Upon leaving the theater over this past weekend, my eight-year-old daughter pipes up from the backseat and says to me, “I don’t ever want to be like that.” There was no context given her statement, and it appeared almost out of the blue, since she had been singing along to Demi Lovato for about twenty minutes and we had not been conversing about anything, but I knew what she meant. From that simple statement, short and sweet, we were able to build a conversation that I’m sure will be one of those long remembered life lessons.
And once again, I have Disney to thank for this.
Prejudice is something that, unfortunately, still exists. Thankfully, my children have been spared most of this. We have a very diverse family. My children have relatives and friends of many different colors, shapes and orientations and there is a unifying love that transcends all of that. Case in point; recently my daughter overheard someone refer to her cousin as ‘black’ and she literally said to me, “what’s that?” Children, if preserved as God gave them to us, see no color. They see no differences. We are all the same, and deserve to be regarded as such.
Sadly, this world won’t let us preserve them.
Much like Zootopia’s Judy Hopps observes, the world is messy.
When I first saw the trailer for Zootopia, I thought, ‘that looks cute’, but my mind never went to where this film was going to go. When we left the theater I was blown away with how much this film had to say and how effortlessly, cohesively and elegantly it said it all. When it was over, it felt like it made a difference, like it truly spoke to its audience. The car ride home confirmed that.
Zootopia is exactly what Paul Haggis’s Crash tried (and failed) to be; a poignant, profound and remarkably astute look at race relations, inbred racism and the fight to fit together as a united society.
Zootopia tells the story of Judy, a young bunny with dreams of being a police officer. She’s fighting an uphill battle, since no bunny has ever worked on the force, but her determination in the face of opposition rewards her with a badge. Sadly, she’s still judged by her breed and thus regarded as ‘lesser’ by her boss, Chief Bogo. When a string of disappearances leave Zootopia in a panic, Judy wedges her way into the investigation, entrusting the help of a sly fox to crack the case and prove her place in an industry that looks down on her. But there is even more at stake then Judy realized, because the whole balancing act that Zootopia rests on, the integration of predator and prey, could very easily tip in the wrong direction once this case blows up in her face; and tip it does.
First thing to get out of the way is the fact that, as a narrative piece, as a film-going experience, Zootopia works VERY well. It’s genuinely funny, but not in your usual Disney way. It feels a touch more clever, a touch more self-aware and intricately grounded. It’s a satire, which isn’t something we’re used to from Disney. It’s swiftly paced, exciting, intense and highly memorable; quotable even...and my GOD is this film gorgeous to look at. From a pure entertainment standpoint, it nails it.
But the film is deeper than that.
Zootopia is possibly the most important film your child will ever see. Where Inside Out last year gave us parents a glimpse into the minds of our children, Zootopia gives our children a glimpse into the mind of the world around them, and it does so in such an enlightening way. It doesn’t hold back. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Instead, it lays it all out on the line. From its depiction of schoolyard bullying to its look at workplace degradation, profiling, media induced panic and ingrained racism, this film says so, SO much about the things that truly make our world ‘messy’. Judy Hopps represents the innocence of our children; the bright, overflowing optimism that this world tries to literally crush under its oppressive ‘paws’. If a film like this can spark conversation that could actually CHANGE this current generation of children for the better, then praise be to Disney for taking a responsibility to strive to make a difference.
As we pulled into our driveway I looked back at my kids and I had this glimmer of hope that instead of getting worse, their generation may actually get…better.