Deeper commentary on racism and bias are below the surface in Disney’s “Zootopia”

Julia Feld, Staff Writer

Disney’s new animated feature follows the ambitions of a small-town bunny Judy Hopps and sly fox named Nick Wilde living in a city where prey outnumber predators ten to one. The plot of the movie seems simple, for it leads people to think that the whole movie is just going to be about a bunny becoming a cop, when in reality, the film explores the much more complex themes of race and bias.

In Zootopia “anyone can be anything” and animals wear clothes and walk on two legs. None of the movie’s characters seem to take the city’s motto seriously; this is apparent from the very beginning of the film. The only person who does take it seriously is the exuberant Judy Hopps who aspires to be Zootopia’s first ever bunny cop. The movie’s other main character, a fox named Nick Wilde, shares a similar past with Judy, but takes an entirely different view on the stereotypes thrust upon him because, according to the rest of Zootopia, foxes can’t be trusted.

I have seen many Disney movies; in fact, I can only think of a handful that I haven’t seen multiple times, and I can say with all honestly, Zootopia is my new favorite.”

— Julia Feld

Shortly after the movie’s release in March, fans praised “Zootopia” for its exploration of topics such as race and prejudice. In addition, the movie explored how much bias can affect people, by flashing back to Judy and Nick as kids and telling their stories on how it affected them growing up. As a young fox, Nick wanted nothing more than to join the Junior Ranger Scouts—the Boy Scout equivalent in our human world. He was initially tricked by the group’s other members into thinking they accepted him, but the group quickly turned against him, and gave him a new view on stereotypes.

Nick allows himself to adhere to the stereotypes others make about foxes being sly, mean, creatures only because his attempts to discredit these stereotypes as a child backfired when he was bullied by other animals. Nick tells Judy that there is no point in trying to be anything other than what people expect you to be. This is because, often, people (or animals) won’t give you a chance to prove them wrong.

The prejudice and stereotypes the animals hold against each other in the movie hit me like a ton of bricks; it is quite noticeable even from the beginning. Disney did an excellent job of portraying such a touchy issue; they laid the groundwork perfectly for exploration of the issue, and then presented a solution for solving it and all in a way that young children would understand. 

Just five days after being released, “Zootopia” was ranked #1 on Rotten Tomatoes’ “Best Movies of 2016” list, with a 99% rating on their “Tomatometer” scale. I have seen many Disney movies; in fact, I can only think of a handful that I haven’t seen multiple times, and I can say with all honestly, Zootopia is my new favorite. This movie is so well done that kids can still enjoy it despite the frequent portrayal of deep themes more accessible for adults. Zootopia is done in such a way that not understanding the secondary themes doesn’t take away from the experience the movie brings in the slightest.