts. Now I would like to know what you think. Do you think Zootopia was meant to show us our world with such transparency? Are there other interpretations to Judy’s story that you wanted to discuss? Which other aspects of our world could you see throughout the rest of the movie? Leave a comment down below, and we’ll talk. Enjoy the day!
Next week: Arrival