If you make it to the theater to see Disney’s latest animated film Zootopia, be sure to take your thinking cap with you. Also, be ready to answer some tough questions that will come from the back seat when you leave. This film does not go light on message and addresses concepts like racial profiling, bullying, nature vs nurture, and finding identity.
The star of the film is bunny rabbit Judy Hopps, who as a young bunny in a school play, explains to the audience how animals who are predators and animals who are prey have all evolved to be able to live peacefully together. Throughout the movie, we see that animals who may have previously been enemies live together in harmony…for the most part. While the animals live peacefully together, we see that discrimination runs rampant among species.
Judy grows up on her family’s carrot farm, but she has big dreams of moving to the big city of Zootopia to become a police officer. However, as a tiny bunny, Judy is treated as inferior by her boss and given the position of meter maid, while the larger animals get to do what she considers to be real police work. She dreams of solving a missing
persons mammal case, but as a meter maid, isn’t given the chance. With a desire to do important work, Judy is determined to dive into the investigation after she meets Nick Wilde, a con artist fox who just might have the exact information she needs to solve the case.
That’s when Zootopia takes a turn and essentially becomes a hard-boiled L.A. detective story with buddy cop elements.
The investigation into missing mammals leads Judy and Nick through some close calls with a feral panther, the “Italian” mob, and some rams up to no good. They get to know one another and become friends despite the fact that one of them is a predator and the other is prey, despite the idea that one is a cop and the other a criminal, despite their difference in height…you get it. It’s all told in classic Disney manner with some really clever humor and slapstick. When predators in Zootopia begin to go “savage” it turned much darker. Judy and Nick discover that something is causing normally civilized animals to turn back to their vicious roots. The missing mammals case transforms into an investigation into what is causing the animals to become so dangerous.
There are very strong allusions to xenophobia and racism present in every facet of this movie, which could be great conversation starters for talking to kids about treating everyone fairly. Nick attempts to buy a popsicle from an elephant-only ice cream shop and faces discrimination due to his species. You see “prey” mothers shielding their children from “predators” on the bus when they sit too closely because they might go savage. When it’s theorized that the savage predators are possibly falling victim to their biology, it creates a rift between Nick and Judy as they are each predator and prey.
Things to watch out for:
There are many violent scenes. As a young bunny, Judy experiences intense bullying in the first few minutes of the film and we later learn that Nick also experienced cruel bullying as a child because his fellow cub scouts believed they couldn’t trust a fox. In a later scene, a panther goes “savage,” which is very realistically portrayed.
We asked two Christian dads what they thought about Zootopia and how to extend the lessons from the movie into conversations with your kids.
There are some scenes in this film where my 6 ½-year-old son closed his eyes and covered his ears. Because of these violent scenes, I recommend this movie for kids that are older. Don’t expect to take your 4-year-old and have a good night’s sleep.
Throughout the entire movie, we’ve seen Nick behave like a stereotypical fox. He’s slick, manipulative, and clever. It’s explained that after he was bullied as a child, he leaned into his nature in defeat and became the thing the scout kids that bullied him saw him as – a dangerous fox. But we also see as the movie progresses that he begins to use these traits for good. He’s slick, manipulative, and clever in order to help catch the bad guys. The movie attempts to posit that we should escape our nature and be who we want to be, but then shows its characters doing exactly the opposite. They embrace who they are and solve the mystery of the missing predators. For me, the movie’s analogy falls apart.
I really liked aspects of this movie. The animation is some of the best we’ve seen in a feature film to date. The voice acting is perfect and the jokes land very nicely. For the most part, the messages presented in the movie are solid, and ultimately, it’s up to me to present the Gospel to my son as needed. He needs to know that his nature is pure and God wants to use him in the way he was designed. The conversation about identity and acceptance of others needs to be had but in the correct context. I’m not sure Zootopia is the correct venue for the discussion.
Zootopia isn’t what I expected at all, but it far exceeded my expectations.
It was more violent and darker than I anticipated, but most Disney movies tend to have a heavy side (Have you re-watched any from your childhood recently? You may be surprised at how intense they can be!), but the theme is so important for the world today.
The major message I took away from Zootopia is to not let fear win. I found the storyline of not treating people (animals, really) differently because of their DNA so poignant in today’s cultural climate. There are many parallels to today’s society in Zootopia that parents will pick up on and be able to address in an age-appropriate way with their children.
I think it will be a great tool for talking to older kids about acceptance and treating everyone fairly.
Bill Segroves is a Former hip-hop M.C. Once aspiring comic book artist. Recovering retail manager. Hopeful communicator.
Editor In Chief at SluffWork.com
Jim Taylor is a communications manager for an online retailer. He loves taking his daughter Lucy to see movies!