After months of spending our Friday nights being bored to tears, my husband decided to take our family our to the movies.
When we got there, we allowed our son to pick the movie, and he chose Zootopia (or as he kept saying in his 7-year-old voice, “Zootokia.”)
It wasn’t even 5 minutes into the movie before we knew that the movie’s writers brought an extra large set of balls when drafting the script. The movie was excellent, but the last thing we expected to see was an animated film about sexism, racism, and equality.
The movie centers around a bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who had big dreams of becoming a police officer in Zootopia, which is sort of like a New York City for wild animals. In Zootopia, all animals live together in harmony, predator or not.
Of course, her parents were not feeling her decision to become a cop, and wanted to know why she wasn’t content with staying on the farm, like her 225 other siblings. Plus, the title of “police officer” usually went to larger animals, like elephants, rhinos, and tigers.
But she’s a girl bunny with big dreams, and when the time came, she became Zootopia’s first bunny officer, which meant that she was the first mammal to benefit from a mammal-inclusion diversity initiative ordered by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).
As soon as she walked into the station for her first day at her new gig, she was met by the desk officer, Clawhauser, who fawned over how absolutely adorable she was. Her response was an interesting way to address the uncomfortable conversation (which reminded my husband and I about conversations surrounded around explaining the n-word).
You probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it’s a little…
Later that morning, as her water buffalo boss Capt. Bogo (Idris Elba) handed out assignments for the day. He hands out assignments surrounding the disappearance of 14 animals. Everyone gets a case file except for Judy, because Bogo isn’t okay with handing the assignment to a rookie. This is the other part that surprised us – a conversation about species-ism/racism. Wow.
According to Variety, there’s a reason for that.
The “Zootopia” screenplay (on which the directors share credit with Phil Johnston and co-helmer Jared Bush) actually turns real-world racial sensitivity issues into something of a talking point — as when Judy notes that a bunny can call another bunny “cute,” but it’s not OK when another animal does it.
Along the way, she meets a fox, Nicke Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is up to no good. Eventually Nick helps Judy with the missing animals case, and this is where the wild ride begins. My husband and I found ourselves cringing at the beginning of every joke, and then laughing, crying, or looking shocked at the end of it.
For instance, while getting assistance on the case from Assistant Mayor Bellwether (comedienne Jenny Slate), Nick starts patting her wool. Judy discourages him from doing it, by saying, “You can’t do that!” To which Nick responds, ‘But it’s so soft.”
You already know this was about patting black people’s hair. Thank God someone said it. But at the beginning of the joke, we were scared about how they would finish presenting it. By the end, we were cracking up.
Plus, the movie was beautifully animated, and we absolutely loved the other film references, like “The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” and “Breaking Bad.” My husband and I were taken aback by the references at first, but after some thought, we realized that it wasn’t a bad idea for them to include that into the storyline. In fact, it was been brilliant. Bustle writer Casey Cipriani explains my exact same sentiments best:
Including classic movie references in kids’ films gives artists a chance to lovingly honor the works that have inspired them, yes, but it also helps introduce young folks to really great movies before it might be appropriate for them to see them. I was lucky enough to have a movie nerd of a dad who showed me a lot of classic stuff when I was a child, but for kids for whom an interest in old cinema might not be a readily available option, the references hidden in kid-appropriate entertainment have a major effect.
It’s worth noting that end of the film left my 7-year-old son confused. There was a part of the film were Judy speaks at a press conference about the missing animals case. She says something off color about how predators had returned to their savage ways. Although she recovered from her mistake, and apologized to her friend Nick (a predator), my son seemed confused by the ending. He was probably wondering the same thing I was: She apologized, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay.
This is where I think the movie was difficult to watch. We teach our son that there’s some words you can’t take back. Judy called the other animals savage, which reminded us of the thousands of times we tried to talk to our son about race and racism. Although I didn’t like how the lesson was presented (perhaps because I’m sensitive about the subject overall), it’s a great starting point for young kids.
Overall, I really think that this is a great film to take your kids to see. If you’re a parent, you may cringe at some of the jokes, but you’ll probably do it anyway if conversations about sexism, racism, or equality makes you uncomfortable anyway. Eventually, you’ll have to have these talks with your kids, and this Zootopia is a wonderful introduction to the subjects.