Run, don’t walk, to Zootopia. Take your spouse, your kids, even the neighbors kids. And recognize that the anthropomorphic world of the rabbit, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time) and the fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, The Gift, Horrible Bosses) is about us – yes, it’s about you and me.
Here, farm bunny Judy dreams of being the big city cop who will make a difference in the grand metropolis of Zootopia, a place where she believes all good has been established. The lion has proverbially laid down with the lamb, and she believes she can help keep the peace! Against her well-meaning parents’ wishes, she defies their stubborn refusal to see her as a police officer and pushes through until she’s assigned as … a meter maid.
Thanks to several missing ‘persons’, and a run-in with the huckster Nick, Judy ends up on the trail of a missing otter. She uncovers a conspiracy, and sets in motion a buddy cop film that takes the pair through several of the ‘cultures’ within Zootopia, as well as the hilariously awesome trip to the DMV. It’s procedural, but it’s more than that; adult-oriented drama like True Detective wishes that it was this clever!
Of course, there are several messages transferred via the wonderfully diverse animation presented to us through Disney’s latest, and best since 2014’s Big Hero 6 or potentially 2013’s Frozen. [For the record, there are no sacrifices made or shortcuts to terrific animation and music here, either. It’s a well-rounded jaunt.] But unlike some films that feel the need to batter us with their morality, sermonizing to the masses, Zootopia maintains its narrative ground and lets us learn from the story itself. Still, we explore purpose and meaning here, so I will highlight a few.
Like the works of Brian Jacques or C.S. Lewis, Zootopia is a well-painted morality tale of societal proportions that begins with the individual and moves us toward the whole. Simply put, the main thread is Judy’s belief that she can be anything. While her parents are happy because they settled (openly admitted to raucous laughter by the audience), Judy’s dream drives her past the doubts of others and the speed bumps of life. This is the “kid level” lesson, but can’t be dismissed. For adults, there’s the realization that following one’s dreams is not without hardship, and that our dream must adapt as we recognize the realities of life.
Secondarily (or primarily), depending on your perspective, the film shows us that diversity is possible – but that peace is difficult. From a Christian perspective, we can see that the Kingdom of God has come upon the earth but that it is also not yet. We have the elements of the kingdom, and seek to live out what Jesus taught, but we recognize that neither we nor the world have been perfected. Sin is still evident, and pain and trouble still abound.
Thirdly, combining the first two(?), Judy realizes that her beliefs about peace did not take other species’ perspectives into perspective, and that her own fears cause her to see the world in a certain way. Early on, she quotes FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” lacking the world experience and self-selection to see the way that she’s internalized certain beliefs about the world which impact her decision-making (including that all foxes must inherently be dangerous). While this might be about foxes and bunnies, it’s not a leap to recognize that it’s really about young black men wearing hoodies or immigrants who speak in broken English or those who worship in a way different than you do.
Let’s be clear: no animated film has been this deep, or this timely, in my memory. I’ll so boldly say that it would have dusted any Academy Award nominee this year. Honestly, it’s as powerful as many of the Best Picture nominees this year. There, I said it.
We will spend the next eleven months being pushed around emotionally and verbally by parties and nominees who want us to fear this or that. In Zootopia, we might recognize in this furry parable that we can only be who we’re meant to be when we move past our fear. Sometimes, we just need to let it go…