When the early reviews for Zootopia poured in, I was a bit worried. Sure, they all claimed it was one of the greatest Disney movies ever created. They claimed that Disney had done something new with anthropomorphic animals, a well most of them had assumed dried up around the time of Aesop. Considering that my film repertoire consists almost entirely of animated anthropomorphic animals and singing princesses, that should have gotten me excited. But there was something else in the reviews that disturbed me: nearly every one highlighted an underlying message of diversity in our fractured times.

“Great,” I groaned, “now politics are infecting my Disney cartoons.” As if I’m not getting enough of that every time I turn on the TV, something that will only get worse the closer we get to November (yay for living in a swing state).

Fortunately, while there’s certainly an underlying message of diversity, they did it the right way, rather than having, I don’t know, some stand in for Donald Trump saying he was going to deport all the llamas (though watching a Donald Trump stand in eaten by a pride of lions a la Lion King would likely be quite satisfying).

Let’s talk about the overall movie before getting a little more into that message. Mammals (“suck it, lizards” –Disney) have evolved to have human thoughts, emotions, and movement abilities, yet still retain many of their individual species’ qualities. For the prime example, bunnies haven’t managed to become the same size as a lion or a gnu. Because of their differing sizes and inherent traits, certain animals are drawn to certain careers. Polar bears as security, tigers as actuaries, and foxes as shyster. All perfectly logical.

Tigers also wear stripper shorts. Again, perfectly logical

Tigers also wear stripper shorts. Again, perfectly logical

That’s where we get to the diversity message. Our intrepid protagonist is a bunny who wants to be a cop. She works really, really hard, and is allowed in as a police officer. And her commanding officer refuses to take her seriously. Heck, she can’t even see over the desk while sitting in her cop chair in the briefing room. It’s no spoiler to say she proves them wrong, because this is a Disney movie, and, surprisingly enough, not directed by David Lynch of Lars von Trier.

But if it was just that one theme, it would just be another standard feel good Saturday morning special. Why Zootopia works is that while this bunny is discriminated against, she holds prejudges of her own, especially against foxes. The problem suddenly becomes deeper and more complex than standard for most children’s films.

I know, that all sounds political. It works, though, because each species represents what the creators believe an evolved version of those animals would be like, not representatives of other races/genders/classes/etc. In other words, Song of the South this is not, thank goodness. If you’re trying to link up which animal is supposed to represent which real life group, you’re doing it wrong (like one of the two negative reviews on Rotten Tomato clearly was doing).


In other words, the message is that everyone is at risk of developing biases, and we should learn to get past those and all get along. So less “treat x group better” and more “be good to everyone.” Maybe a bit too kumbaya? Maybe a bit too simplistic compared to the real world problems we face? Of course it is. It’s a kids’ show, for heaven’s sake.

A few other quick notes. Zootopia is absolutely hilarious. It was the first time I can remember going to the theater wishing the volume was louder so I could hear the dialog over the laughter. The writing is absolutely fantastic, including some great references to other Disney shows (i.e. Duke Weaselton, voiced by the same person who voiced the Duke of Weselton) and very non-Disney shows (Walter and Jessie from Breaking Bad make an appearance).

It also has an interesting plot, way more developed than some lame platform for a feel good message. Replace the animals with people and the movie could easily be a summer blockbuster.

Not that there weren’t some questions left unaddressed. Specifically, what do the predators eat? Fish, maybe? There were no evolved fish (“suck it, fish” -Disney).

Definitely worth watching. I’m guessing this one will be popular for a while. That is, assuming it’s not undone by its painfully generic merch.


So are these Zootopia or The Busy World of Richard Scary?

What My Kids Said They Liked

Finley: “I liked all of it.” (this has become his standard response to movies)

Kella: “I liked the scary parts.” (right at the beginning, there’s a jump scare that literally made her throw her popcorn all over the woman next to her. Fortunately, the woman took it in stride, and there were free refills on popcorn.)