‘Zootopia’, or How Movies Reflect Our Own Prejudice

Spoiler Alert!: This post contains important details about the newly released film ‘Zootopia’. Come back once you’ve seen it!

Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ has been a tremendous box office success. In just over ten days, ‘Zootopia’ has grossed over $465 million worldwide, and I can see why. The film’s production of computer-generated imagery is close to perfection to say the least. Its charming atmosphere can keep you on your seat and without blinking for the total duration of the movie, aided of course by its storytelling potential, which is fast enough to keep you entertained from beginning to end. The movie’s well-rounded presentation and state-of-the-art animation will most likely be well received by critics, but ‘Zootopia’ is much more than just a cartoon movie for children.

For two weeks my girlfriend had been nagging me about watching ‘Zootopia’. I’ll admit I wasn’t very excited about the idea at first, and not because I don’t enjoy cartoon movies. I love them! I just couldn’t fathom what was so fascinating about a rabbit in a police uniform. Eventually she did succeed in convincing me to attend a screening with her at a Boston movie theater, and what I found was something more valuable than your ordinary animated comedy-adventure feature film. What I discovered was an inspiring tale about the hardships of being different in a society where everyone’s expectations of you are all but determined by the color of your skin (I mean, of your fur). It was a tale about friendship, and learning to nourish that friendship when things seem their darkest.

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Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde in ‘Zootopia’

‘Zootopia’ is set in a mammal metropolis where animals of various species live and prosper. The film follows the story of a rabbit named Judy Hopps who recently moved from the outskirts to the city of Zootopia to pursue her childhood dream: Starting a career in law enforcement as a police officer. Judy is constantly looked down upon because no rabbit in the history of Zootopia had ever attempted to join the force. Although hesitant at first, her superior eventually entrusts an important case to Judy: Cracking the mystery of missing predators who have ‘gone savage’. Throughout her adventure Judy is aided by a con artist fox named Nick Wilde. They don’t really see eye to eye in the initial stages of the film (I mean, really? Rabbits and foxes working together?), but they ultimately develop a friendship that is later tainted by Judy’s own prejudice toward predators.

Zootopia is a city where 90% of the population is prey while the remaining 10% is predator. Being in the minority, Nick and other predators are constantly reminded of their shortcomings, and when an unknown virus that turns certain predators into savage animals hits the city, predators are cast aside as if they belonged to some special group undeserving of the kindness of prey citizens.

At some point in the film, Judy makes a public statement before the press linking the predators’ savage behavior to their DNA, which enrages Nick. Aware of her mistake, Judy offers her resignation to the mayor and leaves the city.

I won’t get into too many more details about the film, but by know you should have noticed several correlations between ‘Zootopia’ and the very society we live in. Just like Americans, Zootopians are diverse, and as in any diverse society prejudice and discrimination are two very unfortunate but common factors. In Zootopia, foxes, lions, tigers and other predators are often discriminated against by the prey majority, a regrettable attitude that reaches its peak when Zootopians begin to uphold the mistaken believe that predators are ‘going savage’ because their DNA predisposes them to become violent animals. Sadly, this will surely sound familiar to millions of Americans who for centuries have been treated differently only because the majority of the population happen to have a different skin tone.

‘Zootopia’ also reminds us that even the sweetest, nicest, kindest, most open-minded individuals out there can hold a prejudice against others, even if they are completely unaware of it. Let’s be frank, there are people who believe they’re prejudice-free but who would turn their heads if an African-American male was strolling the street just a few feet behind them in the middle of the night, or day for that matter. Perhaps this is the reason why racism and discrimination remain embedded in our culture, because we still use labels like African-American or Hispanic-American to describe one another. I want to believe that in the 21st century, a period in our history when inter-cultural relations of all types have become the rule and not the exception to the rule, when technology and social media have brought us closer together than ever before, xenophobic inclinations would become a thing of the past. Our society, unfortunately, has yet to find the right formula to truly put an end to our misguided attitudes.

In the end, ‘Zootopia’ teaches us the most important of all lessons, that no matter what you look like or where you come from, you can do and be anything you want, and that living in harmony is possible as long as we all try a little harder to understand and know one another.

I don’t know if I will live to see our own Zoo-topia, but I will make a small contribution by reminding you all of something very essential, courtesy of my personal hero Atticus Finch:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”