You can be anything if you put your mind to it. Also, stereotypes are bad. These are the lessons to be gleaned from Pixar’s latest offering, Zootopia (2016). The movie focuses on Judy Hopps, a bunny determined to join the police force, despite that honor usually going to more imposing species like elephants and polar bears. When the predators of the big city Zootopia start reverting back to their savage states, Judy, along with the help of sly fox Nick Wilde, must find out what’s behind the bizarre turn of events.
Prejudgment of character is the eminent theme here. We start with Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) being told that no bunny has ever been a police officer. We follow her through a montage of physical trials wherein she uses her smarts to graduate at the top of her class, but, despite her accolades, water buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to parking duty. Judy makes up her mind to prove her worth by writing up a record number of tickets and, in her quest to shed her own prejudgments, offers to buy a popsicle for fox Nick Wilde’s (Jason Bateman) baby at an ice cream shop that proclaims to serve only elephants.
Through a bit of trickery, the two end up becoming partners when there is a slew of crimes wherein predators have attacked prey. You see, the whole magic of Zootopia hinges on its citizens leaving behind the idea that predators are inherently evil beasts who will eat prey upon their first chance. The partnership between Judy and Nick is notable because this is precisely what she has to leave behind – her ingrained belief that foxes hunt rabbits. When Judy, with good intentions, hints that predators’ natural state may be the root cause of these crimes, we see how easily the actions of a few can affect the perceptions and freedoms of an entire population. A few careless remarks can quickly turn the tables against an otherwise innocent group.
Like most Disney/Pixar movies, Zootopia hits it pretty hard with the proselytizing. Not one to lose meaning to subtlety, the movie comes out right and states that being ruled by fear is bad, prejudging others is unfair, and if you’re forced to be a meter maid, be the best dang meter maid you can be. That’s all well and good and perfectly fine lessons for children to learn, even if they’re a bit heavy handed in the delivery. I don’t take issue with the messages espoused in Zootopia, but when I think about the layered storytelling and finely crafted emotional heft of Inside Out, Zootopia comes up short. That’s a shame because their choice to focus on the dangers of stereotyping is a bold and important one in modern day America. When there is such religious-, cultural-, and genderphobia infiltrating our daily lives, it’s heartening to see a major mainstream movie take a stand against all discrimination. It’s unfortunate that the highly direct method in which they do it results in a movie that will one day seem preachy and outdated. Zootopia is cute enough in its own regard, but it doesn’t reach too far beyond that.