Zootopia Brings Racial, Gender Issues to Kids’ Film


Disney Animation’s blockbuster new movie Zootopia, which earned the company $74 million in its opening weekend, addresses the topic of racial and gender tensions with the help of animals as allegory.

Zootopia is set in a world where humans do not exist and animals have taken their place and are working together to create a new civilization.  Zootopia stands as the utopian metropolis in this world, where animals of all species and colors coexist peacefully.  However, moviegoers will soon learn that this is not the full truth, as they witness prejudices still existing even in the most well-meaning of characters, and see that social conflict remains a part of everyday life, writes Michael Raines for The Red and Black.

While the film centers on a bunny named Judy Hopps, who states that only other rabbits are allowed to call rabbits “cute,” the deeper meaning of the movie lies in the exploration of how bias can create personal opinions and political policies.  Hopps is a bunny looking to become a cop even as the rest of the world continually tries to discourage her.

Throughout the film, the ever-optimistic Hopps carries a spray meant to keep foxes away just in case those underlying prejudices she carries around turn out to be correct, writes Todd Martens for The Los Angeles Times.

“How does that affect somebody? How does that affect the people she’s forced to interact with? The idea of someone who is the most optimistic person on the planet, and believes that they don’t hold bias toward anyone, but then realizing, ‘Oh, my God. I actually do!’ That’s a very human thing that we all have and all struggle with,” says composer Michael Giacchino.

The film is released in a time where children are more aware of identity issues than they ever have been before and are asking their parents questions on the topic that many find difficult to answer.  Jeff Yang writes for Quartz that these questions cannot be ignored because doing so leaves children vulnerable to “potentially more cruel revelations from less empathic sources.”

A number of instances of these discussions are peppered throughout the Internet, with one mother wondering how to explain US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s stance on immigration to her son, who is concerned that his grandparents will be deported, while another talks about what it was like to be a black mother on the day 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer.

Zootopia offers parents a way to discuss these issues with their children by starting a conversation that is considered to be safe by using the film, which changes out race and socialized gender roles for topics used within the animal kingdom including “predators vs prey” and “large vs small.”

“In the world of Zootopia, carnivores and herbivores, earth-shakers and tiny scuttlers, live side by side in peace. But it’s a peace fraught with tension, bearing the scars, literal and figurative, of a long history of antipathy,” writes Yang.

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