Accept Differences, Challenge Stereotypes, And Never Give Up: Lessons From Disney’s Zootopia

I’ve always been a kid at heart and I doubt it’ll ever change the older I get. When there’s a good animated feature currently showing at my local movie theater, I’m not ashamed to express an interest in watching it and actually going to the movies to see it. The recent offerings from Disney––Frozen, Big Hero 6, and its latest film Zootopia, has gotten me excited about seeing more from the House of Mouse. It seems like Disney is investing in more stories with powerful messages that actually teaches kids something more meaningful, while still being the fun and colorful Disney films we tend to expect from their brand. Zootopia is no different in joining this lineup of great storytelling in a kid’s movie.

Zootopia is the story of Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin of ABC’s Once Upon a Time), a small town bunny who has big dreams to move to the sprawling city of Zootopia, a place where prey and predators live in absolute harmony and unity, and become a cop who serves and protects her fellow animals. Unfortunately, Judy is met with numerous obstacles along the way. Her own parents try to dissuade her from becoming a cop because no bunny in history has ever become a cop before, their motto being, “Never try at all. Always play it safe and settle.” When Judy finally does become a cop and moves to the big city for her new job, she also has to battle unfair stereotypes in the workplace. Her boss at the precinct Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba) slaps her with parking ticket duty because he believes Judy is incapable of taking on a mysterious missing animals case due to her size and deeming it unsafe for a bunny to tackle work that is potentially dangerous.

Judy Hopps
Judy Hopps

Despite every roadblock meant to force Judy to give up and call it quits, her optimism and can-do attitude actually pushes her to rise to the occasion and break down every single belief or erroneous perception the other animals have of her. Her belief in herself eventually gets the other animals to start changing their attitude and opinion towards her.

Zootopia addresses a lot of pretty serious topics, such as the dangers of stereotypes and how differences should be accepted and not feared. One of the ongoing themes of the movie asks the question, can predators truly resist their preconceived animal instincts and really live side by side with animals who would normally be seen as their dinner? This is where certain scenes in the movie illustrate how stereotypes can really hurt and be harmful.

There’s a scene where Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a con artist fox and reluctant participant in a case Judy works on, tells Judy about a painful memory from his childhood when he tried to join the Zootopia world’s version of the cub scouts. The audience sees in Nick’s flashback the kids ambushing a young Nick and muzzling him. The kids circle him, calling him a predator and expressing their distrust of letting a fox into their club. Hurt and humiliated, young Nick runs off, ultimately growing up and believing there’s no point in trying when other animals will always insist he is who he is and nothing will change that. “It’s in their DNA.” A scene like that one is deeply affecting for both kids and adults alike because it’s a reminder that we can’t assume anything about anybody until we get to know them. The scene hits hard, but it does teach everyone a valuable lesson in acceptance and understanding.

Nick Wilde
Nick Wilde

I’ve mentioned in my Big Hero 6 post before how I’m really enjoying Disney’s upward trend in making movies that are still recognizably Disney, but there is greater awareness in writing the kind of stories that address real world topics in digestible bites for kids to understand and teach them something valuable, while also giving adults something more intelligent to process and appreciate than just the standard musical number or easy happily ever afters. I’m completely blown away by Zootopia and it has easily become an instant favorite on my list of Disney movies. The entire experience of watching Zootopia has left me feeling uplifted and truly inspired. I was particularly impressed with the writing of Judy Hopps. Although the character is a bunny, she embodies traits that would make her the perfect role model for young kids. Judy is smart, she’s not quick to judge anyone based on their prey or predator status, she’s a strong-willed female, and she doesn’t give up in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I really identified with Judy because I saw myself in her––an eternal optimist who doesn’t give up no matter how tough life gets. If I had children of my own, these are the kinds of lessons I would want them to remember as they get older and go off into the world on their own.

The movie’s soaring and catchy theme song, Shakira’s Try Everything, leaves everyone feeling good and inspired to live by the words of one of the song’s lyrics, “I won’t give up/No I won’t give in/Till I reach the end and then I’ll start again.” The song sums up the entire theme of the movie perfectly and it’s impossible not to feel affected by the film in some way once you leave the movie theater. It takes an enormous amount of courage to not want to quit when life gets hard and can sometimes be unbearably painful. But like Judy Hopps, you get back up and you get moving again. Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. If something doesn’t work, then you do something differently until it does. Zootopia’s positive messages are the best gifts it could ever give to its audience, whether you’re a child of eight or an adult over the age of sixty.

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3 thoughts on “Accept Differences, Challenge Stereotypes, And Never Give Up: Lessons From Disney’s Zootopia

  1. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this one. I went into it thinking that it would just be another funny movie, but it was so much more than that. I love how the message was true to the story and didn’t feel like it was being shoved in my face. It’s the sort of writing that makes you want to consider what the film is saying, and that was excellent!

    It also helped that the movie was genuinely funny and didn’t rely on cheap gags for its humor. Disney really does have some top-notch talent working for them!

    1. I sort of find myself not being too fond of movies with or about animals for some reason. I think it could be the amount of fatigue I feel watching too many Ice Age or Kung Fu Panda type of movies, both which are just alright in my opinion, and I never quite feel the sensation you should feel when you know you’ve watched an incredible movie. I kind of went into Zootopia not expecting a whole lot from it, even with the good reviews. I’m so glad I was wrong about Zootopia. Whoever the writing team was behind Zootopia really struck the right balance of humor, addressing serious issues, and still being the feel good Disney film you’d want to watch. If it wasn’t for the strong writing in this movie, I doubt Zootopia would be the standout film it truly is.

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