Movie Review: Zootopia

Just in time for you not to be able to catch it in the theaters. The book reviews are coming, I promise, but they take longer to write…

The temptation to view this piece of pretty fluff as just another harmless kiddie cartoon should be resisted. Maybe 90% of the messages in this movie is, in fact, harmless to good: we should all get along, do not judge people by appearances, dream big and work hard and your dreams can be yours, Mom and Dad are hopeless yahoos who just want to hold you back – the usual.  Well, that last one, a recurring theme in Disney flicks since whenever, is a little off, as is the idea that wherever you find yourself is WRONG – you must leave family and home to achieve what Destiny has in store for you. There’s even an extended scene in which Mom and Dad explain how dreams are OK, but one must settle – and, boy, how they’ve settled.

Judy, with her erudite and sophisticated parents

That Mom and Dad (still together, at least – I guess that’s part of the bumpkin vibe they’re selling) run a successful farm and raise a huge family is not viewed as having succeeded in any real sense, not like, say, running off to the big city to be a cop. Judy, out rabbit protagonist, has a little soliloquy in which she counts down all that’s sad about the room she’s renting in the Big City – greasy wall, lumpy bed, insane neighbors, etc. – and then says: “I love it!” But she’s not settling.

All this is, as mentioned above, pretty much standard Disney fare.(1) As such, I suppose it’s tolerable enough – if, for example, the charm and beauty of Snow White, an orphan living under a witch, or  Sleeping Beauty, where the only father figures are incompetent ninnies, can get you past those drawbacks (works for me) then the awesome visuals and often witty dialogue and characterizations could get you past the claptrap in Zootopia.

But then there’s this exchange between Judy and Benjamin, the cop at the front desk, an overweight big cat of some sort:

Judy: – Excuse me!

Benjamin: – Hmm?

J: Down here! – Hi.

B: – O… M… Goodness! They really did hire a bunny. Ho-whop! I gotta tell you,
you’re even cuter than I thought you’d be.

J: Ooh, ah, you probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’,
but when other animals do it, that’s a little…

B: Ohhh. I am so sorry! Me, Benjamin Clawhauser. The guy everyone thinks is just
a flabby donut-loving cop, stereotyping you.

J: – Oh.

B: – No, it’s okay.

So, Judy is breaking it to Benjamin: it’s not just a matter of a cute bunny being tired of being told she’s cute, it’s a SYSTEMIC problem, wherein it’s OK for any rabbit to tell any other rabbit she’s cute, but not OK for any non-rabbit to ever tell a rabbit she’s cute.

‘Cute’ is here being equated with the ‘N’ word. Right? Am I missing something? The trials of being a cute rabbit – not being taken seriously and being denied certain jobs(2) – are here being equated with being reminded you were considered and may still be considered subhuman.

Judy has removed the problem from just something that might (and no doubt does) change depending on the particular people involved – some rabbits may not mind being called cute! – to something that Society Must Deal With. We are to learn, it appears, that it’s not enough to simply tell someone you’d prefer not to be called ‘cute’, or, even better, that grownups suck it up rather than take offense when it can plausibly be assumed the other party meant no harm, but that the World must change to preserve ME from perceived microaggression. The excessive groveling apology from Benjamin, hammer-like, drives the point home.

To be fair, it is a fun little story, a who done it/mystery with any number of amusing characters and the fabulous artwork we’ve come to expect from modern CGI geniuses. At the time, all I did was figuratively roll my eyes and keep watching. I was often entertained, and our 12 year old seemed to like it.

But now, the next day, that jarring, stupid scene keeps leaping to mind.

  1. Which is why I love Mulan so much – actual heroic, loveable dad and a daughter who wants nothing more than to spare him, and then come back home. I cried at that scene – I’m a dad with daughters, after all. Point being, this sort of thing is very, very rare in Disney films.
  2. And for good reason: is she really bringing in a miscreant rhino or polar bear? If wolves are attacking you, you call for the cops and a rabbit shows up, are you going to be happy? Is justice going to be served? Or will it be more like this?
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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

7 thoughts on “Movie Review: Zootopia”

    1. I should have read them, then, and saved a couple bucks. I’d just heard it was lovely to look at and typical light fare – which it is, if by ‘typical’ you mean ‘pandering to lovers of PC nonsense.’

  1. You’re not wrong but…

    Well first of all, can you believe they had a reference to 275+ children and not a joke about birth control? By the modern standard that makes this movie practically catholic.

    Ok, one more joke. Here’s an alternate review, who also points out the SJWs can’t seem to figure out how to react to it. If they can’t see it as preaching to the choir, maybe there’s something more there.

    My biggest disappointment is its enforcement of “special snowflakeness.”

    I know the blog host will get the following, but for those reading every job has its drolleries the “bottom of the totem pole.” In this movie it’s clearly “meter maid.” In the far superior King of the Hill episode, it’s called “tank wipe.” In the general it’s what is known as “grunt work.” It’s the jobs n00bs start on, rookies do it, and it always sucks.

    Most nowadays treat this as a punishment (which it sometimes is) and see themselves as being too important or special (“top of my class”) to do this kind of the thing. The problem is, there’s a very good reason it’s done purely by seniority, not by skill or anything. Because there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. You can read all about a job you want, and it still won’t be anything like actually doing it. Rookies do the grunt work because they need to learn, they need to KNOW the job, the place, not in their heads, but down in their very bones. The best and the wise look back and eventually realize they only got to where they are by doing that grunt work.

    And we see that multiple times in this movie too! Judy is only able to advance the case because she works the streets as a lowly meter maid and makes connections and gets to know the town. Even at her lowest point, she goes back to the farm and finds MORE knowledge she needed to bring it all together thanks to her parents and former nemesis. Yet the movie’s overt message is that the Boss was wrong to try and suppress her speshulness! We never see him say “all rookies work shifts at the meters” (and then have Nick start out on meters at the end) or indicate that she’ll get more responsibilities once she has proven herself or anything like that.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the movie is a great exhibit in a lot of writing techniques (one could make a drinking game of all the chekov guns it bothers to load and cock before firing them at the end). But that its overt message ended up conflicting with its demonstrated message is what, for me (who just watched it 30 min ago), causes this to fall just short of being high quality.

    1. Fascinating. When I tried to follow the line of thinking in the linked essay, I got a bit dizzy – the layers of meaning and the way a number of people would have needed to behave and deceive one another to pull it all off is staggering – somebody very well may have used the story to subvert the subversives, but did they get everybody up and down the production of the flick on board? Or did they have usefully lies or dissembling to tell certain people?

      Swamped at the moment, but will see if I can find time to think this over…

      1. lol I have no idea. I’m more willing to believe they came up with the story first then stuck with it in the name of artistic integrity which lead to it then subverting the possible goal.

        I’m reminded of Supernatural season 7, where the creators were vocal about wanting to make it an overt political point about something, but because of the fidelity to the genre and established rules, they wound up with a story that kind of proved the opposite of what they wanted if you think about it.

  2. I have to admit I was even less impressed by the “theme” of the movie, because I couldn’t help seeing it as a warning parable about Islamophobia and Trutherism.

    (SPOILERS FOLLOW)

    To me, the uneasy relationship between predator and prey species in the movie’s world seemed to echo perfectly the relationship between Muslims and Westerners respectively: people of a different and previously much more dangerous and hostile way of life are now living, as a small minority, in mostly amicable coexistence with the people who used to be considered their rightful targets — but the basic primal fears are still there and all it takes is a few predators “going savage” and attacking their old prey to reignite all the old xenophobia and conflict. To make matters worse, the predators who do go savage turn out to have been innocent drug-controlled dupes of a prey-engineered “false flag operation” conspiracy designed to justify a mass purge of predator-species people, including the mayor, and turning control over to the prey species for good.

    Leaving aside the rather strenuous suspension of disbelief I had to exert to get into the movie at all (how the heck has every carnivore species managed to evolve beyond needing to eat meat? Why is there almost no presence of religion visible in the world at all? What species was Christ Himself in this world, a Lamb I guess? Why are there no primates or reptilians? And so on), I thought it would have been much more interesting if the movie had had the courage of its convictions and actually made the “savage” predators fully, consciously deliberate in their savagery, and even put in a charismatic leader arguing for its return as the “natural” way of living. But the basic liberal worldview you can see in every Disney film prevents this: the only explanation that Disney & Co. can allow for the existence of conflict is its deliberate fostering by those who seek to exploit it for their own profit, rather than the inevitable result of people having genuinely, irreconcilably different values about life.

    (All that said, I have to admit that I do find the alternate interpretation linked to above strangely compelling, as well. I may even have to rewatch the movie with that in mind to see how it works.)

    1. You and me both. The problem is that, depending on which interpretation is more accurate, I may or may not want to send another dime in the direction of the movie makers…

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