Zootopia (2016): The Diversity in Society
By Prakaydao Chinpinyokul
Zootopia was made by Disney and released in theaters in 2016. Without analyzing it, this movie seems to be an average movie for children to enjoy. Character designs, settings, music, and plot draw children into the colorful world of Zootopia. Enjoying the up and down and thrilling moments as children follow the story of the protagonist, Judy Hopps, a bunny who is full of determination and ambition to pursue her dream of becoming a police officer, starting her new life in Zootopia, and facing the obstacle with optimism. However, as children watch Zootopia, they might have missed the critical detail that the movie tries to tell audiences because they are too young to understand the topic that highlights the issue of difference, power, and discrimination. It is normal for children to categorize animals as one group and overlook the diversity of animals in the movie. The variety of the society that shows different types of animals with different personalities in the film is the key to understanding these issues and how it shapes people in Zootopia.
But first, we have to focus on the settings that show many small details being put in the movie to fit in a world full of many types of animals. Zootopia is known as a city where “Anyone can be anything” (03.00), showing the concept of equality. The movie displays this concept by introducing twelve unique ecosystems in the city. Also, providing facilities for different animals. The scene when Judy says goodbye to her family and leaves for Zootopia at the train station is a good exmple. You can see there are many sizes of train doors for different animals who are big and small. Even the scene when Judy chases after the thief in the small city where mice live, or the scene with a different size of trash can shows the city that treats every animal equally. The city appears to be a perfect place for every animal. However, that is just the outside to make the city look like an ideal city, and we’ll have to look deep into the different groups of animals in the movie that create Zootopia society.
The movie displays two types of animals in the city; the first are herbivores seen as prey, and the seconds are carnivores seen as predators in the movie. The central conflict in the film starts when Judy learns about the missing mammal cases. At first, the case looks like a typical missing animal, but as Judy gets closer to cracking the case. She finds out that all the missing animals turn into savages. She thinks what causes animals to turn savage is because of “biology…a biological component…thousand years ago…predators survived through their aggressive hunting instincts…reverting back to their primitive, savage ways…” (01.11.10)—connecting the dot that all missing animals are predators and only predators can turn savage. The small assumption leads to a tear in Zootopia and uproar diversion between predator and prey. This part of the movie shows the discrimination caused by hatred and fear toward predators. Suppressing and discriminating against other people with cruel words that do not even apply to those people in reality. These kinds of actions affect some of the characters in the movie to grow up with the conflict and fear of being anything other than what people around tell them.
Society in Zootopia is similar to our world. Some animals have jobs, such as constructors, thieves, police officers, secretaries, or a mayor. However, one thing to notice in the movie is that the same animal species or same-sized animals usually work in the same jobs. Zootopia’s society has the stereotype of what kind of jobs this animal can do, which overpowers the animal’s opinion and right to choose in Zootopia. For example, animals that work as police officers are big and strong-looking, sloths work as DMV employees, or bunnies work as farmers. The Mayor in Zootopia, Lionheart, is even a lion, an animal known to be the king of the animal kingdom. This kind of stereotype contradicts the quote “Anyone can be anything” and highlights the true side of Zootopia of people stuck in their stereotypes.
Bellwether is one of the characters sick of society always choosing who can or can not be. Bellwether is a sheep secretary who works under Lionheart, the mayor in Zootopia, and her appearance looks sweet and kind in the movie. Surprisingly, she is the real villain, turning predators into savage predators. The reason behind her villain plan is formed by the hatred that she had toward predators. Her whole career working as a secretary for the mayor has to deal with power suppressing her. She receives terrible treatment from the mayor, who tells her what to do, calling her “Smellwether”, or forcing her to work in a boiling room instead of an actual workplace. Moreover, he gives her a mug that says “World’s Greatest Dad” but crosses the word “dad” with “assistant mayor”—showing Lionheart never respects Bellwether or takes her seriously. It is unfortunate what she has to go through and feel like she is just “a glorified secretary” (01.01.45) used to get the sheep to vote for the mayor. Bellwether is tired of being underestimated and underappreciated by predators who are always in power showing “a grudge against what she saw as an unfair system” (Hassler). She wants to make a world where preys dominate predators. To do that, she needs to become powerful by creating the fear of predators within prey, which makes Lionheart a predator not in a powerful position anymore.
You can see the difference between the pictures of Bellwether. The first picture is when Bellwether still works under a mayor, and a shot is from an angle looking down at Bellwether, making her look weak. The second picture is when Bellwether becomes a mayor, and a shot is from an angle looking up at Bellwether, and her surroundings are dark tone, indicating she is in power and revealing her true self. This is an excellent example of how power can have a lot of effect on our society.
Nick’s character is introduced in the movie as a con artist. He is seen as sneaky and cunning in the beginning. Animals in Zootopia or even Judy see Nick as a sly and mischievous fox, a common trait of all foxes. However, as Judy and Nick work together on a missing animal case, Judy realizes that Nick’s real personality is not like the fake act that he created for people around him to see. In the movie, audiences later learn that the reason behind Nick’s actions is actually a way for him to protect himself from people who discriminate against him for being a fox. He had a dream of joining the Ranger Scouts when he was a kid, but his dream was destroyed when people in the Scout mistreated him just because he is a fox, and the stereotype of foxes can’t be trusted. The scene after Nick ran away to hide behind the side of the building shows him as a victim and no one beside him to stand for him. His mussel symbolizes the violence from the discrimination and his inability to express his true self. He tells his pain to Judy and says, “If the world’s only gonna see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point in trying to be anything else” (59.53). Nick chooses not to fight back the discrimination and accepts the stereotype of a fox. Later in the movie, Judy slowly sees Nick as trustworthy and overlooks his identity of being a predator. Nick also gradually became the person he wanted to be, a kind, gentle person who overcame barriers created by society.
Finally, the protagonist, Judy Hopps, is different from the other bunnies in her hometown. She dreams of becoming a police officer, but her parents, her bully, or people around her think that a bunny can’t be police because “there is never a bunny cop…Bunny don’t do that…never” (03.33). It reveals her parents are stuck in the stereotype that bunnies can only be farmers and are scared of trying a new thing because they know they will fail. With the critical comments from people around her, she didn’t care what people thought and kept working hard until she successfully became the first bunny officer. However, her path to becoming a real police officer didn’t go as smoothly as she thought. Look closely at the shot from Judy’s point of view, looking at enormous police officers, or when Judy is in the same shot with other officers; the film wants audiences to compare Judy with other officers and notice that Judy is different from others. She receives discrimination from the teacher in the police academy, telling her she won’t be able to succeed, or the chief assigns her to parking duty while other police officers work on the missing file case. She receives these unfair treatments because of her small physical appearance, being the only female in a male-dominated workplace, and just because she is different from others. Even the article from the research mentions, “It becomes clear that one’s workplace success depends more…connections, race and/ or gender than their academic achievement” (Beaudine, Osibodu, Beavers). This confirms Judy is being looked down on because she is a bunny; her having a token or writing two hundred parking tickets would not change the point of view of how other animals see her. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Judy still has the privilege of being a prey animal, which gives her a platform to speak on the issue of missing animals that turn into savages. But because she didn’t understand why animals were turning savage, causing her to say something offensive to predators. This “demonstrates how language can be hurtful without being overly aggressive” (Crewe)— causing her to lose a good friend like Nick, who used to be gone through the experience of being discriminated against as a predator. This also shows her unconscious discrimination toward predators when she grabs her fox spray due to her inner fear and reveals she never experience cruel discrimination against predators. Needless to say, Judy’s action was not on purpose. She “recognizes her mistake and expresses regret, thereby models for the movie’s audience regarding him they should respond” (Flory), which is a smart way to teach children about these issues and learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Zootopia is a great movie with many good messages about equality. It displays power, difference, and discrimination issues through characters in the film, making it not too complex for audiences like parents to teach their children. All characters in movies are animals, which makes it hard for audiences to compare the animal species in the film to the human race in real life, thus reaching more audiences from different groups because everyone can feel related to the film. Of course, the city of Zootopia is not like our society. Our society is full of many people that come from different backgrounds. Still, we are all human beings at the end of the day. Like Judy said, “We all have limitations. We all make mistakes which mean…we all have a lot in common, and the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be” (01.33.45)—proving that we can become more than what we are in our own unique way. It depends on you whether you want to accept the system and continue to be what people around you say or fight against the system and make the world a better place, so which path are you going to choose?
Beaudine, Gregory., Osibodu, Oyemolade., and Beavers, Aliya. “Disney’s Metaphorical Exploration of Racism and Stereotypes: A Review of Zootopia” The University of Chicago Press Journals, Feb 1. 2017, www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/690061
Crewe, David. “Animal harm discrimination and difference in Zootopia” Gale Academic Onefile, Jan. 2017, go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA485988740&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linka ccess=abs&issn=1449857X&p=AONE&sw=w&userGroupName=oregon_oweb&isGeo AuthType=true
Flory, Dan. “Audience, Implicit Racial Bias, and Cinematic Twists in Zootopia” The Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, Oct 30. 2019, academic.oup.com/jaac/article/77/4/435/5981537
Hassler, Forest, Dan. “‘Life Isn’t Some Cartoon Musical’: Neoliberal Identity Politics in Zootopia and Orange Is the New Black.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 51, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 356–78. EBSCOhost, doi-org.ezproxy.libweb.linnbenton.edu/10.1111/jpcu.12658.