Zootopia: A Positive Look Into Diversity and Minority Rights

I know, I know. I’m about as late to the Zootopia party as most political pundits were to Trump’s victory last week.

Bad simile? Still hurting from last Tuesday? I feel you.

It’s been a full week since the Republican Armageddon on all three branches of our government (the judicial branch will be red before we know it, it’s inevitable) and the vibes around major cities are solemn and strange. It feels like the youthful, beating heart of the country has been locked away in a box and put on a shelf to collect dust for at least the next four years.

In this political climate, which is affecting the country’s psyche in a larger way than any in the last two decades, many of us are looking for a way to feel positive; it’s not easy when the stories around the country popping up on Facebook displaying the hateful speech and violence now rearing its ugly head hound you every time you open your phone.

Which is why I made the choice to take a break from the interweb and decided to watch a movie. And not some highbrow shit that I usually go for like There Will Be Blood, Chinatown, or Moonlight (all incredible movies that you must watch, by the way; I’d forgive you if you stopped reading to binge on those three now). At this moment, with the way I’ve been feeling about the country and life as I know it, I didn’t want to sink lower down the hole of grim reality and pain whose edge I’d been clinging onto for dear life.

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Det. Judy Hopps

Today wasn’t going to be the swan song of my sanity. So, I found a little animated happy pill called Zootopia that came out earlier this year, a film about anthropomorphic mammals living in harmony, predators and prey, in and around the mega-metropolis Zootopia. If you’re like me, you’ve been living under the same rock as me and have not watched this $1 billion grosser.

What a fantastic choice of film for escape, at a time when I really needed it.

The film follows a rabbit named Judy Hopps, a young dreamer who aspires to become the first police-rabbit in Zootopia to keep people safe and defend the weak. The usual suspects. Along the way, she, joined by her reluctant fox companion, takes on a case of missing mammals in Zootopia’s 1st district, specifically an otter that the ZPD haven’t been able to track down for two weeks. What she uncovers is a horrifying retread of predators to their more savage natures; the missing mammals have regressed to hungry, hunting beasts caged in a mysterious laboratory.

What followed these discoveries was an ironic, and sobering, moment that closely mimics the emotions and problems of today’s America. Hopps, without proper training and nervously answering questions without malice of forethought, in front of a crowd of mammal press after the capture of their suspect (the city’s mayor, Leodore Lionheart), is asked a series of questions that set off a string of events, shocking the city into prejudiced action:

Reporter 1: Okay, so what is the connection [between the victims]?

Det. Hopps: W-well…all we know is that they are all members of the predator family.

Reporter 2: So, predators are the only ones going savage?

Det. Hopps: Y–…that is…yes, that is accurate. Yes.

Reporter 3: Why? Why is this happening?

Det. Hopps: We still don’t know. Uhh…it may have something to do with biology. A…biological component, you know? Something in their DNA.

Reporter 4: In their DNA? Can you elaborate on that?

Det. Hopps: Yes, what I mean is…thousands of years ago, um, predators survived through their aggressive hunting instincts. For whatever reason, they seem to be reverting back to their primitive, savage ways. It is possible, so we must be vigilant. And we at the ZPD are prepared and are here to protect you.

Watching this scene, I may have gasped once or twice in horror. Reminding myself that this was an animated film (that it was a film, period) wasn’t enough for me to settle my mind after what I had just heard.

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Hopps and Wilde learning the ropes

The way Hopps, not knowing fully what her words had meant to those reporters and the people in the area at the time, described a select group of mammals as malicious and violent due to their history as being malicious and violent. And, well, predatory. All she was trying to do was explain what she thought to be true. Sound familiar?

That’s essentially how President-Elect Donald Trump described Mexicans.

Now, in Detective Hopps’ defense, she wasn’t intending to put on her best animated, fake-tanned, xenophobic face on for the press for personal gain. She was suddenly an unprepared public figure in the face of hundreds of questions she wasn’t remotely capable of answering. Hopps is a cop, not a political machinist. She thought she was making a specific statement about a small group of mammals, but her words carried through to a broader scope of generalizing groups of mammals.

hoppsWhat we find out by the end of the movie is that the new mayor, Dawn Bellwether, of the city was running an operation of poisoning predators with a serum that reverted her victims to savage tendencies, all in an effort to put enough fear in the hearts of the majority prey in her city to gain all-powerful control over all citizens in the “utopia”.

The events that followed the press conference, though, were something out of an Orwellian dystopia novel (pun probably intended by the filmmakers). Predators began to experience prejudice and social outcasting for their backgrounds as predators, much like the stories of hate and violence we’ve seen in the last week towards minorities. Some lost their jobs, some lost their homes. Peaceful protests outside of one of the city’s landmarks was met with fierce opposition by groups of prey calling for their removal and imprisonment for protection. And finally, Hopps resigns as an officer with the ZPD when she’s told by mayor Bellwether that they wished to make her the new face of the department to unite the…wait for it…90% prey living in the city.

Watching all of this unfold on screen was almost too much reality to be channeled through the faces and limbs of foxes and water buffaloes to be a children’s movie. It was so of-the-moment, even more so than when the film came out earlier in the year before Drumpf was elected. This felt like watching what could be the reality of Trump’s America and the way minority, LGBTQ, and women’s right might be taken away to create a “greater” America, in Trumps words.

And Trump has the same idea of control as mayor Bellwether: control through fear. By playing on existing, and sometimes instilling new, fears into their citizens’ hearts of unreal threats to their lives, they control the emotions and minds of the assumed majorities in their zone of command.

But let’s end that negativity here. The whole point of this post is positivity.

By the end of the movie, Mayor Bellwether’s plans have been exposed in all of their ugliness. The people of Zootopia decide not to retaliate against each other for the embarrassing treatment of their fellow mammals, but instead forgive each other for their actions. Before you jump all over the, “but that’s how kids movies work”, argument: it wasn’t so simple.

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The pair take a breather

Det. Hopps’ companion, Nick Wilde, a red fox and predator, has a tortured past. As a young fox, he was bullied by his peers simply for being a fox, associated with being con artists, cunning, untrustworthy predators on the weak. He and Hopps’ seem to have developed a friendship despite their differences. But her press conference changed something back in him:

Nick: [saddened] Clearly there’s a biological component? That these predators may be reverting back to their primitive savage ways? Are you serious?

Det. Hopps: I just stated the facts of the case! I mean, its not like a bunny can go savage.

Nick: Right. But a fox could, huh?

Det. Hopps: Nick stop it! You’re not like them.

Nick: [getting angered] Oh, so there’s a them now?

After hearing Hopps’ statements at the press conference, Wilde decided that enough was enough and returned to his life of con artistry, choosing not to become Hopps’ partner

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Wilde watches as Hopps reaches for her fox repellant.

after the initial arrests. Hopps is heartbroken that her words affected him so, which plays
a part in her resignation from the force.

When a new break in the case comes her way, she goes to find Nick, who is now living under a bridge. She pleads with him to join her on her mission to find the real culprit behind the crimes. Finally, the words of apology spill out of her, not for his being a fox, but for the way she generalized Nick and so many others with her words:

Det. Hopps: Wait, uh, wait – listen! I – I know you’ll never forgive me! And I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t forgive me either. I was ignorant, and… irresponsible… and small-minded. But predators shouldn’t suffer because of my mistakes. I have to fix this.

[Her voice shakes]

Det. Hopps: But I can’t do it without you.

[Nick still refuses to turn around]

Det. Hopps: [Judy begins to cry] And… and after we’re done, you can hate me, and that’ll be fine, because I was a horrible friend, and I hurt you. And you… and you can walk away knowing you were right all along.

Of course Nick forgives her! How can he not? She knew very well how what she said affected him. She has enough compassion in her heart to realize that suppressing people because of who they are, human or mammal, is wrong. Especially when they’ve already been told all their lives that who they are is wrong and they’re not worth more than the stereotypes that define them in society.

They go on to save the day together and become the most kick-ass couple of detective partners ever seen on screen. I can’t wait for the sequel with these two.

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Zootopia

Ultimately, Zootopia is a kid’s movie, aimed to teach children that prejudice, hate, and intolerance are wrong; that love and acceptance of people who come from all forms of backgrounds, genders, races, and mindsets deserve the right to be happy in this world as much as they do. It gives me hope that the film industry, especially in animated film, is still fiercely leftist in their beliefs and choose to sprinkle the youth of this world with messages of kindness and love.

But it speaks to something larger than just educating the youth of America to ensure that mistakes like Trump aren’t repeated (though that is a MAJOR issue that must be approached with the utmost care and thought; the young children of the country, as well as millenials, are our future). We must stay vigilant and steadfast in our fight for civil liberties and not become complacent in our fight to protect the minorities of America. We cannot allow a Trump presidency to take away women’s rights to their own bodies by banning abortion. Muslim-Americans, no matter what generation, should be allowed the right to the American dream as much as anyone else, and not turned away simply because of what Gods they choose to believe in. We have to protect our closest family and friends from oppression.

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*sigh*

And of the utmost importance is that we not fight between each other simply because our priorities differ between Republicans and Democrats. If we’re to be united, a more perfect union, we have to stop simply yelling at each other calling one side or the other names and spewing rhetoric of “uneducated voters” and “liberal wusses”, or “homophobes and racists” and “terrorists and rapists”, and instead have calmer and more civil conversations about the America we can choose to live in. The voices unheard deserve to have their say as much as anyone else, no matter the percentage they make up in the population. And that goes for ALL citizens and residents in this country.

If you have a chance, check out Zootopia. It’s a beautiful film, and will take you on a journey that will give you hope for a better tomorrow. As Detective Hopps said at the end of the movie:

“I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.”

Let’s all continue to try.

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