Holy cow! I was so happy finally getting the bonus video for February’s SOTM out, that I forgot to post the blog entry for March’s SOTM. Whoops.
So, for this month, I chose Zootopia. Not only did it come out in theaters in March two years ago, but it’s also a story that I feel resonates strongly with what is going on in the world today. To recap the movie, a bunny named Judy Hopps dreams of becoming a police officer, so she can “make the world a better place.” Once she becomes an officer, she finds that life is not as idyllic as she once believed – and she must team up with a fox named Nick Wilde to solve a crime before all havoc breaks loose upon the city of Zootopia.
**NOTE: I will mention a couple spoilers in here, to help explain certain points.
Here are just some of the things from the movie that I like, and that make this stand out as March’s Story of the Month:
1) Judy Hopps is a confident, proud, strong female lead. I’m not saying that other Disney heroines aren’t strong or confident, but she is the first one (that I’ve noticed at least), where her confidence borders on pride. She has no doubt in her abilities, and she never once thinks that she cannot achieve her dream. She fights for what she wants and what she believes in, and that is a wonderful quality to see in a female onscreen.
But it is also important to see what happens when one has too much confidence, regardless of who they are. When she first arrives at Zootopia Police Department (ZPD), she expects to be given a huge, important assignment, solely because she is now a police officer, top in her class, and as good as a veteran police officer (so she believes). She is upset when she receives the job of parking duty, and while it is good to see her speak up about her concerns, she argues that she shouldn’t work parking duty because she is not a “token bunny,” rather than considering that parking duty is for any newcomer to the ZPD force. She expects to be given what she wants on the virtue that she is a hard worker and has “earned” it.
Another point of pride that gets in her way is when Mayor Bellwether offers Judy to be the face of ZPD during a time of turmoil, fear, and betrayal. Judy feels guilty over something she said earlier in the film. Because of that moment, she declares that she is not worthy to be a police officer and leaves. It is important for characters to recognize their faults and to make amends for any wrongs they have done. However (and this ties in with point 2) –
2) Zootopia ties in racism, stereotypes, and discrimination, and it shows that even the kindest, most well-intended people can say and do terrible things. A recurring idea characters make throughout the film is that of biology: that predators are biologically designed to kill and that they will only be criminals and evil people. Judy asserts, several times, that she doesn’t believe in biology, that predators have moved on from their “uncontrollable, biological urge to maim and maul.” But, at a press conference where she discusses the problem of predatory animals turning savage for a mysterious reason, she cites biology, stating the possibility that “these predators are returning to their primitive, savage ways.”
Nick calls her out on this, and she realizes that she is not as racist-free as she thought she was. Going back to the first point, her pride gets in the way of her accepting this – she had thought herself above discriminatory remarks and actions. Yes, we do see a short montage of her trying to quell rising panic in Zootopia, but she is alone when we see her interact with the public. When she fails to be the hero she dreamed of being, she resigns, believing that removing herself from the problem would make at least some of the racism go away. It isn’t until she figures out an important clue in the predator animals’ disappearance and behavior that she returns to Zootopia, admitting her fault to Nick and apologizing.
3) The movie is structured to pull you into the racist/species-ist discussion, making you sympathize with both prey and predator, discriminated and discriminating. It even draws you into the fear-mongering from the very first line: “Fear. Treachery. Blood-lust.” These words are designed to make you think about death and survival, and it puts you in the mindset of a prey animal, making you sympathize more with Judy (a prey animal) and her plight to overcome stereotypes, become the first bunny police officer, and make the world a better place. You are like Judy: unaware of the dangerous narrative of labeling all predators as vicious murderers. Before the “biology” comment, Judy has one other racist comment, when she meets Nick for the first time and calls him a “real articulate fella.” This is condescending, but he does not react to it, so Judy (and you) remain unaware of her mistake.
By the time of the press conference, Nick has opened up to Judy and come to trust her; he really believes that she wants to make the world a better place. So, when she makes the biology comment, even though Judy remains unaware, you (and Nick) react to that, because you are now aware of how gray the issue of racism/species-ism is in Zootopia, and you recognize that fault in Judy. The movie makes you feel for both Judy and Nick, see the world through their eyes, and understand why they make the decisions they make, even if they are not good ones.
4) Gideon Gray. Yes, he gets his own point, but hear me out. You first meet him in Judy’s childhood. He jeers that a bunny cop is the “most stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” and she calls him out as being small-minded. This sets up tension between Judy and Gideon, prey and predator respectively. Later, when he starts picking on other kids, Judy confronts him, and he attacks her, saying that she will never be anything more than a stupid bunny. He sees them both as part of their own groups: Gideon with the predators, Judy with the prey, neither one of them able to change who they are.
When he is an adult, he has his own business, partners with Judy’s parents, and apologizes to her. He acknowledges that he had a “lot of self doubt, and it manifested itself in the form of unchecked rage and aggression.” His view has changed from one is stuck within the confines of his labels (i.e. predator) to one can make a better life for himself. This is a big deal: if he can change in the movie, maybe people in real life who relate to him can change, too. Gideon represents that hope for change.
It is also a big deal that he apologizes to Judy when he could have ignored that event altogether. It is more amazing that he doesn’t do it when he is at his lowest, but when things are going great for him. Had the movie made him apologize while struggling to get by, it would have felt like a cop-out (pun not intended); anyone can feel bad when they are at their lowest, and it would be easier to say sorry if it meant things would be better for him. He has a good business, a good life, and is a top pastry chef in the area. Gideon does not have to feel sorry for himself or others, but he makes amends anyways.
There are more things in Zootopia that I like and appreciate, but it would take too long to list and explain each one. But I hope this convinces you to see the movie if you haven’t already.
Thanks for reading! And remember: try everything~!