I finally saw Zootopia, after hearing generally good things about it, breaking in my new HD laptop (I still don’t have a TV). I’ve never been a big fan of Shakira and her goatlike yodeling, so neither of the songs made it into my extended Disney jam that I’m cobbling together for my massive Disney music post (coming soon). Other than that, I definitely enjoyed this movie.
Zootopia is one of those retooled classic movies retrofitted as a kids’ potboiler, with all the scandalous parts buffed to a family-friendly shine. Here we have Chinatown with sprinklings of Godfather and Breaking Bad, as a mysterious drug turns predators mean.
In Zootopia, predators and prey live in different microclimes suited for their individual biology, and work in a big mostly-neutral area which does seem oriented to the larger creatures, given the bathroom furnishings. There are street hustlers taking advantage of the discrepancies, melting down elephant-sized popsicles and redistributing them to an otter-sized clientele. There are also drug pushers who randomly dose predators with blue globs of chemical that turn them into wild beasts – and politicians exploiting the fears of their constituents that this wild and beastly behavior is natural.
Some of the reviews I’ve read point to this innate beastliness concept. I was more interested in the way that Judy Hops puts all her faith in the social contract. You have to do that in a city, surrounded by people that might have been trying to kill you only a few scant generations ago. Sometimes you also have to use your brain, demanding that it override childhood experiences that taught you about Those People and how you shouldn’t trust them.
Ever since I’ve been interacting on the internet I’ve noticed an interesting thing about how prejudice has a splash effect. You might be primarily irritated by your antagonist’s arrogance or ignorance or aggressiveness, but that spills over onto their race and their age and their size and their region and their generation and all their other characteristics -- as your brain fumbles its way through constructing a rule for avoiding future dealings with persons of this sort.
A woman says something dumb, and commenters leap forward to attribute blame to all women, or subvarieties such as white women, or feminists. A white guy says something dumb and he’s suddenly proving the stereotype true for all white guys throughout history. A Mexican person says something dumb and people start chanting about walls. A gay person says something dumb and becomes a spokesperson for every other nonstraight person in the world. A religious person says something dumb and people take it as proof positive that’s what they’re all thinking. Dumb people are never accepted as speaking on behalf of dumb people; all their other identifying characteristics are called into play.
Zootopia makes a point of showing us how the main character isolates and analyzes and overcomes this thought process. This is something everybody living in the modern age needs to know. Intrepid police rabbit Judy Hops had a bad childhood experience with foxes. It left a scar, literally. Her supportive parents reinforce her prejudice. Then, as an adult, she meets a scuzzy con artist fox, holding up his part of the stereotype. She hustles him right back, because that’s what you do with punks, but then she reaches a point where she’s forced to overcome all that background and trust him. And she powers her way through it, thus bringing about the happy ending, because this is a Disney film, even if it’s blatantly a movie about prejudice which stands solidly in favor of crossing lines.
I really like that message. Hence I really like this film, even if it’s full of Shakira songs. Best Disney thing in years.