Taken on one level, Zootopia is a buddy cop film noir mystery that all ages can enjoy. And it certainly is that, with a big cast of characters, a dark, dangerous mystery, pop-culture callouts, and a mega-happy ending. The animation and soundtrack are just what you’d expect from Disney.
But it’s so much more. You wouldn’t have thought that a bright animated cartoon would have a complex story that would tackle not just racism, but political media and law-enforcement manipulation, microaggressions, and unconscious racism inside even the best liberal intentions. And the history of ‘scientific racism’ along with the terrible harm it can cause. And have something like a redemption narrative at the end.
For that matter, just the narrative of bullying and the actual apology that follows would be worth the ticket price.
In some ways the movie models our own society, which occasionally congratulates itself for being completely post-racial… only to to set fire to that conceit and curse god in the ashes. Compressed into a 108-minute movie, of course.
Judy Hopps, our optimistic hero at her moment of public triumph, suddenly finds herself in those ashes, wearing that sackcloth, with no one to blame but herself.
The two main characters, Judy and Nick, have tremendous chemistry, navigating the twists of the story as only their respective personalities allow. And they do sort of end up together, in a way, just not what you might expect.
Is it a perfect movie? That depends. It manages to go pretty far into some dark themes of social justice, for the amount of fun that it is to watch, which is quite a balancing act. I can easily imagine parents using it as a springboard for discussion with their kids… or the other way round.
- For all the details on cast and plot, consult Wikipedia as usual: Zootopia (Zootropolis in UK)
- Another artist of the Modern Anthropomorphic Style wrote extensively about Zootopia and Apologies. This is of particular note because his own work has built an extensive theory of what is, and is not a meaningful apology, and the power that an apology can have.
- For more on scientific racism, read ‘Stamped From The Beginning’ by Ibram X Kendi. Many of the West’s historic intellectual heroes contributed to a foundation of segregation and discrimination that persists to this day.
- I know of at least one reviewer who seemed to have either walked out or checked out of the movie right as Judy Hopps makes her disastrous racism speech. They did not get to the part where her good intentions turn out to be a shambles, and come crashing down on top of her.
- As with most sound tracks, the pop music lead is by one artist, the orchestral part by another. Each have their own virtues.
- While Nick and Judy do not become romantic partners in the movie, fan art and fanfiction more than make up for it. (Be careful what you Google!)
- Pop-culture callouts that I spotted include Breaking Bad, Futurama, and The Godfather. There are more, I’m sure.