Earlier this year, Disney released Zootopia, a light-hearted animated film featuring animals as the characters. Sounds pretty typical, right? Humorous, with enough spoofs and jokes for the adults to understand, and probably considered family-friendly. It received an astonishing 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But Zootopia is not simply a children’s movie. In fact, I would not show this movie to my children, just as I wouldn’t allow my kids to watch Tangled and The Croods (for reasons I can’t get into right now; let’s not get sidetracked). Zootopia is chock-full of agendas, some of which are worse than others.
Within two minutes of watching this movie, I was already cringing. The movie begins with a young rabbit (the main character, Judy Hopps) telling the story of how predators and prey used to live in a constant war, but now they can live in harmony: “But over time,” she says, “We evolved, and moved beyond our primitive, savage ways.” Although never explicitly said, the message here was clear to me: Break free from constrictive nature!
Judy Hopps continues in her narrative, describing the nearby city of Zootopia, “where anyone can be anything!”
Immediately afterwards, Judy is shown with her parents. Her parents begin to discuss how they gave up their dreams and settled for complacency. “If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail,” Judy’s father says. This seems to be showing “old-fashioned” parents who will only try to hold you back. “But don’t listen to them,” the movie hints. “Following your dreams is the important thing.”
At this point, we’re not even five minutes into the movie, and already there are three things that bother me: the urge to evolve from nature, the inclusive “anyone can be anything,” and the idea that your parents may be inclined to keep you from your goals.
Further on in the story, Judy is now the first bunny cop in Zootopia. The theme of inclusion continues, with the most obvious example coming when Judy tells a young fennec fox that if he wants to be an elephant when he grows up, he can be an elephant, “because this is Zootopia, where anyone can be anything.”
Does this sound at all familiar? Anyone else thinking of the LGBT community? Oh yeah, and earlier in the opening segment, a rainbow did make an appearance. Coincidence? Intentional? Hard to tell.
Soon after this elephant/fox incident, the second principal character in the story (a fox named Nick Wilde) appears as the cynical city-slicker who tells Judy that she is just a naïve dumb bunny, and that one can’t just come to Zootopia to be anything one wants to be; one can only be what one is. Nick appears to be crushing the dreams of the new young cop. Not only does this address the issue of inclusion, it also touches on what I would say is the second big issue in the movie: racism.
Many times throughout the movie the idea of “stereotyping” shows up. This is obviously something we have been hearing about a lot these days. It is unfortunate that racism has resurfaced in our Western culture. This is a very sad problem. Therefore, I don’t totally condemn this message in Zootopia.
I must warn you now—if you read on, you will find spoilers. Please accept my apology! But I can’t thoroughly make my point unless I discuss a key plot element.
Gradually throughout the movie, various individual predatory animals turn “savage.” The reason, of course, is not discovered until near the end of the movie. Until then, all predators are seen as a threat, and are constantly persecuted by the other animals (who are prey by nature).
There are a few other examples of stereotyping. Early on in the movie, Judy Hopps displays a general distrust for foxes (a distrust mostly instilled in her by her parents), simply because they are foxes. Later, Nick Wilde at one point reveals that he was bullied as a child (or whatever the generic term is for young animals) because he is a fox.
Another beef I have with the plot comes early. On her first assignment as a cop in Zootopia, Judy is given a rather menial job. She sees this as disparaging and bemoans her position. She is eager to take on something bigger, and feels that she is not a “real cop.” But this is not what we are taught as Christians. Any job is holy and a means to our salvation, if we do that job well. We ought to do our duty as given to us by our superiors, trusting their judgement as far as we are able. That is what humility and obedience are all about. Work is not about our pride or what we think we are capable of, but rather about doing our job in the duty of the moment. St. Therese of Lisieux says, “Do small things with great love.” Catherine Doherty says, “Do little things exceedingly well for love of God.”
Judy complaining of her job is not exactly inspiring children with the sanctity of work, especially menial work (which is probably the most holy of work, at least sometimes).
What else do I have to say of the movie overall? A case could be made about the sexism of the movie but, honestly, it’s a Disney movie. I could talk about the predictable plot. But I won’t bother you with those points.
Aside from being annoyed that Disney couldn’t just make a fun movie without having several in-your-face messages, I did enjoy the humour (aside from the inappropriate joke) and spoofs. There are at least two direct Frozen references that you won’t automatically notice.
So, in conclusion, I would not consider Zootopia a light children’s movie. There’s too much agenda-setting. I wouldn’t recommend it for families with young kids without at least a pre-screening, as children are easily influenced. On the other hand, if you can watch it without it driving you crazy or twisting your head, then by all means, go for it.
God bless you all!