#SundayReview: Zootopia, Movie of the Year (and Perhaps Our Generation)

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NOTE: I’ve made this one very spoilery for reasons.


I’ve been wanting to write this review for quite a long time now. I went to the theater to see this with my husband and my roommate. It was a rare moment for us, as we unanimously decided to do a double feature and watch two movies in one night. First, we watched Batman vs. Superman, and we capped our night off with Zootopia. Here’s a short explanation of how amazing Zootopia is: I went to see a DC comics film that included Wonder Woman and a darker version of Batman with two dudes who have seen every DC and Marvel movie and know all the comics, and Zootopia won the night. We still can’t stop talking about this, or how astounding it is that Zootopia remains among the best movies we have ever seen.

It’s high praise, I know. But the reason Zootopia reigns supreme over so many other movies is this:

Relevance.

We were continuously thrilled by how important the film felt, and how we believe every child and adult should have to watch it. Honestly…it just needs to be required. Put it up there in the “All Humans Must Watch” list. It’s a fun, interesting plot that has dark alleys and stealthy life lessons. They zoom it right under the radar. You think you’re watching a kids’ movie, and then somewhere in the middle section it hits you. You will suddenly realize that this is real. This shit is real. It’s happening right now, and you’re part of it.

I’ll highlight the major themes of the movie. In my opinion, they are:

  • Achieving Your Dreams
  • Nature vs. Nurture
  • Fears & Prejudice

Achieving Your Dreams

Judy Hops is a rabbit. She’s a small prey creature whose ultimate life dream is to become a police officer to protect the helpless. She takes this very seriously, even though her parents advise against it and she is generally laughed at for it. Her parents, of course, are only trying to protect her from what they see as the inevitable rejection, but they’re also just concerned she might get hurt.

Despite all of this, Judy works incredibly hard against all odds and passes the police academy at the top of her class–Valedictorian! She is praised by Mayor Lionheart (a lion) and Assistant Mayor Bellweather (a sheep). She’s transferred to Zootopia, the central city of this nation, to serve in city central’s police force.

Her parents are terrified for her, but everyone puts on a brave face and off she goes. Her first assignment, much to her dismay and her parents’ overwhelming relief, is as a parking attendant. Not to be deterred, however, she endeavors to be the best parking attendant ever (“I can write 100 tickets. I’ll write 200 tickets! By noon!”). This, of course, sets her up to be at the right place at the right time to observe several particular details that will help her solve her first major case. An otter who has clearly pestered the police department several times pleads with the chief to find her husband, Emmet Otterton. Judy promises to do so before the chief has a chance to object. Assistant Mayor Bellweather just happens to be there and immediately turns it into a huge PR to-do, which forces the police chief to allow it. But, he gives her only 48 hours–an impossible timeline–to solve it, or Judy must resign.

Nature vs. Nurture

For those of you unfamiliar, the debate of nature vs. nurture is a scientific social controversy. It essence it questions whether creatures (including humans) are predisposed to acting a certain way regardless (their ‘nature’) or if their upbringing and experiences are most responsible for how they behave (‘nurture’). My personal opinion is that there is a little of both.

Zootopia exists because predators have foregone their ‘savage ways’ to live in harmony with prey species, which vastly outnumber them. In a deleted scene, it’s actually revealed to be a disturbingly grim process called ‘taming.’

The effect is clear. The instinct of a predator to eat a prey species is pretty much tortured out of them to protect the prey species, but everyone’s cool with it now so it must be fine.

The ‘missing mammals’ are all predators. When they’re found, they’re found as savage, snarling beasts that can’t reign in their urges to kill. What we learn as the viewers is that they’ve somehow turned, which prompts the outcry from the major’s office (accidentally propagated by Judy herself, who has become a trusted face in Zootopian society) that predators are biologically wired to behave this way, and that ‘some of them’ might be reverting to their natures.

Fears & Prejudice

The effect of this fateful press conference is immediate and devastating. The outnumbered predator species are ostracized almost overnight. No one knows when they might ‘turn savage,’ and prey species aren’t biologically predisposed to aggression. They’re feared and pushed out of their homes. Many lose their jobs. A popular pop icon begins a series of protests to return the city to its peaceful ways, declaring that they’re all animals and they should live in harmony once more.

Afraid for their lives and livelihoods, some of the bullied predators do exactly what the community feared they would do: backed into corners, some fought back. And some mean-spirited or fearful prey species did the opposite: they bullied and fought predators, then blamed it on the predator for ‘being savage.’

Judy loses a friend in Nick Wilde, a popsicle hustler who had helped her on the case. He is there for her press conference and is disturbed by her words. He has always been discriminated against for being a predator and had thought Judy was different.

Too late, Judy realizes that she’s exacerbated a rift that had always existed between prey and the outnumbered predators, but doesn’t know how to fix it. She resigns and moves home to be a carrot farmer after all.

There, she figures out why the predators experience a sudden lapse into savagery (which I am not going to tell you) in an “AHA!” moment facilitated by her family. She races back to Zootopia to fix what is broken, and everything returns back to normal. Nick even forgives her.

Real World People Parallels

Now, I’m not going to go into great detail in this because my opinions are my own, but from our viewpoints (my roommate, my husband, and me), there were parallels that could be drawn between some of the characters in the film and some prominent American political figures and real world examples. I’ll describe them by archetype. If you watch Zootopia, you can just pay attention and draw your own conclusions about who you think they are.

The “End Justifies the Means” leader: This is a person who does some pretty evil and shady shit because he or she is only trying to help. In this case, he or she quarantines the problem so he or she can ‘figure it out’ without anyone getting hurt.

The “This is the Ideal State of the World” avenger: This is the stepped on small person who believes the status quo is unacceptable and must be rebalanced. However, the solution proposed might be worse than the problem, as the solution is steeped in prejudices and personal anguish.

The “Good Race”: The people seen as good and wholesome and zero threat to the world

The “Bad Race”: The people who are seen as inherently flawed or evil and simply cannot be trusted.

My Conclusion

This movie is important. It is an absolute must-have as I build a library for my eventual brood of children. Our world, as it stands, is so utterly, tragically broken. My only hope for fixing it is in our children. I can only hope that this generation of parents sees it as such and is preparing their children, too. We need to raise a generation of humans that have compassion, curiosity, and intelligence. People that can look at the state of things and know how to fix it, then have the courage to follow through.

It’s scary how true this film is. And sad. I have boundless respect and appreciation for the creators of this story because I truly believe that it has a part to play in changing the world for the better.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

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About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on August 15, 2016, in #SundayReview and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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