Do you want to have an age appropriate talk with your child about prejudice, discrimination, and identity politics – but don’t know where to begin? Well, show them Zootropolis (aka Zootopia in the US) and talk about that.
Before we get into the meat of it, I just want to make something clear. Zootropolis (Zootopia) is a great kid’s movie, a brand new Disney classic to delight any age group – our family’s age range is made up of a 4, 40, and 44 year old and we all loved it.
It has a fun concept (animals have evolved into humanoid creatures, and have live in a society very much like our own), engaging characters, great voice work (leads Judy Hopps the Bunny-Cop and Nick Wilde the Con-artist Fox voiced brilliantly by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, plus Idris Elba as a gruff Bison-Cop), and a fun whodunnit plot.
What makes this film so great? Well, it has a terrific central character in Judy Hopps. She’s a gregarious bunny with big dreams, who doesn’t let the seemingly insurmountable obstacles she must overcome dissuade her. She is an awesome female character, and it’s still rare to have a non-Princessy Disney lead female. But that’s not the brilliant thing about this movie.
What makes it so great is the subtext. Well, to be honest it’s so near the surface, it’s pretty much ‘text’. Inequality and prejudice.
Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination plague society. Children can be exposed to them early. However, I often hear of parents who want hide these ills of the world from their kids. Perhaps they feel the best way for us to progress is too ignore these differences, so that all children grow up free of prejudice. That even talking of these divisions to young minds is what fuels such discrimination.
Then there are other parents who want to begin discussions with their children about these difficult topics. Who feel that in order for them to counter the discrimination they will have directed at them or others in their lives they need to be able to identify it. As a brown skinned parent of a mixed race child, that’s my opinion.
With Zootropolis, the previously conservative Disney have created a wonderful zany and exciting children’s movie – that explores the themes, issues, and debates that surround modern forms of prejudice and discrimination.
How does Zootropolis (Zootopia) encourage your child to think about prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism and identity politics?
The underlying story explores the tensions bubbling under the surface – that this seeming ‘Zootopia’ is full of old rivalries and assumptions – Foxes are untrustworthy and always up to no good, bunnies are simply cute and prolific breeders, predators in general are the only ones capable of effective leadership.
The lead character of Judy Hopps is determined to break the mold, and be the first Bunny-cop – an idea that everyone – including her parents – think is ludicrous. She overcomes derision from her peers and family to achieve this, but is then dismissed as being merely the result of positive discrimination.
But this isn’t a simple ‘Oh why can’t we all just get along?’ story. That would be unremarkable. What’s so special about this movie is that it tackles head-on the many forms – and effects – that such discrimination can have.
Specific issues are referenced, from affirmative action, political propaganda, and negative assumptions based on race and gender. Even individual real-world scenarios – such as calling a co-worker cute (“It’s ok when other bunny says it, not anyone else”), or even touching the hair of another ‘ethnicity’ (“Ooh, it feels so different”) get referenced. It even touches on the war on drugs.
Are assumptions based on your biological type valid? Is intelligence, capability, even morality simply all about DNA? Is the prevalence of these stereotypes in the populace evidence of that truth, or of society only streaming citizens into the only roles they are assumed to be capable of?
This film is full of big and complex ideas for a kid’s movie. But remarkably, it pulls it off.
This is the last thing I expected to see from a Disney movie – instead of transporting us to a land far away, this thought provoking film inspires us to look at the world we live in instead. This film is an amazing way to get your kids thinking about these issues.
I urge you to show this movie to your children repeatedly. And if you feel you’re ignorant of the issues surrounding race and gender equality, then I urge you to see it too.
Zooptropolis/Zootopia (2016) images ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.