Zootopia, the latest offering from Disney Animation Studios, splashes the screen with vivid color, lots of humor, and a great cast of characters, even if some of them are really scary and some of them are cute and fuzzy. Unfortunately, lurking beneath the surface are some messages that will have adults scratching their heads.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams that she can be a police officer but never before has a bunny made it through the academy. Determined as she is, she works hard and graduates at the top of her class but when she reports for duty among the lions, tigers, and bears who make up the force, her small stature brings on ridicule. Captain Bogo (Idris Elba), a water buffalo, assigns her to meter maid duty.
While out giving parking tickets, Judy encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con-artist fox. She tries to arrest him, but after a hilarious run through the various habitats of Zootopia, Nick gets away. Judy does manage to arrest thief Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk) but since she abandoned her parking duties to do so, she’s reprimanded by Bogo. When Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) comes to the station about her missing husband, Judy volunteers to take the case.
In the midst of her investigation, Judy finds that some animals have been going “savage,” reverting to their natural predatory state, and endangering other animals. A clue leads her to enlist Nick’s help and they become an unlikely duo.
Great casting choices make this film a joy to watch as Ginnifer Goodwin wonderfully captures Judy’s innocence and idealism. Jason Bateman is awesome as Nick and the supporting cast gives excellent voice performances. But not all is well in Zootopia.
The kids in the audience will love this film. It’s really funny. My favorite was the sloth, Flash, who works at the DMV. Judy’s frustration at the slowness of the service resonates with any of us who have had to wait at the DMV. Thinking adults, however, might think twice about some of the messages of the film.
The obvious lessons for little tikes are tolerance, respect, kindness, friendship, forgiveness, and working together but the anthropomorphism in the film clouds other issues like the fact that animals really do eat each other. It’s their nature. We eat animals, too (unless you’re vegetarian). Just the name of the film, Zootopia, indicates that it is like a utopia, a nice ideal but unrealistic in real life. Is the film advocating going against our very nature in the name of an ideal? It seems so.
Also, when it’s revealed that all the animals going savage are predators, Judy gives a press conference in which she unwittingly instills fear in Zootopia’s population which is 90% prey. She didn’t mean to but when the population begins discriminating against predators, she quits out of guilt, seeing that the way of life she has idealized is not realistic. Living out of fear is living in the darkness. To be fair, Judy does redeem herself when she solves the rest of the puzzle.
Here’s my last point of contention and a heads up for parents. At one point in their investigation, Judy and Nick follow a lead into the Mystic Springs Oasis, a nudist colony, hoping to find some information. No matter how funny or ironic it is that animals acting like people and wearing clothes encounter animals in nothing but their fur (exactly how we humans encounter them all the time), there is no reason to put something like this in a children’s film. Shame on you, Disney.
I have to be honest and say that I actually liked Zootopia, despite its flaws, and laughed my head off at some parts. Kids will like it, too, but if they pick up on some of the stranger stuff, parents, be ready to have a conversation with them about your values and the film’s values. Communication is always good.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.