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zootopia summary essay

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Fantasy films aimed at kids don’t have to have political messages, but when they do, they should either be internally consistent, or work through the contradictions in terms that kids can apply to the real world. “Zootopia,” a fantasy set in a city where predators and prey live together in harmony, is a funny, beautifully designed kids’ film with a message that it restates at every turn. But if you think about that message for longer than five minutes, it doesn’t merely fall apart, it invites a reading that is almost surely contrary to the movie’s seemingly enlightened spirit: discrimination is wrong, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and it’s not easy for members of a despised class to overcome the reasons why the majority despises them, so you gotta be patient.

Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”) voices Bunny Hops, a small town rabbit who’s told that she can’t be a police officer in Zootopia because there’s never been a rabbit police officer. (The job tends to be done by predators and large herbivores—like a water buffalo that’s become a police captain, voiced by Idris Elba.) Hops makes it through police training anyway and gets assigned to meter maid duty, to the relief of her carrot farmer parents ( Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake ), who gave her fox repellent as a going-away present. They had good reason to give her fox repellent: the fox is one of the rabbit’s mortal enemies, and when Judy was child, a fox cornered her at a county fair, insulted her for being a bunny, and slashed her face with his paw. (This is a slightly more intense kid-flick than you might expect, given how many adorable animals are in it.)

Of course Hops ends up partnered with a red fox named Nick Wilde ( Jason Bateman ), a small-time hustler who reluctantly helps her investigate the disappearances of a dozen predators. I won’t reveal exactly what the mystery is here (it’s a pretty good one) except to say that it invites kids and parents to talk about nature versus nurture, and the origins and debilitating effect of stereotypes.

But this turns out to be not such a great thing once you get deeper into the movie. Because people are not animals, I dread thinking about the “logical” conclusions to which such conversations will lead. The film isn’t wrong to say that carnivores are biologically inclined to want to eat herbivores, that bunnies reproduce prolifically, the sloths are slow-moving (they work at the DMV here), that you can take the fox out of the forest but you can’t take forest out of the fox, and so on. If you think about all this as an analogy for the world we live in (particularly if we live in a melting-pot big city like Zootopia) and and then ask yourself which racial or ethnic or societal groups (cops, businesspeople, city bureaucrats) are “predators” and which are “prey” (for purposes of metaphor translation), you see the problem. "Zootopia" pretty much rubber-stamps whatever worldview parents want to pass on to their kids, however embracing or malignant that may be. I can imagine an anti-racist and a racist coming out of this film, each thinking it validated their sense of how the world works.

“Zootopia” is constantly asking its characters to look past species stereotypes, and not use species-ist language or repeat hurtful assumptions. “Only a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute,’” Hops warns a colleague It’s filled with moments that are about overcoming or enduring discrimination. “Never let them see that they get to you,” Wilde advises Hops. And there are acknowledgments of the destructive self-hatred that discrimination can cause. Many of the animals make self-deprecating jokes at the expense of stereotypes about their species (such as Hops volunteering to do math for Wilde, telling him, "If there's one thing we bunnies are good at, it's multiplying"), and there's a fairly intense flashback which reveals that Wilde became a hustler because other animals hazed him as a pup while repeating anti-fox stereotypes, and responded by embracing his species' caricature and becoming the foxiest fox anyone had seen. This all seems clever and noble until you realize that all the stereotypes about various animals are to some extent true, in particular the most basic one: carnivores eat herbivores because it's in their nature. (Yes, readers, I know, there are tigers who've been taught to snuggle with lambs, and I've seen the same memes with cats and dogs snuggling that you have; I mean in general.)

It might seem weird that I’m dwelling on this aspect of “Zootopia,” which is directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore and co-directed by Jared Bush , because the movie is entertaining. The thriller plot, which borrows rather generously from “48 HRS” and every cop drama involving governmental conspiracy, is smartly shaped   It’s hard to imagine any child or adult failing to be amused and excited by parts of it. The compositions and lighting are more thoughtful than you tend to get in a 3-D animated film starring big-eyed animals who speak with the voices of celebrities. And there are a few sections that are transportingly lovely, in particular any sequence involving the pop star Gazelle (voiced by Shakira), and Hops' high-speed train ride towards and through Zootopia, which introduces the city's different terrains (including frozen tundra and misty rainforest) while leaving room for subsequent bits of spelunking (a foot chase through rodent town lets Hops know what it feels like to be a giant). Some of the biggest laughs come from obvious gags that you know the writers couldn't resist, such as the bit where Idris' water buffalo captain says they can't start the morning briefing without acknowledging the elephant in the room. If you decide not to think about the metaphor that the film is built around, it's an enjoyable diversion, made with great skill.

Still: is it too much to ask that a film that wears its noble intentions like a jangling neck collar be able to withstand scrutiny? If "Zootopia" were a bit vaguer, or perhaps dumber and less pleased with itself, it might have been a classic, albeit of a very different, less reputable sort. As-is, it's a goodhearted, handsomely executed film that doesn't add up in the way it wants to.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Zootopia movie poster

Zootopia (2016)

Rated G for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

108 minutes

Ginnifer Goodwin as Lieutenant Judy Hopps (voice)

Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde (voice)

Shakira as Gazelle (voice)

Idris Elba as Chief Bogo (voice)

Octavia Spencer as Mrs. Otterson (voice)

J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart (voice)

Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton (voice)

Jenny Slate as Bellwether (voice)

Bonnie Hunt as Bonnie Hopps (voice)

Tommy Lister as Finnick (voice)

Tommy Chong as Yax (voice)

Kristen Bell as Priscilla (voice)

Katie Lowes as Dr. Madge Honey Badger (voice)

Josh Dallas as Frantic Pig (voice)

John DiMaggio as Jerry Jumbeaux Jr. (voice)

Nate Torrence as Officer Clawhauser (voice)

Maurice LaMarche as Mr. Big (voice)

Kath Soucie as Young Nick Wilde (voice)

Mark Smith as Officer McHorn (voice)

  • Byron Howard


  • Phil Johnston

Writer (story)

  • Jennifer Lee
  • Jim Reardon

Writer (head of story)

  • Josie Trinidad

Writer (additional story material)

  • Dan Fogelman

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  • In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.
  • From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde, a wily fox who makes her job even harder. — Jwelch5742
  • From the biggest elephant to the tiniest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a beautiful metropolis where all animals live peacefully with one another. Determined to prove her worth, Judy Hopps becomes the first official bunny cop on the police force. When 14 predator animals go missing, Judy immediately takes the case. Partnering with a smooth talking fox named Nick Wilde, Judy must piece together all the clues as to where the predators are and who is behind it all. — Blazer346
  • Being the first one is never easy, especially for Judy Hopps, the first bunny cop. When strange things happen in the city, Judy decides that she will try to solve the case, but she only has 48 hours to do so. To help her, she partners with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, even though he makes the job harder. — Aken Purnomo
  • In a world where animals have no intention of eating each other, a little bunny named Judy Hopps who grew up on a farm leaves her family to pursue her dreams of being the first bunny cop in Zootopia. While there, she runs into a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, and they have to work together after an incident threatens Zootopia.
  • In the town of Bunnyburrow, 9 year old bunny, Judy Hopps ( Della Saba ) is performing in a school play. Her theme explains that animals, once primitive and wild, have now evolved to where predators and prey can live side by side in harmony. The founding mammal city, Zootopia, is hailed as a place where anyone can be anything. Judy then announces that she wants to be a police officer. A kid fox in the audience, Gideon Grey ( Phil Johnston ), sneers at the idea and even Judy's parents, Bonnie and Stu ( Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake ) tell her that there's never been a bunny officer. However, Judy is willing to try against all odds. When Judy sees Gideon bullying some kids by taking their fair tickets she boldly confronts him, but Gideon responds by taunting Judy's dreams and slashing her in the face. He leaves and, though she's hurt, Judy shows her friends the tickets she got back and declares that she doesn't know when to quit. Years later Judy attends the Zootopia Police Academy. Judy is tiny compared to the other recruits and faces difficulties managing the obstacle courses run by the drill sergeant ( Fuschia! ). But through sheer determination, and by using her wits, Judy makes it to graduation as valedictorian. Zootopia Mayor Lionheart ( J.K. Simmons ) oversees the ceremony and Assistant Mayor Bellwether ( Jenny Slate ), a sheep, formally congratulates Judy as the first bunny police officer, saying it's a big day for all small animals. She is assigned to Precinct 1 in the heart of Zootopia, much to the apprehension of her parents. A few days after, Judy, her parents, and many siblings head to the train station. Stu convinces Judy to take a can of fox repellent with her before she gets on the train to Zootopia. Judy listens to a hit by pop singer, Gazelle ( Shakira ), as she zooms through the diverse districts of the city, from the frozen tundra to the sultry rainforest. She finds her apartment, a run-down single room with a rickety bed, paper-thin walls, and two noisy neighbors, Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson ( Byron Howard and Jared Bush ). Despite this, she's all to excited for her first day. She gets up bright and early and makes it to the police station where she is directed to role call by the pudgy desk sergeant, a cheetah named Benjamin Clawhauser ( Nate Torrence ). All the other officers (elephants, rhinos, hippos, and bears) tower over Judy. Police Chief Bogo ( Idris Elba ) calls them to order and explains their first priority is handling the case of fourteen missing animals; all predators. Bogo divides everyone into teams but assigns Judy to parking duty. Judy is disappointed but sets her standards high and uses her sharp ears to help her write 200 tickets before noon. Around then, she notices a fox who appears to be up to something enter a local ice cream shop run by Jerry Jumbeaux Jr. ( John DiMaggio ). Though suspicious at first, Judy then sees the fox, Nick Wilde ( Jason Bateman ), is just trying to purchase a jumbo-pop for his son who is wearing an elephant costume. Jerry refuses service to the fox with sneering bigotry and this angers Judy who steps in and proposes a compromise; she'll let the elephants off with a warning for the health code violation of serving ice cream without gloves on their trunks if Nick can have a jumbo-pop. When Nick confesses he doesn't have his wallet, and apologizes to his son for the worst birthday, Judy goes further and pays for the treat. She tells Nick she can't stand it when people are mistreated for being predators or prey and walks away with a spring in her step, happy to have helped someone in need. Later that day, Judy is writing more tickets when she notices the little fox in his elephant suit. She approaches to say hello but then notices that he and Nick are melting the jumbo-pop from the roof of a building and letting the drippings collect in large jars. They drive away together, with the little fox at the wheel. Judy follows them into Tundratown and sees them making mini pops with the melted juice. They take them into the Savannah District and sell them to hamsters coming out of work. The hamsters chomp on the pops and leave the sticks in a recycling bin. The little fox collects the sticks and he and Nick take them to a construction zone in Little Rodentia where they're sold as lumber. Later, Nick and his 'son', a full-grown fennec fox named Finnick ( Tom Lister Jr. ), part ways and Judy confronts Nick. Nick doesn't deny that he's a hustler but provides Judy with all the paperwork he needs to make his endeavors technically legal and humbles her by saying that the city is not a magical land where dreams come true and a meter maid can never be a real cop. Judy returns to her apartment, sullen, and bears through an inadvertently insulting call from her parents who are thoughtlessly relieved to see she is not a "real cop" in their eyes and has instead the safest job on the force. The next day, Judy is writing more tickets and enduring unending verbal abuse from the citizenry for her duty when she is approached by a frantic pig ( Josh Dallas ) who tells her he's just been robbed. Judy springs into action and chases the thieving weasel ( Alan Tudyk ) through the city square and into Little Rodentia. During the chase, in which Judy has to take considerable pains to avoid accidental harm to the tiny citizenry and their property, Duke kicks a plastic doughnut from a shop toward Judy and it nearly crushes a lady shrew, but Judy stops it in the nick of time and uses the doughnut to apprehend the weasel. Judy rolls him into the station but is called to Bogo's office. He reprimands her for leaving her post and endangering the public to retrieve a bag of moldy onions. Judy objects, saying that the 'onions' are actually flower bulbs called Midnicampum holicithias and that she only wanted to serve as a real cop. However, Chief Bogo responds that she had her orders as a parking attendant and disobeyed them, making a political appointee like her intolerable to him. Just then, an otter named Mrs. Otterton ( Octavia Spencer ) barges in, begging Chief Bogo to find her husband, Emmitt, who has been missing for ten days. Bogo offers empty assurances until Judy steps up and promises to find him. Bogo escorts Mrs. Otterton out of the office before firing Judy for insubordination. However, when he opens the door again, he finds Mrs. Otterton speaking with Assistant Mayor Bellwether who promptly sends a notice to the mayor about Judy's willingness to take the case and tells Judy to come to her for any assistance. Bogo reluctantly allows Judy to take the case but gives her a 48 hour ultimatum; she finds the otter or resigns. Judy agrees. At the front desk, Clawhauser gives Judy the case file but there are no leads or witnesses and, since she's new, she has no technological resources. However, Judy notices in the lone photograph they have that Emmitt is eating a familiar looking popsicle. She locates Nick on the streets and demands his help but he refuses. When she says his ten dollars' worth of mini pops can wait, he claims to have made two hundred a day since he was twelve. Judy records Nick on her carrot pen recorder and puts his own words against his tax files which show he's claimed zero income. Judy says she'll report him for tax evasion, a federal offense, unless he helps her. Finnick, who was asleep in the stroller Nick was pushing, laughs at the reverse hustle and wishes Nick good luck working with the fuzz before walking off. Nick takes Judy to Mystic Springs Oasis, the last place he saw Otterton going. They're met by a yak named Yax ( Tommy Chong ), doing yoga behind a desk. He recognizes Mr. Otterton but says he hasn't seen him in a couple of weeks. He then takes them into the oasis to find Emmitt's yoga instructor, an elephant named Nangi ( Gita Reddy ), and Judy is shocked to find the oasis is a haven for naturalists; nude animals. Nangi has no memory of Otterton, but Yax unwittingly gives Judy all the information she needs, including the plate number for the car Otterton was picked up in the last time he was there. Nick says he has a friend at the DMV who can help them run the plate number. There, Judy is disheartened to see that the DMV is run solely by sloths. Nick's friend, Flash ( Raymond S. Persi ) is able to run the plate number for them but, naturally, takes forever to do so. This isn't helped when Nick, in an attempt to push Judy's buttons, delays them with a joke. By the time they exit, it's nighttime. Judy finds out the car in question is a limo in Tundratown but, by the time she and Nick arrive, the lot's closed. Without a warrant, Judy cannot get in. Defeated, she holds out her recording pen to Nick but flings it over the fence. Nick goes to retrieve it and Judy meets him on the other side, slyly saying that she doesn't need a warrant if she has probable cause - and a shifty-looking fox climbing over the gate qualifies. They locate the limo and search it, finding polar bear fur, claw marks all over the back seat, and Otterton's wallet. Then, Nick recognizes an insignia on a drinking glass and panics; he knows who's car this is. When they open the car door to leave they're confronted by a couple of polar bears who shove them into a car. Squeezed in the back seat between two polar bears, Nick explains that the car belongs to a thug boss named Mr. Big with whom he's not on good terms because Nick sold him an expensive rug made from the fur of a skunk's butt. Nick and Judy are brought into a study where Mr. Big ( Maurice LaMarche ), a shrew, is carried in by his polar bear guards. He berates Nick for tarnishing his trust and the hospitality of his grandmother who he recently buried in the skunk rug, and scolds him for returning on the day of his daughter's wedding. Unafraid, Judy steps forward and tells Mr. Big that she knows Emmitt Otterton was with him last and will find out what happened to him if it's the last thing she does. Unfazed, Mr. Big orders his bears to 'ice' Nick and Judy and they're held over a trap door in the floor that reveals icy water. Mr. Big's daughter, Fru Fru ( Leah Latham ), then walks in wearing her wedding dress and recognizes Judy as the bunny that saved her the previous day from being crushed by the doughnut. In gratitude, Mr. Big releases Judy and Nick and invites them to Fru Fru's wedding reception where he explains that Otterton was his florist but, before meeting with him to discuss something important, went crazy in the limo he sent, attacked his driver, and disappeared. Mr. Big directs them to speak with the driver, Manchas ( Jesse Corti ), in the Rainforest District for more information. Manchas, a melanistic jaguar, cracks open the door when Nick and Judy arrive, showing scratches all over his face and acting fearful. He tells them that Otterton kept talking about the 'night howlers' before he went wild and savagely attacked him. Nick says they're there to talk about the night howlers too and Manchas agrees to let them in but, just after he unlocks the chain, Judy and Nick hear him groan followed by a thud. They push the door open to see Manchas on all fours, growling viciously at them. Nick and Judy run for their lives, pursued closely by Manchas. Judy manages to call for backup as she and Nick tumble and fall through the slick canopy. Finally, Judy is able to cuff Manchas to a light pole near a gondola station and throws herself and Nick off it into some vines away from the jaguar's claws. They meet up with the responding police units and Judy explains to Chief Bogo that she believes Manchas, like Otterton, went 'savage'. However, when she takes them back to the gondola station, Manchas is gone. Bogo, irritated and not believing Judy's story demands her to hand over her badge for failing to complete her assignment, but Nick stands up for Judy. He says that Bogo gave them 48 hours, which means they have ten left to find Otterton. He takes Judy onto a gondola and they leave. Over the rainforest, Nick explains that he was idealistic like Judy once. As a kid, he wanted nothing more than to join the Junior Ranger Scouts. His mother bought him a new uniform and he was excited to become part of the group, despite the fact that he was the only predator to join. Upon arriving, however, the other animals bullied and muzzled him, saying that he was stupid for thinking they'd trust a fox. After that day he decided he would never let anyone see that they had gotten to him and if people only thought of foxes as shifty and untrustworthy, then that's what he would be. Judy consoles him but Nick deflects from her affections by looking at traffic below. He then realizes that there are traffic cameras all over the canopy and they can use them to find out where Manchas was taken. Judy recalls that Assistant Mayor Bellwether offered to help them. They meet her at City Hall and she takes them to her office which is nothing more than a janitor's closet. Despite her upbeat personality, it's no secret that she's woefully mistreated by the Mayor. She opens the database for the Rainforest District traffic cameras before being called away by Lionheart. Judy and Nick find the footage of Manchas and see that he was netted and hauled away by timber wolves. Judy realizes that the wolves must be the Night Howlers. They watch as the wolves' van drives through a tunnel but fails to come out the other side. Nick says that there's a maintenance tunnel and, if he were to do anything illegal, that's the route he'd take to avoid observation. They relocate the van and go to where it was headed - an old building outside of town called Cliffside Asylum. Nick and Judy make it past the guards by inciting a group howl; something the wolves can't resist. Inside, they find new equipment in an old hospital ward. Following claw marks on the floor, they find fifteen cells inhabited by various predators, all feral and savage, including Manchas and Mr. Otterton. Judy realizes she's just found all of the missing mammals but, just then, Mayor Lionheart enters with a badger doctor ( Katie Lowes ). Judy and Nick hide in an empty cell and Judy records Lionheart as he demands to know why predators are going savage. The doctor has no answer and says that they must come forward to Chief Bogo but the Mayor refuses, saying his reputation as a predator official is at stake. At that moment, Judy's phone rings with a call from her parents. Lionheart is startled and the doctor orders security to investigate before locking off the wing. Nick and Judy escape by flushing themselves down a toilet just before the guards arrive and they manage to get the evidence Judy recorded back to Bogo. The ZPD arrive at the asylum and place everyone, including the Mayor, under arrest. Lionheart protests that they still don't know why predators are going savage and he was trying to protect the public. Later, Chief Bogo, deeply impressed at Hopp's achievement, holds a press conference where Judy gives Nick her pen recorder and offers him the chance to sign up as her partner. Nick is flattered and watches as Judy is called to the stand to answer some questions. Judy starts simple, mentioning that all the savage mammals are predators, but when pressed as to why, she speculates that it could be something to do with their DNA. As predators, the inflicted may have reverted back to their primal origins. The reporters go into a frenzy before Bellwether shuts down the conference. Judy is relieved to be off the podium but Nick is angered by what she said. Judy says she was just stating facts but Nick asks her if a fox such as himself should indeed be trusted. When he raises his arms, asking if Judy is afraid of him, she instinctively puts her hand on her fox repellent. He hands her back the application, telling her that it's best she doesn't have a predator for a partner, before leaving. A wedge is driven between the predator and prey populations, with prey acting fearful against all predators. Gazelle hosts a peaceful protest against discrimination, despite backlash, and savage attacks continue in the city as more predators go primal. Judy feels responsible for the ensuing tensions between the animals and goes to see Mrs. Otterton where she's watching Emmitt meander mindlessly in his hospital room. At the police station, Judy is summoned by Bogo to see the new mayor, Bellwether. Bellwether explains that with the population in Zootopia being 90% prey, she wants Judy as the face of the ZPD to inspire hope. But Judy claims that she's no hero and says she's done the opposite of what she wanted; to make the world a better place. She says a good cop should help the city, not tear it apart, and hands over her badge before leaving. Judy returns to Bunnyburrow where she manages her parent's vegetable stand. She wonders aloud to them how she ever thought she could make a difference but they console her as a pie truck pulls up. As the driver, a grown Gideon Grey, gets out, Judy's parents explain that they've partnered up with him and never would have done so had Judy not opened their eyes. Gideon apologizes to Judy for what he did when he was younger, stating that his own insecurities manifested into unchecked rage, but Judy forgives him and says she knows a thing or two about being a jerk. Just then, some bunny children run through the field behind them and Judy's father warns them to stay away from the growing Midnicampum holicithias near the edge. Gideon laughs and says his family just called them night howlers. Judy perks up at this and her father explains that the flowers keep away pests but are toxic. His brother Terry ate one and went into a rage, biting Judy's mother. Judy realizes that the night howlers weren't the wolves - they were flowers. Not only that, but they make animals go savage. She grabs the keys to the truck and races back to Zootopia. She finds Finnick and he points her to Nick, sitting in the sun beside a small bridge. Judy runs up to him and reveals the truth about the night howlers but he walks away. Desperate, Judy apologizes to him and says she needs his help. She begins to cry and admits that she was a jerk to him and really is a dumb bunny as he once said. Nick doesn't seem to react until he replays a recording of her repentance and holds up her pen recorder enabling that and smiles, saying he'll erase it after 48 hours, before embracing a profoundly relieved Judy. They climb into the truck and Nick helps himself to some of Judy's blueberries while she shows him a picture of the weasel thief she caught stealing the Midnicampum holicithias; Duke Weaselton. They find him on a street corner selling bootleg DVDs such as 'Wrangled', 'Pig Hero 6', and 'Meowana'. Judy confronts him and demands to know what he was doing with the night howler flower bulbs, but he says he won't talk. Judy and Nick smile slyly and take the weasel to Mr. Big. Duke is incredulous as to why Mr. Big would help a cop, but Mr. Big smiles and says Judy is the godmother of his future grandchild. A very pregnant Fru Fru says she's going to name her daughter after Judy. On threat of being iced, Duke relents and confesses he sold bulbs to a ram named Doug who works out of an abandoned rail station. Nick and Judy follow the directions to a rusty subway car underground. They sneak inside and find Doug ( Rich Moore ) in a yellow jumpsuit preparing the blue flowers and harvesting them chemically to produce a serum which he puts into fragile pellets. He loads a pellet into a gun as his phone rings, telling him his next mark is a cheetah in Sahara Square. He assures the caller he can make the hit since he was able to get an otter in a moving car. He places the gun in a briefcase and goes to answer a knock at the back of the car, saying that Woolter and Jesse have come back with coffee. Judy takes the opportunity to knock Doug out of the car and locks the door before ordering Nick to get the car moving. With some finagling, they're able to start it and the car moves down the track, slowly gaining speed. Judy is intent on bringing the evidence to police headquarters but two rams jump onto the moving car. They manage to knock Jesse off the car inside the tunnel, grazing him as he hugs the wall and shaving his belly pink. Woolter head-butts his way into the front of the car as they make their way outside but they soon face another oncoming train. Judy tells Nick to speed up and kicks Woolter into a switch lever just in time, but they are traveling too fast around the next curve and the car derails into the next empty station. Judy and Nick jump from the car as the friction causes it to go up in flames and watch from the platform as it explodes. Judy thinks all the evidence is destroyed but Nick holds up the briefcase with the gun inside. They run upstairs out of the station and into the Natural History Museum, empty due to renovations. As they near the exit toward the police station they are called from behind by Mayor Bellwether, accompanied by two rams in police uniform. Bellwether thanks Judy for discovering the perpetrators behind the predator conspiracy and reaches for the briefcase but Judy wonders aloud how she knew where to find them. They edge toward the exit but are blocked by a disheveled Woolter. Realizing Bellwether was behind the plot all along, Judy and Nick run and attempt to hide down a corridor. Along the way Judy runs into a protruding mammoth tusk and cuts her leg. Nick pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket, blueberries spilling everywhere, and bandages Judy's leg but she tells him to leave her since she can't walk. They try to think of something as they are surrounded by the sheep. Bellwether calls out to Judy, saying that in the city prey outnumber predators 10 to 1. They need to band together to end their mistreatment against the more powerful and loud predators and, once united, will be unstoppable. Judy and Nick run for it but are knocked into a sunken diorama and Nick drops the briefcase. Bellwether retrieves it and looks down on Nick and Judy before taking aim with the gun and shooting Nick. The blue solution covers his neck and he trembles while Bellwether calls the police and feigns alarm, saying Officer Judy is down and being attacked by a savage fox. Judy tells Bellwether her plan won't work as Nick advances on her, growling. Bellwether says that fear always works and, with a predisposition to savagery, predators will be forced out of Zootopia and she'll dart every one to keep it that way. Nick then lunges at Judy and puts his jaws around her neck, but just as quickly releases her as Judy puts on a dramatic performance. Nick and Judy then reveal they switched out the serum in the gun with blueberries and have recorded everything Bellwether said on Judy's pen recorder. Horrified, Bellwether backs up to flee only to be stopped and arrested by the responding ZPD. On the news, an anchor reads that Bellwether was charged for masterminding the savage predator conspiracy. Former Mayor Lionheart gives an interview where he says he didn't know about Bellwether's plot and only caged the savage predators to protect the city, citing he did a wrong thing for the right reasons. It is announced that an antidote has been created with positive effects. Judy goes to the hospital where she sees Emmitt Otterton recovering and embracing his concerned wife. Months later, Judy, a police officer again and much wizened by her experience, addresses the new police academy graduates, one of them being Nick Wilde. She says, "When I was a kid, I thought Zootopia was this perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, real life's a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes, which means...hey, glass half full! We all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. No matter what type of animal you are, from the biggest elephant to our first fox, I implore you: Try. Try to make a difference. Try to make the world a better place. Try to look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us." Nick approaches the stage and Judy pins on his cop badge. The next day, Chief Bogo hands out assignments, giving Nick and Judy the task of catching a hot-rodder tearing up the roads downtown. Judy and Nick come across the speeder in their patrol car and pull him over, surprised to see Flash the sloth behind the wheel. Flash smiles slyly at Nick and the credits roll as Gazelle (Shakira) performs 'Try Everything' at a concert in Zootopia with everyone in attendance save for Bellwether who watches the show on TV from prison.

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Film Review: ‘Zootopia’

Disney offers a decades-later correction to 'Song of the South,' in which rabbits and foxes have a chance to live together in relative harmony.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Zootopia Disney Trailer Sloths

From the company that brought you the utopian simplicity of “It’s a Small World” comes a place where mammals of all shapes, sizes and dietary preferences not only live in harmony, but also are encouraged to be whatever they want — a revisionist animal kingdom in which lions and lambs lay down the mayoral law together, and a cuddly-wuddly bunny can grow up to become the city’s top cop. Welcome to “ Zootopia ,” where differences of race and species serve no obstacle to either acceptance or achievement. It is, in short, a city that only the Mouse House could imagine, and one that lends itself surprisingly well to a classic L.A.-style detective story, a la “The Big Lebowski” or “Inherent Vice,” yielding an adult-friendly whodunit with a chipper “you can do it!” message for the cubs.

Opening in several European countries weeks ahead of its March 4 domestic release, “Zootopia” is full of motormouthed characters and American culture in-jokes — no surprise, considering it was directed by Byron Howard , whose girl-power “Tangled” kicked off the recent Disney revival, and “The Simpsons” vet Rich Moore , who previously helmed “Wreck-It Ralph.” But that should pose little obstacle to its worldwide appeal, boosted by some of the most huggable Disney characters since “Lilo & Stitch.”

While her 225 bunny brothers and sisters are content to stay on the farm, aspirational rabbit Judy Hopps ( Ginnifer Goodwin ) shows an early aptitude for conflict management, stepping in when a schoolyard bully hassles her classmates. Not so surprisingly, the offender happens to be a fox, though Judy doesn’t give in to such species typing, insisting that jerks come in all shapes and sizes. So, too, do heroes, and despite the limitations of her tiny scale, Judy enlists in the Zootopia police academy, struggling at first before outwitting her larger rivals.

Graduating at the top of her class, Judy packs her bags for a job in the big city — which is like a cross between one of those shiny 21st-century Dubai complexes featuring indoor skiing and surfing, and a new Disney theme-park adjunct, complete with climate-specific subdivisions like Tundratown and Sahara Square. “There’s far too much to take in here,” as the opening scene of “The Lion King” promises (a movie whose stunning African savannah was downright simplistic compared with the world “Zootopia” has to establish), and Howard and Moore struggle to make their introduction anywhere near as impressive, despite leaning heavily on an unremarkable “I want” song called “Try Everything,” performed by Gazelle (Shakira), the veld’s sveltest pop idol (well-meaning sample lyric: “I wanna try even though I could fail”).

Doing justice to an elaborate new environment poses a familiar problem, slightly improved from last year’s “Tomorrowland,” in the sense that Judy (who probably should have grown up in town, like everyone else in Zootopia) takes a long train ride into the city, ogling the various districts as she passes. It’s a sequence worth studying a dozen times down the road just to catch all the tiny details, from the hippo-drying stations to the plastic hamster tubes, although it’s an awkward way to acquaint ourselves with the city.

In theory, Zootopia’s residents have evolved past distinctions of predator and prey, which might explain the small matter of cartoon biology: Whether tiny mice or hulking rhinoceroses, all animals have front-facing eyes, upright postures and opposable thumbs — a throwback to the delightful character design featured in Disney’s “Robin Hood” (1973), which reimagined a human world populated entirely by animals, integrating characteristics of each species into the ways different creatures move.

In progressive-minded Zootopia, a moose can co-anchor the evening news with a snow leopard without it turning into an episode of “When Animals Attack!” That said, even the most basic social interactions remain tense, as the city’s caste system matches animals to the roles that suit them best (the DMV is all-too-accurately staffed by slow-moving sloths, for example), while still adhering closely to the hierarchy of the food chain (with a few amusing exceptions, including a cameo by “Pinky and the Brain” actor Maurice LaMarche as a Don Corleone-like arctic shrew).

As far as cops are concerned, it’s the big fellas — rhinos, tigers and Cape buffalo like Capt. Bogo (Idris Elba) — who are responsible for maintaining law and order. Judy may be the first to benefit from the new mammal-inclusion initiative devised by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), but Bogo isn’t ready to trust her with a real investigation, placing the rookie on parking-meter duty while he assigns everyone else key roles in a major missing-persons case. If Bogo’s behavior smacks of species-ism, that’s no accident: 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.

While raising the subject should help encourage kids to look past surface differences in one another, it’s a bit misleading, since the movie is less about race than gender, dredging up equality issues that might have been fresher in the days of “9 to 5” and “Working Girl”: Judy is treated differently because she’s a woman, bonding most easily with Bellwether (baby-voiced comedienne Jenny Slate), the woolly assistant mayor who serves as Lionheart’s glorified secretary, and Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), the police force’s effeminate cheetah receptionist.

What, then, do we make of the tenuous alliance between Judy and trickster fox Nick Wilde ( Jason Bateman ), which — despite the obvious design similiarities — features none of the bloodthirsty tension shown between Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox in Disney’s half-forgotten/suppressed “Song of the South”? “Zootopia’s” relatively P.C. sensibility serves as a partial corrective to that shameful 1946 toon, offering a classic screwball-comedy relationship in which the natural rivals match wits, while she carries the added protection of a spray-based fox repellent. Getting no support from her police comrades, Judy enlists Nick in an investigation that leads her down the metaphorical rabbit hole and into the seedier side of “Zootopia,” from the Mystic Spring Oasis (a clothing-optional resort where animals frolic au naturel) to an ominous research facility housing predators that have “gone savage.”

The deeper they go, the more “Zootopia” comes to resemble such vintage noirs as “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential,” from its increasingly shadowy look to Michael Giacchino’s jazzy lounge-music score. Disney has been down this road before with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” although this time, there’s not a single human character to be found, while the adult-skewing jokes (mostly references to other movies) aren’t nearly so inappropriate for kids. Genre-wise, the film couldn’t be farther from the terrain of “Frozen” and other Disney princess movies, though it plays directly to the studio’s strengths, behind the scenes (we may not see every corner of Zootopia, but we know it’s been mapped out and conceptualized) and on screen, where the endearingly designed ensemble gives the animators plenty to work with.

Judy Hopps’ bright-eyed, foot-thumping energy and Nick Wilde’s cool, half-lidded reluctance offer a perfect study in contrasts, crossing what both actors gave in the recording booth with characteristics of the two species in question. In Goodwin’s case, the actress’s guileless optimism comes through loud and clear, telegraphed through her two long bunny ears, which fold back in fear and shame, but otherwise stand expectantly tall in the face of each new challenge. As her wily fox foil, Nick models a fast-changing map of Bateman’s smirks and eye rolls, his slouchy posture a deceptive cover for his slippery potential.

While it doesn’t have quite the same breakout potential as the Mouse House’s past few hits, “Zootopia” has shrewdly established both an environment that could be further explored from countless other angles (in a spinoff TV series, perhaps) and an odd-couple chemistry between Nick and Judy that carries on even after Gazelle returns for her obligatory grand finale.

Reviewed at Disney Studios, Burbank, Calif., Feb. 1, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 108 MIN.

  • Production: (Animated) A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release and presentation of a Walt Disney Animation Studios production. Produced by Clark Spencer. Executive producer, John Lasseter.
  • Crew: Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore. Co-director, Jared Bush. Screenplay, Bush, Phil Johnston; story, Howard, Bush, Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Brian Leach; editors, Fabienne Rawley, Jeremy Milton; music, Michael Giacchino; music supervisor, Tom MacDougall; production designer, David Goetz; art director, Matthias Lechner; heads of story, Trinidad, Reardon; head of animation, Renato Dos Anjos; animation supervisors, Nathan Engelhardt, Jennifer Hager, Robert Huth, Kira Lehtomaki, Chad Sellers; sound (Dolby Atmos), Addison Teague; supervising sound editor, Teague; re-recording mixer, David E. Fluhr, Gabriel Guy; visual effects supervisor, Scott Kersavage; stereoscopic supervisor, Katie A. Fico; associate producers, Nicole P. Hearon, Monica Lago-Kaytis; casting, Jamie Sparer Roberts.
  • With: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake,Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, John DiMaggio.

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Charming buddy-animal story promotes teamwork, perseverance.

Zootopia Movie Poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Kids learn about the difference between predator a

Follow your dreams; anyone can do/be anything if t

Judy is clever and determined, as well as an optim

Zootopia means well, and some representations, suc

Several scenes of danger, peril, and tension. Pred

Gazelle the singer wears glittery, "sexy" clothes;

Fairly frequent use of insults/rude words like "du

Real-world brand names get a Zootopia spin (like Z

Parents need to know that Zootopia is a clever, fast-paced animated Disney film set in a world of walking, talking, clothed animals that live peacefully together, having supposedly evolved past nature's rules of predator versus prey. The story about eager young cop Judy Hopps' (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin)…

Educational Value

Kids learn about the difference between predator and prey animals and stereotypes about certain animals (e.g., that bunnies are dumb and foxes, wily). Kids also learn importance of seeing beyond the superficial to what an individual is really like.

Positive Messages

Follow your dreams; anyone can do/be anything if they work hard enough and believe in themselves. Individuals from different (even traditionally opposed) backgrounds can form powerful alliances if they look beyond those differences. Clearly urges viewers to look beyond stereotypes and assumptions to the individuals behind them, but when it tries to tackle racism using an animal metaphor, it sends conflicting messages (see Diverse Representations for more). Promotes empathy, courage, perseverance, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models

Judy is clever and determined, as well as an optimistic dreamer. At first her naivete causes harm to others, but through humility and perseverance, she becomes more well-rounded. Nick starts out as an unrepentant scam artist, but his friendship with Judy shows him that he can be more than the stereotypically shifty fox, just as Judy decided to be more than a carrot-growing bunny. Characters in positions of power turn out to be less than trustworthy, but they face consequences and learn lessons.

Diverse Representations

Zootopia means well, and some representations, such as having Judy as a determined female lead or Shakira voicing the flawless diva Gazelle, generally succeed. Voice actors of color in supporting roles include Idris Elba, Octavia Spencer, and Tommy Chong. But when the film tries to tackle racism using an animal metaphor, it sends conflicting messages: It repeatedly says stereotypes are bad but then proceeds to show predators who live up to their stereotypes of being vicious -- a trait that's "based on biology," as Judy says. The movie then contorts itself trying to show how Judy was wrong, but reinforces ethnic stereotypes at the same time: An Indian elephant is a yoga instructor, Italian mice are mobsters, etc. References to Blackness are mishandled. In one scene, Nick digs his hand into a sheep's Afro-like hair as Judy says, "You can't just touch a sheep's wool. " The invasive act feels uncomfortable to watch because it's modeled by a main character and treated as a joke by the script. And one of the film's most frightening characters is a black jaguar that's "gone savage" -- he's large, muscled, violent. Fatphobic portrayal of Officer Clawhauser, who's always snacking and drinking soda. Commentary on policing and sexism, as Judy strives to be the best police officer she can be in a male-dominated workplace, only further cements that Zootopia bites off more than it (and its nearly all-White filmmakers and voice actors) could chew.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Several scenes of danger, peril, and tension. Predators "go savage" and try to attack other animals, including an intense chase scene involving the main characters and an out-of-control jaguar. Jump-scare moment when a "wild" animal being held captive leaps angrily in his cell, scaring Nick and Judy. Another upsetting scene when it seems a friend has turned on someone he cares about. Creepy moments in dark places (car lot, buildings) as characters investigate a missing mammal case. Chases and fighting (including on a moving train). Explosion/crash. Mobster has Nick and Judy kidnapped and threatens to "ice" them (drown them in frozen water), but he doesn't go through with it. Antagonists with dart guns get ready to shoot Nick and Judy. A young fox bullies a young bunny, shoving her and clawing her across the cheek; in another sad scene, a young fox is bullied by those he thought were friends. Some of the large animals/predators are intimidating.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Gazelle the singer wears glittery, "sexy" clothes; she and her tiger dancers dance somewhat suggestively. A "naturalist" club is a place for animals who are "nudists" to commune together without clothes (Judy is shocked, but human viewers won't be, as that's how we see animals all the time).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Fairly frequent use of insults/rude words like "dumb," "jerk," "crazy," "loser," "stupid," "moron," "butt," "shut up," "oh my God," etc.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Real-world brand names get a Zootopia spin (like Zuber instead of Uber or ZNN instead of CNN). Many offline product tie-ins, from toys to books, games, and more.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Zootopia is a clever, fast-paced animated Disney film set in a world of walking, talking, clothed animals that live peacefully together, having supposedly evolved past nature's rules of predator versus prey. The story about eager young cop Judy Hopps' (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin ) investigation involves chase scenes (one is prolonged and particularly intense) and jump-scare predator attacks, as well as an explosive crash, sneaking around in dark rooms, allusions to mob activity, kidnapping, threatened torture (a crime boss wants to "ice" key characters -- i.e., throw them in frozen water to drown), and bullying. No one is seriously hurt, but there are times when it seems that they have been or will be. Expect regular use of insult language like "stupid," "jerk," "dumb," "butt," etc., humor related to "naturalist" animals who choose not to wear clothes, and some sexy, sparkly ensembles worn by pop star Gazelle ( Shakira ). There are a lot of jokes for adults that will go way over kids' heads (references to The Godfather , the DMV, and Breaking Bad , for instance), and the film's attempts to reference real-world prejudice and racism falter. But there's plenty for younger audiences to laugh at, and it all comes wrapped in positive (if imperfect) messages about courage, empathy, tolerance, and teamwork. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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  • Parents say (186)
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Based on 186 parent reviews

Not for little kids

I love this movie, what's the story.

ZOOTOPIA is set in a world where walking, talking, "civilized" animals live in general harmony with one another, regardless of whether they're predator or prey. When small-town rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin ) achieves her childhood dream of becoming the first rabbit to join the Zootopia Police Department, Chief of Police Bogo ( Idris Elba ) initially relegates her to a safe but boring parking-duty assignment. Meanwhile, the rest of the ZPD is busy investigating 14 missing-mammal cases -- all predators. One day on the job, Judy encounters sly fox Nick Wilde ( Jason Bateman ), who cheerfully hustles her. But she ends up hustling him right back after promising a worried otter that she'll find her missing husband: With only 48 hours to crack the case if she wants to keep her badge, Judy realizes her best bet is to enlist Nick -- who has plenty of connections -- to help her figure out who's behind the predator kidnappings that are threatening Zootopia's peace.

Is It Any Good?

Clever and heartwarming, this animated adventure is equal parts buddy-cop comedy, fish-out-of-water tale, and whodunit mystery. With its vibrant visuals and simple but evocative storyline, Zootopia is a talking-animal pic worth watching with the whole family. Judy and Nick's repartee is reminiscent of classic screwball comedies, and the plot's twists are a throwback to noir films in which the culprit is never who you think. Although the trailer gives away one of the movie's funniest scenes -- when Judy and Nick go into a DMV run entirely by sloths moving slower than molasses -- there are plenty more laughs and memorable bits to make both kids and grown-ups laugh.

And the voice casting is spot on: Goodwin is wonderful as the constantly energetic, optimistic Judy -- who may have gotten into the police academy thanks to the mayor's "mammal inclusion program" but who goes on to prove that even a cute bunny has what it takes to take down bad guys -- while Bateman has the ideal cynical voice to portray the hilariously jaded Nick, who's a fast-talking charmer with a knack for knowing everything he can about Zootopia's movers and shakers. Elba's robust baritone is perfectly paired with the brusque water buffalo police chief. Other supporting characters include veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche doing an excellent Marlon Brando impression to play tuxedoed crime boss Mr. Big, and Tommy Chong as a "naturalist" life coach yak. And then there's Shakira 's pop star Gazelle, who sings a catchy theme song that captures the spirit of the movie: "Try Everything." In other words, be who you want to be, not who others expect you to be.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Zootopia 's messages. How well does it deliver its commentary on stereotypes ? What characters defy them, and are there any characters that still fall into stereotypes?

Do you think Judy is a positive role model? How does she demonstrate courage , perseverance , and empathy ? Why are those important character strengths ? What about Nick? Why is their teamwork unique?

Do you agree with Nick when he says that "you can only be what you are -- sly fox, dumb bunny"? How does his opinion change over the course of the movie? How do he and Judy change the way the other thinks?

How does the movie address bullying ? How did being bullied when they were little affect both Judy and Nick? How did they react to it? What does Judy find out about her bully later on, and what can we learn from that?

Do you think it's OK for movies aimed at kids to include humor that only adults will understand? Does it matter if the jokes are racy rather than just referencing things kids aren't familiar with?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : March 4, 2016
  • On DVD or streaming : June 7, 2016
  • Cast : Ginnifer Goodwin , Jason Bateman , Jenny Slate , Idris Elba
  • Directors : Byron Howard , Rich Moore , Jared Bush
  • Inclusion Information : Gay directors, Female actors, Black actors
  • Studio : Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
  • Genre : Family and Kids
  • Topics : Friendship , Great Girl Role Models , Wild Animals
  • Character Strengths : Courage , Empathy , Perseverance , Teamwork
  • Run time : 108 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG
  • MPAA explanation : some thematic elements, rude humor and action
  • Awards : Academy Award , BAFTA , Common Sense Media Award , Common Sense Selection , Golden Globe
  • Last updated : January 31, 2024

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Three lessons from zootopia to discuss with kids, the new disney film raises tough questions about prejudice for parents and teachers to explore with children..

I braved opening day of Zootopia with four kids. I had seen the previews and thought it would be a sweet, funny Disney movie about “becoming who we want to be no matter what” or “following our dreams.”

It did meet those expectations, but there was actually more. As I watched, I wondered: Was this Disney movie actually making a political commentary about bias, sexism, racism, and xenophobia? Did they really do that?

Yes, they did. My first hint was a subtle joke in the beginning when the hero—a determined, hard-working bunny named Judy Hopps—shows up for her first day at work as a police officer. She’s called “cute” by the dispatcher—a cheetah named Clawhauser—and Judy replies, “Ooh, you probably didn’t know it, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it’s a little….”

zootopia summary essay

I looked around the theater. Did other folks catch that? Was that actually a line just for me, a black woman, about what can be said within a group but not without? Surely that was a blip?

But it wasn’t. The movie turned out to be explicitly about bias of all types, from unconscious prejudice to a “we don’t serve your kind” attitude to the deliberate cultivation of fear to achieve political power. It speaks directly to our heated political climate, however imperfectly. It did this with compelling characters and by echoing words we often use in conversations about race and bias: “well I didn’t mean to,” “don’t be sensitive,” “they shouldn’t be here.” Now, I’m not saying that the movie is perfect. There is something really disturbing about the way the animals are sorted according to their biology, with some reverting back to their inherent “savagery.” Also, the relationship between prejudice in the movie and real-world racism is not entirely clear; Zootopia does not have much to say about power or exploitation.

Perhaps as a result, much of the writing about Zootopia has run the gamut from “this is the best racial commentary ever” to “this is the worst.” It is neither, in my view. If you want a Disney movie to do all the work of explaining bias to your kids for you, then this isn’t it. Zootopia isn’t a perfect movie about bias, but it is the perfect opportunity for you to talk about these issues with your children. 

In fact, you absolutely need to see Zootopia with them—and you need to talk about it afterward. Teachers can do the same in the classroom.

Many children over the age of nine will easily be able to grasp the descriptions of prejudice and bias, and they’ll understand the parallels. But research indicates that even children as young as five will be able to understand the concepts of bias and prejudice. The majority of the kids who see this movie will understand the “unfairness” and the lack of justice in it. Then we as adults can help them make the direct connections to the world around us. In my dissertation research, I found that children who were better able to identify prejudice when they saw it in movie clips had parents who were helping them make sense of bias. Those children, in turn, had more cross-race peers and lower overall rates of bias.

You can start with language like this: “I wonder what you noticed. Have you ever been treated that way? Have you ever treated others that way?” From there, you can use Zootopia to impart at least three lessons to kids about prejudice. (Warning: Some spoilers below!)

1. Stereotypes hurt everyone

The language of stereotyping is explicitly used in the movie, as when Officer Clawhauser apologizes for calling Judy “cute.” So we can ask children if they know what a stereotype is, encouraging them to come up with examples. The five year old in our group said, “Yeah, like when kids think that I can’t do the monkey bars fast because I’m a girl or because I’m little.” That’s exactly it. We can help them understand that stereotypes are sometimes true about some people, but certainly not always true about all people.

The movie quite cleverly shows how stereotypes can harm both the people doing the stereotyping and the people being stereotyped. Judy is stereotyped—but she also stereotypes other characters. She is initially deceived by a kindly, meek lamb, who (spoiler alert!) later turns out to be the movie’s villain.

In the typical children’s movie, the dark, ferocious creatures are pretty much always the bad guys and the small fuzzy ones are the good guys. Not so in Zootopia , where the animals are seldom what they seem—and the lesson gets driven home over and over again that thinking in terms of stereotypes can lead you to bad conclusions or even put you in danger.

2. Prejudice is unfair

This is the next step: Prejudice is when stereotypes are used to differentially treat people. This is where kids often go to the “it’s not fair” portion of their understanding. There are many scenes in the movie where prejudice happens. Prejudice forces Judy to do meter-maid work instead of the job she trained for.

There is a particularly sad flashback scene when one of the main characters, the con artist fox Nick Wilde, is getting ready to join an animal “cub scouts.” He is excited because foxes usually aren’t allowed in this activity, and he has worked hard to join the group. He is lured downstairs by the other animals to be initiated—but instead they tease him and tell him that he’s never allowed to join. In fact, they go so far as to muzzle him.

It’s a cruel depiction of exclusion—and will certainly resonate with children’s experiences of not being included. It’s a great scene to ask: “Do you remember when they wouldn’t let Nick in their group? What did you think about that? Have you ever felt that way? Did anyone not let you into a group because they held a stereotype about you—thought that you were something you weren’t? Yes, well that’s prejudice.”

By talking about these scenes and using kids’ language about fair treatment, we can actually help our children better identify prejudice when it is happening. We can help them to connect empathically with those who are the targets of bias. We can ask them how it feels to be treated that way and encourage them to think about times when maybe they treated others in prejudiced ways. The idea here isn’t to make kids feel guilty, but rather to help them put themselves in another person’s shoes and begin to identify behavior that they might want to change.

3. We can fight prejudice—and people can change

More on bias & kids.

Allison Briscoe-Smith explains how to talk about race with children .

Jeremy Adam Smith on how to read racist books to your kids .

Discover five ways to foster interracial friendship in schools .

Susan Fiske explores what prejudice reveals about humanity .

The characters in Zootopia don’t just see discrimination—they also fight against it. You can highlight the strategies that they use, which include connecting with family and talking about what is going on with friends. The movie definitely conveys how members of a stereotyped group must often “work twice as hard” to achieve the same result as others. This idea is taken for granted in many families—that members will encounter barriers that force them to defy stereotypes or convince others that they are worthy. But for some kids (and some adults), this will be an entirely new idea. It also shows how “working twice as hard” isn’t a perfect strategy—despite her hard work, Judy is still discriminated against.

Can people grow and change? Zootopia ‘s answer is yes, but change isn’t easy. The movie shows a lot of conflict, even between friends. Through these conflicts it explores the difficult idea of “allyship”—the process of supporting people who face prejudice and building relationships beyond those who share our social identities. We can use the term “ally” with our children, using Judy and Nick as examples.

In Zootopia , Judy and Nick become allies. They hurt each other and make mistakes, but they also forgive and decide to work together to overcome bias. Of course, one of the best ways we can illustrate this ability to evolve and support each other is by embracing it ourselves—thus modeling for our kids. How often do your children see you connect to those who are different from you in race, sexuality, or class, to name a few? Do they see you cooperating, having fun?

This might be the most valuable lesson contained in Zootopia : By connecting across our differences, we can make the world a better place. This is what Judy the bunny and Nick the fox learn to do—and your children can learn to do it, too, with your help.

About the Author

Allison Briscoe-Smith

Allison Briscoe-Smith

Allison Briscoe-Smith, Ph.D., is a senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center and the co-instructor of the GGSC's Bridging Differences online course .

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‘zootopia’: film review.

The energetic voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba lend life to Disney's amusing animated menagerie.

By Michael Rechtshaffen

Michael Rechtshaffen

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Just when it was looking like animated animal movies had run out of anything original to say, along comes the smartly amusing, crisply relevant Zootopia to handily demonstrate there’s still plenty of bite left in the anthropomorphic CG menagerie.

Boasting a pitch perfect voice cast led by a terrific Ginnifer Goodwin as a righteous rural rabbit who becomes the first cotton-tailed police recruit in the mammal-centric city of  Zootopia , the 3D caper expertly combines keen wit with a gentle, and very timely, message of inclusivity and empowerment.

Release date: Mar 04, 2016

The engaging result should easily appeal to all creatures great and small, giving this premium Walt Disney Animation Studios effort a paw up on spring break entertainment, not to mention the summer arrival of Universal’s animated The Secret Life of Pets .

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As the Zootopia Police Department’s sole bunny officer, idealistic Judy Hopps (Goodwin) discovers that breaking barriers can be an uphill climb, especially when the other cops in the force are mainly of the more imposing elephant/rhino/hippo ilk.

Although intrepid Judy can’t wait to collar her first perp , Bogo ( Idris Elba), Precinct 1’s gruff cape buffalo police chief, has other plans, assigning her to parking duty, where she proves her worth by writing 200 tickets before noon on her first day.

But when a number of Zootopia’s residents abruptly go missing, Bogo gives Judy the green light to do some big time police work and she finds herself partnering up with Nick Wilde ( Jason Bateman ), a sly, world-weary scam artist of a fox, in a 48-hour bid to crack the case.

Nimbly directed by Byron Howard ( Tangled , Bolt ) and Rich Moore ( Wreck-It Ralph ), along with co-director Jared Bush, who shares screenplay credit with Phil Johnston, the romp serves up plenty of sharply observed satire (a DMV manned entirely by sloths is played to hilariously protracted effect) wrapped up in judicious life lessons that never feel preachy or shoehorned-in.

'Zootopia' Sloth Trailer

While Goodwin and Bateman are a voice-casting dream team come true as a dysfunctional duo who learn to follow their instincts over preconceived notions, they’re joined by a nicely diverse supporting ensemble that also includes J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer and Shakira as a gazelle pop star who performs the film’s original song, “Try Everything,” co-written by hitmakers Sia and Stargate .

Also making their lines count are Jenny Slate as a not-so-sheepish sheep who serves as Zootopia’s predator-averse assistant mayor and Maurice LaMarsh as an arctic shrew version of Don Corleone named Mr. Big.

Visually, the Zootopia canvas pops — with or without the 3D glasses — thanks to a gorgeously vibrant color palette and whimsical architectural scales orchestrated by production designer David Goetz. His work is in keeping with an all-mammal parallel universe comprised of distinct microclimates like sunny Bunnyburrow , icy Tundratown and self-explanatory Little Rodentia .

Composer Michael Giacchino , meanwhile, in his first non-Pixar animated feature assignment, delivers a typically buoyant score, playfully tossing in music cues that pay affectionate homage to Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota.

Distributor: Disney Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios Cast : Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Shakira, Maurice LaMarsh . Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore Screenwriters: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston Producer: Clark Spencer Executive producer: John Lasseter Production designer: David Goetz Visual effects supervisor: Scott Kersavage Editors: Fabian Rawley , Jeremy Milton Music: Michael Giacchino Casting director: Jamie Sparer Roberts

Rated PG, 108 minutes

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63 Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia (2016): The Diversity in Society

By Prakaydao Chinpinyokul

Zootopia was made by Disney and released in theaters in 2016. Without analyzing it, this movie seems to be an average movie for children to enjoy. Character designs, settings, music, and plot draw children into the colorful world of Zootopia. Enjoying the up and down and thrilling moments as children follow the story of the protagonist, Judy Hopps, a bunny who is full of determination and ambition to pursue her dream of becoming a police officer, starting her new life in Zootopia, and facing the obstacle with optimism. However, as children watch Zootopia , they might have missed the critical detail that the movie tries to tell audiences because they are too young to understand the topic that highlights the issue of difference, power, and discrimination. It is normal for children to categorize animals as one group and overlook the diversity of animals in the movie. The variety of the society that shows different types of animals with different personalities in the film is the key to understanding these issues and how it shapes people in Zootopia.

But first, we have to focus on the settings that show many small details being put in the movie to fit in a world full of many types of animals. Zootopia is known as a city where “Anyone can be anything” (03.00), showing the concept of equality. The movie displays this concept by introducing twelve unique ecosystems in the city. Also, providing facilities for different animals. The scene when Judy says goodbye to her family and leaves for Zootopia at the train station is a good exmple. You can see there are many sizes of train doors for different animals who are big and small. Even the scene when Judy chases after the thief in the small city where mice live, or the scene with a different size of trash can shows the city that treats every animal equally. The city appears to be a perfect place for every animal. However, that is just the outside to make the city look like an ideal city, and we’ll have to look deep into the different groups of animals in the movie that create Zootopia society.

Three images showing a train door with many sizes different size of trash cans in Small City that mouses live in

The movie displays two types of animals in the city; the first are herbivores seen as prey, and the seconds are carnivores seen as predators in the movie. The central conflict in the film starts when Judy learns about the missing mammal cases. At first, the case looks like a typical missing animal, but as Judy gets closer to cracking the case. She finds out that all the missing animals turn into savages. She thinks what causes animals to turn savage is because of “biology…a biological component…thousand years ago…predators survived through their aggressive hunting instincts…reverting back to their primitive, savage ways…” (01.11.10)—connecting the dot that all missing animals are predators and only predators can turn savage. The small assumption leads to a tear in Zootopia and uproar diversion between predator and prey. This part of the movie shows the discrimination caused by hatred and fear toward predators. Suppressing and discriminating against other people with cruel words that do not even apply to those people in reality. These kinds of actions affect some of the characters in the movie to grow up with the conflict and fear of being anything other than what people around tell them.

Society in Zootopia is similar to our world. Some animals have jobs, such as constructors, thieves, police officers, secretaries, or a mayor. However, one thing to notice in the movie is that the same animal species or same-sized animals usually work in the same jobs. Zootopia’s society has the stereotype of what kind of jobs this animal can do, which overpowers the animal’s opinion and right to choose in Zootopia. For example, animals that work as police officers are big and strong-looking, sloths work as DMV employees, or bunnies work as farmers. The Mayor in Zootopia, Lionheart, is even a lion, an animal known to be the king of the animal kingdom. This kind of stereotype contradicts the quote “Anyone can be anything” and highlights the true side of Zootopia of people stuck in their stereotypes.

Bellwether is one of the characters sick of society always choosing who can or can not be. Bellwether is a sheep secretary who works under Lionheart, the mayor in Zootopia, and her appearance looks sweet and kind in the movie. Surprisingly, she is the real villain, turning predators into savage predators. The reason behind her villain plan is formed by the hatred that she had toward predators. Her whole career working as a secretary for the mayor has to deal with power suppressing her. She receives terrible treatment from the mayor, who tells her what to do, calling her “Smellwether”, or forcing her to work in a boiling room instead of an actual workplace. Moreover, he gives her a mug that says “World’s Greatest Dad” but crosses the word “dad” with “assistant mayor”—showing Lionheart never respects Bellwether or takes her seriously. It is unfortunate what she has to go through and feel like she is just “a glorified secretary” (01.01.45) used to get the sheep to vote for the mayor. Bellwether is tired of being underestimated and underappreciated by predators who are always in power showing “a grudge against what she saw as an unfair system” (Hassler). She wants to make a world where preys dominate predators. To do that, she needs to become powerful by creating the fear of predators within prey, which makes Lionheart a predator not in a powerful position anymore.

Bellweather carrying files then giving commands in side by side images

You can see the difference between the pictures of Bellwether. The first picture is when Bellwether still works under a mayor, and a shot is from an angle looking down at Bellwether, making her look weak. The second picture is when Bellwether becomes a mayor, and a shot is from an angle looking up at Bellwether, and her surroundings are dark tone, indicating she is in power and revealing her true self. This is an excellent example of how power can have a lot of effect on our society.

Nick’s character is introduced in the movie as a con artist. He is seen as sneaky and cunning in the beginning. Animals in Zootopia or even Judy see Nick as a sly and mischievous fox, a common trait of all foxes. However, as Judy and Nick work together on a missing animal case, Judy realizes that Nick’s real personality is not like the fake act that he created for people around him to see. In the movie, audiences later learn that the reason behind Nick’s actions is actually a way for him to protect himself from people who discriminate against him for being a fox. He had a dream of joining the Ranger Scouts when he was a kid, but his dream was destroyed when people in the Scout mistreated him just because he is a fox, and the stereotype of foxes can’t be trusted. The scene after Nick ran away to hide behind the side of the building shows him as a victim and no one beside him to stand for him. His mussel symbolizes the violence from the discrimination and his inability to express his true self. He tells his pain to Judy and says, “If the world’s only gonna see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point in trying to be anything else” (59.53). Nick chooses not to fight back the discrimination and accepts the stereotype of a fox. Later in the movie, Judy slowly sees Nick as trustworthy and overlooks his identity of being a predator. Nick also gradually became the person he wanted to be, a kind, gentle person who overcame barriers created by society.

Finally, the protagonist, Judy Hopps, is different from the other bunnies in her hometown. She dreams of becoming a police officer, but her parents, her bully, or people around her think that a bunny can’t be police because “there is never a bunny cop…Bunny don’t do that…never” (03.33). It reveals her parents are stuck in the stereotype that bunnies can only be farmers and are scared of trying a new thing because they know they will fail. With the critical comments from people around her, she didn’t care what people thought and kept working hard until she successfully became the first bunny officer. However, her path to becoming a real police officer didn’t go as smoothly as she thought. Look closely at the shot from Judy’s point of view, looking at enormous police officers, or when Judy is in the same shot with other officers; the film wants audiences to compare Judy with other officers and notice that Judy is different from others. She receives discrimination from the teacher in the police academy, telling her she won’t be able to succeed, or the chief assigns her to parking duty while other police officers work on the missing file case. She receives these unfair treatments because of her small physical appearance, being the only female in a male-dominated workplace, and just because she is different from others. Even the article from the research mentions, “It becomes clear that one’s workplace success depends more…connections, race and/ or gender than their academic achievement” (Beaudine, Osibodu, Beavers). This confirms Judy is being looked down on because she is a bunny; her having a token or writing two hundred parking tickets would not change the point of view of how other animals see her. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Judy still has the privilege of being a prey animal, which gives her a platform to speak on the issue of missing animals that turn into savages. But because she didn’t understand why animals were turning savage, causing her to say something offensive to predators. This “demonstrates how language can be hurtful without being overly aggressive” (Crewe)— causing her to lose a good friend like Nick, who used to be gone through the experience of being discriminated against as a predator. This also shows her unconscious discrimination toward predators when she grabs her fox spray due to her inner fear and reveals she never experience cruel discrimination against predators. Needless to say, Judy’s action was not on purpose. She “recognizes her mistake and expresses regret, thereby models for the movie’s audience regarding him they should respond” (Flory), which is a smart way to teach children about these issues and learn to take responsibility for their actions.

Zootopia is a great movie with many good messages about equality. It displays power, difference, and discrimination issues through characters in the film, making it not too complex for audiences like parents to teach their children. All characters in movies are animals, which makes it hard for audiences to compare the animal species in the film to the human race in real life, thus reaching more audiences from different groups because everyone can feel related to the film. Of course, the city of Zootopia is not like our society. Our society is full of many people that come from different backgrounds. Still, we are all human beings at the end of the day. Like Judy said, “We all have limitations. We all make mistakes which mean…we all have a lot in common, and the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be” (01.33.45)—proving that we can become more than what we are in our own unique way. It depends on you whether you want to accept the system and continue to be what people around you say or fight against the system and make the world a better place, so which path are you going to choose?

Beaudine, Gregory., Osibodu, Oyemolade., and Beavers, Aliya. “Disney’s Metaphorical Exploration of Racism and Stereotypes: A Review of Zootopia” The University of Chicago Press Journals, Feb 1. 2017,

Crewe, David. “Animal harm discrimination and difference in Zootopia” Gale Academic Onefile, Jan. 2017, ccess=abs&issn=1449857X&p=AONE&sw=w&userGroupName=oregon_oweb&isGeo AuthType=true

Flory, Dan. “Audience, Implicit Racial Bias, and Cinematic Twists in Zootopia” The Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, Oct 30. 2019,

Hassler, Forest, Dan. “‘Life Isn’t Some Cartoon Musical’: Neoliberal Identity Politics in Zootopia and Orange Is the New Black .” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 51, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 356–78. EBSCOhost,

Difference, Power, and Discrimination in Film and Media: Student Essays Copyright © by Students at Linn-Benton Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Essay on Zootopia

Students are often asked to write an essay on Zootopia in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

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100 Words Essay on Zootopia

Introduction to zootopia.

Zootopia is a popular animated movie by Disney. It’s a fun-filled adventure set in a city inhabited by anthropomorphic animals.

The story revolves around Judy Hopps, a rabbit who dreams of becoming a police officer in Zootopia. Despite facing challenges due to her size, Judy never gives up.

Zootopia teaches important lessons about friendship, determination, and overcoming stereotypes. It shows how anyone can achieve their dreams, regardless of who they are.

Zootopia has left a lasting impact on viewers, encouraging them to believe in themselves and their dreams.

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250 Words Essay on Zootopia


“Zootopia” is a renowned 2016 animation film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is an allegorical tale that uses anthropomorphic animals to convey profound societal messages, particularly concerning prejudice and stereotyping.

The Metaphorical Cityscape

The city of Zootopia itself is a metaphorical representation of the human world. It is a melting pot of different species living together, much like our multicultural societies. The city is divided into districts that mimic different habitats, symbolizing the societal segmentation based on race, ethnicity, or social class.

Breaking Stereotypes

The film’s main characters, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, embody the struggle against stereotyping. Judy, a rabbit, fights against the stereotype of being perceived as weak and incapable, while Nick, a fox, battles the prejudice of being labeled as sly and untrustworthy. Their journey is an exploration of how individuals can overcome societal biases.

Social Commentary

“Zootopia” uses its narrative to comment on social issues such as racism, bias, and fear of the ‘other.’ The film showcases how fear can be manipulated to create divisions, a reflection of real-world politics and media influence. The ‘Night Howler’ incident is a powerful metaphor for how society can be driven to hysteria and discrimination.

In conclusion, “Zootopia” is more than just an animated film. It is a social commentary that uses anthropomorphism to discuss complex societal issues. It encourages viewers to challenge their preconceived notions and stereotypes, promoting a message of unity and acceptance.

500 Words Essay on Zootopia

Zootopia, a 2016 computer-animated film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, presents a utopian city where anthropomorphic animals coexist in harmony. The film, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, is a creative masterpiece that offers insightful social commentary through a vibrant, animated world.

Plot and Characterization

The film revolves around Judy Hopps, a rabbit who aspires to be a police officer in Zootopia, a city divided into different habitats for various animal species. Despite facing discrimination due to her size and species, Judy’s determination sees her become the first rabbit officer. However, she is assigned mundane parking duties, a far cry from her dream of solving significant cases.

When a mysterious case of disappearing predators arises, Judy seizes the opportunity to prove herself. She teams up with Nick Wilde, a sly fox who initially embodies the stereotypes associated with his species. Their unlikely partnership forms the crux of the narrative, unraveling the mystery and exposing the prejudices that plague Zootopia.

Thematic Analysis

Zootopia delves into complex themes such as prejudice, discrimination, and the power of stereotypes. It portrays how societal biases can be deeply ingrained, often influencing perceptions and actions. Judy, initially a victim of prejudice, later unwittingly becomes a perpetrator, showcasing how anyone can fall prey to such biases.

The film also explores the theme of unity in diversity. Zootopia, despite its assortment of species, thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it. This message is a powerful comment on modern society, where diversity should be celebrated as a strength.

Artistic Merit

Zootopia’s success is not solely due to its thematic depth; it also excels in its artistic execution. The film’s animation is a visual treat, with meticulous attention to detail in creating distinct habitats within Zootopia. Furthermore, the character designs effectively capture the unique traits of various animal species while maintaining their anthropomorphic appeal.

Critical Reception

Zootopia was lauded by critics for its narrative depth, engaging characters, and stunning animation. It earned numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Its commercial success, coupled with its critical acclaim, underscores its resonance with audiences and its effectiveness in delivering its potent social message.

Zootopia is more than an entertaining animated film; it is a thoughtful exploration of societal issues wrapped in a vibrant, engaging narrative. It uses the medium of animation to discuss prejudice, stereotypes, and diversity, making these complex themes accessible to a broad audience. Its success serves as a testament to the power of animation in delivering profound social commentary. In essence, Zootopia is a shining example of the potential of animated films to transcend entertainment and provoke thoughtful discourse on societal issues.

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On war and cuteness: the utopian politics of Disney’s Zootopia

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Kevin Chew, On war and cuteness: the utopian politics of Disney’s Zootopia , Screen , Volume 60, Issue 4, Winter 2019, Pages 567–586,

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Zootopia (2016) was a highly successful production in both financial and cultural terms, bringing the Disney studio a worldwide gross exceeding $1 billion and being hailed by critics for its political timeliness. Its critical reception focused on themes such as the feminist agency of the film’s rabbit protagonist, Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) 1 and, in the USA in particular, on its narrative trajectory, which criticizes a socially divisive mode of populism that was widely associated with Donald Trump’s election campaign. 2 The narrative is set primarily in the city of Zootopia, in which anthropomorphic mammals belonging to a broad, but consistently charismatic, range of species live together in apparent harmony. Newly graduated from Zootopia’s police academy, Hopps finds herself disregarded by her fellow officers on account of her small size and upbeat idealism, until a ‘missing mammals’ case leads her to team up with a petty criminal, the fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman). Together they uncover a species-supremacist conspiracy led by the sheep Dawn Bellwether (voiced by Jenny Slate), the assistant mayor of the city. Bellwether’s plot to poison a small number of predator animals, causing them to behave with atavistic violence, causes the citizens belonging to prey species – which constitute nine tenths of the population, as Bellwether notes in a monologue – to distrust the predators as a minority social group, in a manner that apparently promises Bellwether’s political ascendance. The coincidence between the film’s release in March 2016 and the launch of Trump’s election campaign in June 2016 is emphasized in Michael Cavna’s description of Zootopia as ‘the perfect film for this politically divisive campaign season’. 3 It is also productive, however, to step back from a survey of US electoral politics and consider the ways in which Zootopia can be engaged in a more systemic and broadly historical interrogation of political and specifically racist discourse.

My reading of the diegesis of Zootopia places a focus on the eponymous city as a reflection of the utopian imagination represented by a traditional image of the Walt Disney Company. Variety film critic Peter Debruge places Zootopia firmly in this tradition when he announces that

from the company that brought you the utopian simplicity of ‘It’s a Small World’ comes a place where mammals of all shapes, sizes and dietary preferences not only live in harmony, but also are encouraged to be whatever they want […] in short, a city that only the Mouse House could imagine. 4

The cosmopolis of Zootopia, 5 traversed by a monorail similar to that found in Walt Disney World and displaying a technological infrastructure that emulates disparate climate zones, provides a contrasting backdrop to a narrative depicting attempts to reinstate social boundaries analogous to systemic racism. This tension possibly reflects the influence of Pixar, widely considered to have become ‘the guiding force within Disney Animation’ through the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of the studio in 2006. In his analysis of Pixar’s creative culture, Eric Herhuth argues that ‘Pixar films raise different cultural issues and distinct critical opportunities specific to each imagined world and story’. 6 Such ‘critical opportunities’ are also at stake in Zootopia . Examining a filmic world permeated with ironic references to a utopian imagination, this essay aims to explore the ways in which Zootopia both engages with and troubles the utopian imagination associated with the Walt Disney Company and its theme parks.

Against the backdrop of an imperfectly realized utopia, where an architectural appeal to the cosmopolitan ideology of a ‘Small World’ is tinged with sinister prejudices and antagonisms between animal species, Zootopia’s assistant mayor Bellwether deposes her superior, the lion Leodore Lionheart (voiced by J. K. Simmons), and attempts to turn the population against each other by reviving a historical discourse of interspecies struggle; a struggle described by Hopps during the film’s prologue in a school play depicting a feral prehistory, in which predators killed and ate the prey species. This allegory for racism, which serves as a central theme in the narrative, will be addressed in this essay with reference to the work of Michel Foucault, who analyses racism as a primal struggle that gives way to a discourse of racial purity. In his account, this shift from a focus on military and political domination to a preoccupation with a pseudo-hygienic segregation of racial groups reached its logical extreme in the unfettered destructiveness of National Socialism. While Zootopia ’s satire stops short of this moment in human history, it nonetheless captures the tendencies that Foucault identifies as the root of the Nazi state, 7 and which the film’s own North American idiom links to the racist heritage of the USA. As a narrative depicting an attempt to alienate a minority social group for political gain, Zootopia portrays a world of faltering ideals. Most centrally to the narrative, such tensions extend to the speciesism expressed in a sign in an ice-cream parlour run by an elephant, reserving ‘the right to refuse service to anyone’, and emphasized when the parlour’s owner attempts to turn Wilde away. Moments such as this, which tie Zootopian discrimination into an American history captured in films such as Giant (George Stevens, 1956), highlight the way in which species in Zootopia serves as an allegory of race.

This discourse of racism as a continuum from primal war to biological purity informs my examination of the ways in which the construction of a racist discourse and its violent execution might be considered concomitant to the marginalization and subjugation of animal life in the extradiegetic world, 8 even as human affection towards animals both motivates, and is nurtured in, the anthropomorphic animal world of Zootopia . In his reading of Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995), Herhuth reminds us that processes of anthropomorphism ‘are not simply about imbuing things with human traits’, but ‘they also facilitate the contemplation of the materiality, design and origin of those things’. 9 Transposing his argument to the animal, specifically mammalian, subjects of Zootopia , the ‘contemplation of the materiality, design and origin’ of animals is exemplified in the pelts examined by the animators during the production of the film. 10 The contemplation of animal remains – and specifically of animal pelts, which remind us of the fur trade – for the purposes of their anthropomorphic reanimation echoes Nicole Shukin’s argument that the historical affinity between cinema on one hand and animal life and movement on the other belies the ways in which cinema is ideologically implicated in the slaughter and disassembly of animals. 11 Returning to Herhuth’s analysis, however, we might also consider how ‘developing a character with a respect for the “physical integrity of the object” is an imaginative practice interested in presenting nonhuman agency’. 12 Such a dialectic between objectification and agency will be analysed in Zootopia with reference to Sianne Ngai’s framework of ‘cuteness’. 13 Cuteness is thematized in Zootopia ’s characterization of mammalian diversity, with Hopps cringing at a colleague’s excitement over her cute appearance and Wilde engineering a hustle around the tendency for other mammals to mistake the diminutive fennec fox, Finnick (voiced by Tom Lister, Jr), for an infant red fox. The interplay between cuteness, deception and agency will guide my discussion of an affective animal imagery and its ethical potential.

Such a potential will be analysed further through the lens of Jacques Derrida’s concept of spectrality. Derrida identifies film as a particularly ‘spectrographic’ medium that amplifies the power of the past or deceased to hold the living to account. 14 Notwithstanding the play on deceptive cuteness in the film, the sense of vulnerability attendant to cuteness remains, with Hopps wounded twice in the narrative and an attempt made by Bellwether to murder her towards the end of the film. The threat of death is deferred in the narrative, as Hopps is saved by her quick thinking, but if we retain Shukin’s critical perspective on the concomitant animation and destruction of animal bodies in the film industry, we can perceive an animal ‘hauntology’ that persists beyond the narrative of the film. 15 On the one hand the technology of animation gives expression to a utopian imagination that celebrates animal life; on the other, with many animal species facing extinction, an animal spectrality haunts this imagination from beyond the diegesis, producing a critical impulse that politicizes this utopianism. In short, my reading is guided by a spectral doubling that seeks to highlight the acts of repression that demarcate the boundaries of the film’s utopian imagination. I seek to develop the link between the celebration of non-human life and a critique of racist discourse by interrogating the ways in which a racist logic can be found in the popular imaginary reflected in Zootopia , with the aim of articulating a melancholic, spectral politics around these touchstones of utopianism and slaughter. Speciesism in Zootopia is written as an allegory for racism, but I argue that close attention to this allegory reveals the significance of an extradiegetic speciesism, in a dialectic proceeding from a primal political violence to the articulation of this violence in the spectacle of postindustrial animation.

Foucault’s account of historical conflict as the basis for political order resonates with an exploration of the biopolitical discourse at work in Zootopia , the narrative of which is concerned with perceptions of a divide between predators and prey. The challenge of creating and maintaining a society in which the mammalian food chain is flattened invites an examination of the relationships of force at work within both the fictional society in the film and the extradiegetic contemporary society that Zootopia allegorically represents. Historical discourse forms the backdrop to the final confrontation in Zootopia , which occurs in the Natural History Museum between Hopps and Wilde on one side and the deputy mayor Bellwether and her ram henchmen on the other. As Bellwether approaches Hopps, their impending altercation is anticipated in the painting in the background, which depicts a band of rabbits armed with spears cornering a sabre-toothed cat on a withered tree ( figure 1 ).

The primal war in Zootopia (2016).

The primal war in Zootopia (2016).

This image can be used to illustrate Foucault’s observation that ‘the thing that makes war both the starting point for an analysis of society and the deciding factor in social organization, is the problem of military organization or, quite simply, this: “Who has the weapons?”’. 16 Although the cat’s fangs and musculature give it a natural advantage, the painting suggests that the rabbits have crafted superior weapons and created a military organization. The foreground of the scene echoes this inversion of binary predator–prey relations, as the rams standing behind Bellwether implicitly threaten Wilde, being able to overcome the fox through their superiority in numbers and, notably, their sheer physical size. It is implied that Zootopia’s ancient history is one of violence and subjugation, which Bellwether and her co-conspirators exhume and revive by framing predators as a societal menace prone to episodes of atavistic violence, with a disingenuousness only clarified in the clear physical advantage the rams hold over Wilde. This inversion of interspecies relations is also, however, complicated by the partnership between Hopps and Wilde – prey and predator – on the left of the frame, facing the prey conspirators on the right. The historical conflict between predators and prey depicted in the exhibit is thus framed within another contemporary conflict, between a primal logic of interracial war on the one hand and the potential for alliance on another. The dialectics at work in Zootopian society are thus encapsulated within this frame, highlighting the narrative’s investments in burying the primal logic of racial war and privileging an idealism based on interracial rapprochement.

This narrative of primal conflict is a recurring theme in Zootopia , which opens with a young Hopps and her classmates enacting the evolution of animals away from their violent prehistory. Foucault argues that ‘historical contents alone allow us to see the dividing lines in the confrontations and struggles that functional arrangements or systematic organizations are designed to mask’, 17 and although Zootopia ’s resolution is concerned with patching over these ‘dividing lines’, its narrative repeatedly rehearses their exposure. Zootopian society ultimately asserts its determination to guard its ‘systematic organizations’ against attempts to revive predator–prey conflicts, but it does so with a renewed awareness of this societal faultline. The social and physical violence that erupts as a result of Bellwether’s conspiracy finds its latent form in the ‘fox Taser’ that Hopps’s father offers her in an early scene, and such forms of violence become the societal bad conscience that Hopps addresses and assuages in her rather prosaic final speech, in which she declares that ‘the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be’. Ironically the prominence of primal conflict in the narrative highlights the historical exceptionalism inherent to this goal of intrasocietal harmony.

The theme of buried conflict can be further illustrated in the film’s early concept art, in which predators are dominated by prey animals through the latter’s strength in numbers, being forced to wear electric collars that enforce their docility. Moore and Howard explain that this overt sign of physical regulation and enforcement was discarded in favour of ‘a city torn apart by inadvertent, underlying bias’. 18 The movement from explicit subjugation to an implicit primal war is made material in the painting described above: though the predators do not wear collars in the finished film, the narrative of their social victimization is represented in the spears levelled at the cat in the painting’s depiction of Zootopian prehistory. The image of a large and powerful predator being cornered by smaller but armed and numerically superior prey animals represents the impoverished political status of predators in modern Zootopia. For Foucault, ‘the role of political power is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe the relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities, language, and even the bodies of the individuals’. 19 Bellwether’s conspiracy to turn the prey majority against the predator minority can be read as a reinscription of relationships of force onto the bodies of predators.

This process of reinscription is depicted in a scene on a train, where Hopps watches a rabbit pull her daughter away as a tiger takes a seat next to them, leaving a conspicuous gap on the train bench ( figure 2 ). When Zootopia’s ‘silent war’ is invoked, the fear that accompanies this discourse of race struggle is translated into pseudo-hygienic gestures that recall Foucault’s description of ‘the idea of racial purity, with all its monistic, Statist, and biological implications’. This form of ‘actual racism’, which in Foucault’s account emerges at the end of the nineteenth century, does not manifest itself solely in racially motivated acts of state-sanctioned murder but also in ‘indirect murder’, which includes ‘political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on’. 20 The refusal to recognize the right of a given social group to use public spaces signals a form of ‘indirect murder’, as it amounts to a disavowal of their rights as members of society. The specific depiction of this form of racism in the public transportation system in Zootopia ties the film to the history of racism and racial segregation in the USA, in which events such as the Montgomery bus boycott serve as landmarks in the Civil Rights Movement. 21

The emergence of ‘actual racism’ in Zootopia.

The emergence of ‘actual racism’ in Zootopia .

The social divisions that Bellwether’s conspiracy brings to Zootopia are identifiably racist in nature, with a satirical tone exemplified in the peace rally scene, where a leopard being heckled to ‘go back to the forest’ indignantly protests that ‘I’m from the savannah’. While Zootopia ’s satire echoes contemporary objections to racist discourse that focus on the latter’s ignorance and irrationality, it also traces out the fundamental terms of racism, described by Foucault as ‘primarily a way of introducing a break into the domain of life that is under power’s control: the break between what must live and what must die’. By this logic, ‘racism is bound up with the workings of a State that is obliged to use race, the elimination of races and the purification of the race, to exercise its sovereign power’. 22 When Bellwether declares her willingness to ‘dart every predator in Zootopia’, she intimates this discourse of racial purity, which is reflected in the distance the rabbits on the train bench seek to maintain from the tiger. Zootopia ’s political satire has an image of animals using a form of transport designed in the extradiegetic world for human use, reflecting the pertinence of the narrative to human society; it also, however, reflects human history in another, more ghastly sense. The satirical, allegorical formula is haunted by its inverse: the use of cattle cars to transport the victims of National Socialism, the ‘paroxysmal point’ of state racism, 23 to the death camps.

Such ‘strategies of animalization’ link Foucault’s analysis of state racism, with its European focus, to the Atlantic slave trade that hovers closer to the American allegory of Zootopia . Mark S. Roberts describes how black Africans transported across the Middle Passage were ‘treated as human cargo, as livestock on the way to slaughter’, such that ‘by the time of arrival – if they did in fact arrive at all – they had already been rendered into “docile bodies”’. 24 The resonance here with Shukin’s description of animals being ‘molded into docile, willing performers’ is striking, and the manner in which Foucault’s concept of the ‘docile body’ 25 proves similarly applicable to humans and animals highlights the stakes of animalization as the ghastly doppelgänger of anthropomorphism. Roberts reminds us that ‘once rendered inferior and subjugated to socioeconomic exigencies, the slave became nothing more than a manipulable beast of burden, used to the ends of pecuniary exploitation and gain’, sharing the fate of animals as property and forced labour. In the wake of this historical heritage, American segregationist policies, in Roberts’s analysis, were formulated as ‘acts aimed at warding off and controlling an inferior and potentially dangerous species’. 26 This imaginative construction returns us to the diegesis of Zootopia , where the predator population, whose past subjugation is implied, is readily regarded by prey species as prone to unpredictable acts of ‘savage’ violence.

The horror of racist logic thus does not escape the relatively light-hearted satire of Zootopia : when the inhabitants of Zootopia repeatedly refer to the loss of predatory instincts as the result of evolution, this shorthand draws on a scientific discourse that ultimately signifies the extinction of organisms bearing the traits that were lost. In the extradiegetic shadow of the Holocaust, the claim that Zootopia’s predators are regaining their predatory instincts becomes an implicit declaration that the civic order can only be preserved through the social and ultimately physical marginalization and destruction of the predator population, or in other words through eugenics – through a ‘break between what must live and what must die’. 27 It also recalls the framing of black Americans in a historical popular imaginary in which they ‘carried the stigma of savagery and bore the mark of the beast’. 28 In the public transit system of Zootopia, as in the buses and railways of the USA and the Third Reich, public infrastructure gives way to a dystopian political praxis, providing a site for the execution of a racist logic. Zootopia ’s allegory illustrates the potential for utopian technologies such as transportation systems to serve a victimizing, if not terrorizing, ideology, and is thus haunted by the historical circumstances that warp the city’s architectural utopianism.

We can linger further on the allegory of Zootopia to examine the ways in which a discriminatory and destructive logic underlies human culture in more fundamentally speciesist terms than those reflected in racist discourse. Donna Haraway traces out the stakes of this discourse in the context of contemporary human and animal bodies by comparing herself with her pet dog:

one of us, product of a vast genetic mixture, is called ‘purebred’. One of us, equally a product of a vast mixture, is called ‘white’. Each of these names designates a different racial discourse, and we both inherit their consequences in our flesh. 29

This comparison highlights the biopolitical implications of racial discourse, in which whiteness and pedigree entail economic or existential advantage. It also describes a discriminatory logic that Zootopia ’s screenwriter and co-director Jared Bush intimates in his claim that ‘reptiles and birds and other animals do exist on this planet. We just don’t go to those continents.’ 30 This otherwise insubstantial defence of the production team’s aesthetic decisions is notable in revealing a segregationist and exclusionist logic applied to the selection of mammalian animal species deemed suitable to the cinematic attraction of Zootopia . It equates to a dismissal of failed animal candidates, deemed unattractive or impractical in animation, as simply being elsewhere, out of sight and in a part of the diegesis that never occurs beyond his casual speculation. This banishment to a non-existent space ties the film’s mammalian aesthetic into the racial discourse that Haraway identifies in pedigree breeding, the latter of which reveals the human practice of defining the desirable traits of animal bodies in a discriminatory eugenicist programme that returns us to the ‘break between must live and what must die’. In pertaining to ‘non-human animals’ as well as to humans, this discourse also allows us to develop the link between the diegetic and extradiegetic instances of discrimination treated in Zootopia . The animals of Zootopia do not simply provide allegorical images of humans; their use as allegory itself signals a further conflict that Dinesh Wadiwel describes as a ‘war against animals’. 31

Drawing on the military theory of Carl von Clausewitz, Wadiwel argues that ‘understanding the object of war as domination – a way in which to bend an opponent’s will in conformity to one’s own – offers us a way to frame our instrumental relations with animals in the context of a wider, more systemic, violent relationality’. 32 This systemic violence reveals the barrier between human and animal life in western thought as the site of a Foucauldian primal war at the dawn of human history. The instrumentality of humankind’s relationship with animals is examined by Shukin in various modern contexts, including the Chicago slaughterhouses, which she describes as a ‘protocinematic’ space where commercial tours capitalized on the sights of animal destruction and disassembly to induce affective responses in the visitors. The link between slaughter and cinema is further developed in her account of how the use of gelatin in film stock ‘marks a “vanishing point” where moving images are both inconspicuously and viscerally contingent on mass animal disassembly, in contradiction with cinema’s framing semiotic of “animation”’. 33

The opposition between animal death and animation underlies the close studies of animals that aid animators in their depiction. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston describe the work of the artist Rico Lebrun, who was hired to assist Disney’s animators in a study of a deer’s anatomy during the production of Bambi (David Hand, 1942), and whose interest in animal movement extended to a desire to manually handle and manipulate the animal body. This exploration of the musculature and skeletal structure thus involved a progressive dissection of a fawn carcass obtained with the help of a park ranger, with Lebrun producing detailed drawings of its remains for the benefit of the animators – the latter proving increasingly reluctant to observe the dissection first-hand due to the growing stench of the decomposing body. 34 This sensory revolt echoes Shukin’s assertion that ‘animal signs capable of protesting and competing with those metaphorically and materially rendered in service to cultures of capital are not found […] but produced’, made with recourse to an anecdote of a taxidermist’s revulsion at the delivery of rotting animals heads to his workshop. 35 Lebrun’s pursuit of knowledge for the ‘metaphorical’ rendering of the animal body in an animated film produced one such protest, as the material surplus of the carcass interfered with the animators’ work in an eruption of the repressed animal death underlying the project of animation.

Although Lebrun and the animators were clearly not complicit in the fawn’s death, the dissection of a carcass for the purpose of its reanimation on film returns us to Shukin’s argument that ‘the animated effects accumulating from the time-motion momentum of cinema are ideologically complicit […] with the production of an animal carcass’, as ‘the double entendre of rendering describes the contradictory vectors of time-motion ideologies insofar as they simultaneously propel the material breakdown and the semiotic reconstitution of animal life across the modern spaces of slaughter and cinema’. The study of the carcass, though not linked to the latter’s ‘production’ as such, demonstrates in postindustrial terms how ‘the rendering industry promises the possibility of an infinite resubjection (“return”) of nature to capital’, 36 as the film industry extracts value from the disassembly of the fawn. A similar rendering process informs the animators’ examination of animal pelts during the production of Zootopia : 37 the objective of recreating animal life was achieved by reducing the dead animal to the material basis of the animators’ knowledge of animal bodies.

Of similar interest in this context is the importance of zoo animals in the studies that produce the animated image, exemplified in the research visits to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other zoos during the production of Zootopia . 38 Shukin describes how the animal subjects of industrial modernity were ‘subjected to new ethological treatments training them to be the obedient body content of circuses, public zoos, amusement parks, and photographic and filmic events’, thus ‘becoming subject to biopower, to forms of positive economic and emotional investment designed to mold them into docile, willing performers of capitalist spectacles’. 39 The zoo enclosures that allow animators visual access to the life and movement of animals are another aspect of humanity’s instrumental relations with animals, and one with which John Berger influentially engages as a site of ‘enforced marginalization’ that shares traits with ghettos and concentration camps. 40 Randy Malamud similarly denounces zoos as ‘sites of captivity, commerce, and pain’, which propagate an ecologically harmful message ‘that we need not worry about destroying the wild, because animals may be salvaged from troubled habitats and viewed in isolation’. 41

Such observations suggest a link between the slaughterhouses described by Shukin, in which animals bred and reared under inhumane conditions are slaughtered with similar cruelty, and the zoos that enforce a dislocated, unnatural form of animal life: both pertain to Derrida’s protest that ‘the annihilation of certain species is indeed in process, but it is occurring through the organization and exploitation of an artificial, infernal, virtually interminable survival’. 42 The ethical questions critics such as Malamud and Berger raise with regard to the zoo signal an underlying paradox of the title Zootopia , which combines the notion of utopia with the site of the zoo, the latter of which produces a thoroughly dystopian animal existence. 43 The complicity of the zoological garden in the oppositional and destructive relations humanity has constructed vis-à-vis animal life is captured in the scientific discipline of zoology, which is itself in part a codification of the monolithic human–animal divide that Derrida dismisses as an ‘asinanity ( bêtise )’ for the attendant attempt to encapsulate ‘every living thing that is held not to be man’ within the single term of the animal. 44 In other words, the zoo has the dual significance of being a utopian fantasy ‘imagined as microcosms of the natural world, a rich and vibrant biosphere’, 45 and simultaneously bearing resemblance to the carceral logic of prisons and concentration camps. This doubling feeds into Zootopia , an animation informed by the material remains of dead animals.

The underlying paradox of the name Zootopia reveals that the primal war on animals is the most basic assumption of the Zootopian universe: the utopian existence of Zootopia’s animal life has as its fundamental condition the complete absence of humankind. Zootopia resolves this paradox by turning the speciesist implications of zoology on their head and projecting a utopian vision of humanity’s disappearance, and in doing so it highlights the political significance of animal allegory: the use of our lowest subalterns to depict inequalities in human society. 46 The use of animal allegory in Zootopia to illustrate the primal war behind modern society, as well as to rehearse its unmasking, thus creates a cultural echo of the centrality of animal life and death in this war. A further layer of ethical significance is identifiable in an examination of the affective power of the animal image in Zootopia .

Ngai argues that ‘as a response to familiar, homey objects imagined as unusually responsible to the subject’s desire for an ever more intimate, sensuous relation to them, cuteness contains none of beauty’s oft-noted references to […] what Adorno calls “a sphere of untouchability”’, thus suggesting an implicitly significant tactile aspect to cute images. 47 She adds that ‘realist verisimilitude and formal precision tend to work against or even nullify cuteness, which becomes most pronounced in objects with simple round contours and little or no ornamentation and detail’. 48 The significance of fur on Zootopia ’s eminently and selfconsciously cute protagonist, Hopps, suggests a way in which this separation between ‘realist verisimilitude’ and cuteness can be torqued: her furriness – an index of soft tactility as well as an important aspect of the merchandizing of film figures as children’s toys – combines naturalist detail with a sense of cuteness. This aesthetic rests at the core of the affective engagement with animal life in Zootopia , which contains a significant ethical potential and highlights how ‘the fact that the cute object seems capable of making demands on us […] suggests that “cute” designates not just the site of a static power differential but also the site of a surprisingly complex power struggle’. 49

The power struggle between anthropomorphic representation and animal life informs the animation of Zootopia . Zootopian life, as noted above, consists exclusively of mammals, and the fur on many of these species, being eminently responsive to touch, lends itself to the tactile, affective dimensions of cuteness. It is also, as Sigmund Freud speculates, an exemplary fetish object that can distract the male subject from his unwillingness to accept sexual difference, providing a symbolic compromise ‘in the conflict between the weight of the unwelcome perception and the force of his counter-wish’. 50 The relevance of this claim in the present context resides in Laura U. Marks’s concept of ‘petishism’, for which the primal scene is ‘the terror of finding that we are not, after all, so different from animals’. Marks elaborates that ‘petishists believe that animals are both just like us and fundamentally other’, 51 and the furriness of many mammals, particularly of popular pets such as rabbits, dogs and cats, appeals to this tension, as fur both indexes the mammalian class that humans share with other animals and simultaneously offers a visual and tactile demarcation of the human–animal divide. The privileging of mammalian life in Zootopia forms part of the film’s appeal to the audience’s affection through an aesthetic centred around a ‘petishistic’ cuteness; a petishism highlighted ironically in the absence of dogs and domestic cats in the film. While animals serve an intricate allegorical function in the film, it would seem that western culture’s most prominent companion animals might demarcate the uncanny valley of the film’s aesthetics, reminding us of the primal terror described by Marks.

This tension echoes the power struggle that Ngai describes in the experience of cuteness. While Hopps’s characterization as cute ties into questions of furriness and tactility, the participation of overtly domesticated animals in the allegorical society of Zootopia would upend their established social and political role in human culture. 52 As Paul Wells notes, Disney animators ‘engage with animals […] in a spirit of representing animals on terms and conditions that both recognize the complexities and presence of animality and the way this is best revealed through animation’. 53 The formulae at play in cuteness give way to a certain degree to this ‘presence of animality’, as the cute animals that persist in many human households of contemporary culture threaten the purified allegorical world of Zootopia . The stakes of cuteness within this world, however, extend beyond the role of animals as affective objects to the role of Hopps as an affective subject. To historicize this role, Eric Jenkins identifies one of Disney’s most famous experiments with the affective weight of the cartoon image in the funeral scene of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937), drawing on Gilles Deleuze to describe how ‘Disney repeatedly uses the contrast between characters to create the mutual affection-image, displaying nearly immobile characters as the reflecting surface-faces for the intensive movements of another’. 54

The present focus, however, is less on the interaction between shots than on their individual composition, for which reason I will revisit this landmark scene and propose an alternative Deleuzian reading of animated affect. Deleuze describes affection as ‘a motor effort on an immobilised receptive plate’, 55 and it was recognized in the early Disney films that animation creates the possibility of mobilizing the receptive surfaces of the anthropomorphic animal. Though Deleuze’s specific terminology is not used, Thomas and Johnston describe the difficulties of producing affection-images in animated figures, given that these drawings ‘had to move to stay alive, and a series of drawings moving from one attitude to another was the only way known to establish the emotion’, whereas the dwarfs in contrast ‘should be overcome with grief from the beginning to the end, with no change of attitude and as little movement as possible’. 56 The construction of the scene thus revolved around the decision of how this ‘motor effort on an immobilised receptive plate’ was to be rendered in animation. Thomas and Johnston describe the close attention paid to the drawing of the dwarfs’ tearful eyes on the surface of their ‘nearly “held” poses’, and the particular pathos created when Grumpy, ‘the only dwarf with a major body move’, turns away from the virtual camera and covers his eyes. 57 The eyes were thus privileged as the dwarfs’ primary affective surface. Of especial interest in the present context, however, is the means by which the mechanism of the affection-image extends to the animals crowding around the doorway and windows of the cottage: their ears sink, and the act of bowing their heads and shutting their eyes draws attention to the oversized proportions of their eyes and ears as the affective surfaces of the cartoon animal ( figure 3 ).

The animal affection-image in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

The animal affection-image in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

This manipulation of the animal image establishes a logic to the cuteness of Disney’s animals, and Zootopia follows this trend, with Hopps’s round face and large eyes appealing to cuteness in a manner that becomes selfconscious in the script when she objects to Clawhauser calling her ‘even cuter than I thought you’d be’. Hopps’s objection is consistent with her attempts to assert her agency in Zootopian society; in profilmic terms, however, it also echoes art director Cory Loftis’s comment that ‘the biggest challenge for Hopps was making her look like a tough bunny’. The tension between cuteness and agency is captured in Loftis’s use of the phrase ‘tough bunny’, in which the diminutive term ‘bunny’ implies the common perception of rabbits as ‘cute, soft, adorable’ pets. 58 The use of the term ‘bunny’ is also a point where a gendered aspect of cuteness emerges. While Hopps’s characterization features enlarged affective surfaces, such as her oversized eyes and eminently mobile and expressive ears, the same cannot generally be said of the film’s secondary male characters, such as Zootopia’s police chief, the water buffalo Bogo, whose gruff demeanour seems understated in comparison. While Wilde has similarly oversized eyes and eyebrows, his expressions form a clear contrast to those of Hopps, ranging more between a cunning interest in his role as a con artist and the feral rage he affects when Bellwether attempts to murder Hopps. This generic gendering of cuteness in animation is highlighted if we return to Herhuth’s reading of Toy Story : Hopps’s cuteness is in stark contrast to the aesthetic that Herhuth describes when he suggests that ‘since the toys themselves appear as smooth, hard plastic and tend to be gendered masculine, they are not likely to be experienced as cute but instead present a more mature, adult toy-meets-world ethos’. 59

The notion of worldly maturity as linked to masculinity is manipulated within the narrative of Zootopia . The superficial cuteness of Wilde’s associate Finnick is shown to be ironic, as his disgruntled dialogue, performed in the deep guttural voice of Tom Lister, Jr, an actor with a professional wrestling background, adds a somewhat uncanny aspect to the infant role he begrudgingly plays in the hustle in which Wilde resells ice cream intended for elephants as ice-pops for lemmings. Unlike Finnick, who utilizes his superficial cuteness as a con artist, Hopps struggles to assert herself as a police officer while being rejected explicitly as a diminutive rabbit, and implicitly disregarded as a young female. In her determination to act as an enforcer of extant political relations, Hopps is also set in opposition to Bellwether, who notes her ‘underappreciated, underestimated’ status as a diminutive female as her motivation to frame predators as instinctively violent and to seize power through the mobilization of the prey majority. This tension between objectification and agency is an underlying theme in Zootopia . Hopps is dwarfed in her interactions with larger members of the police force, such as the rhinoceros who responds apathetically to her cheerful greeting in the briefing room. The sound design of this scene is significant, as the wordless grunts of the larger animals, along with the frequent thuds of their fists on the tables or against each other, fill and echo in the room, in distinct contrast to Hopps’s voice, which strains to be heard. Its high-pitched tone reinforces her identification by her colleagues as frail and ineffectual – demonstrated in an early scene where she struggles to gain Clawhauser’s attention – and highlights the gendered aspect of cuteness through its disparity with Finnick’s guttural voice, which instantaneously dispels his cute image. Cuteness in Zootopia is linked to gendered frailty and placed in opposition to a propensity towards violence on the one hand and an ironic grotesqueness on the other.

This opposition is expressed in a chase sequence in Little Rodentia, a walled district designed for miniature rodent species. As Hopps pursues the thief Duke Weaselton (voiced by Alan Tudyk) through the district, Weaselton’s jerky movements as he twists and flails his way through the district’s entrance and dodges the rodents’ transport chutes combine the ‘pose to pose’ drawing technique of early Disney animation with the practice of using ‘held’ poses for comic effect. 60 This set of animation techniques forms a clear contrast to Hopps’s smoother, more realistic acrobatics as she dives through the entry gate before jumping and swinging her way along the buildings and railway. This chase captures the transition Esther Leslie situates in the late 1930s, when Disney animators ‘worked out ways of endowing a character with apparent weight, ending staccato, jerky and unanchored movements’. 61 Weaselton faces a series of contortionist challenges that defy realism, while Hopps tackles an obstacle course that foregrounds the power of her muscled build, in a juxtaposition of slapstick comedy and Olympic athleticism that is at its clearest when Hopps grabs Weaselton by the throat as he attempts to escape atop a train, causing his eyes to bulge and his neck to stretch grotesquely before springing back to its original length ( figure 4 ).

The varying form of this chase sequence captures the historical development of Disney’s films. While Steamboat Willie (Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, 1928) features a ‘plasmaticness’ of its animal forms that Sergei Eisenstein celebrates as ‘a rejection of once-and-forever allotted form, freedom from ossification, the ability to dynamically assume any form’, 62 this ‘grim and mimetic humour’ gives way to the ‘naturalistic, moralistic and tamed’ sincerity of Snow White . 63 There are thus multiple senses of ‘taming’ in the chase sequence. The first consists in Hopps’s attempts to enforce property relations and apprehend a thief and bootlegger, demonstrating Zootopia’s disciplinary mechanisms through a scene of cartoon violence. In the sense used by Leslie, while Hopps’s enlarged eyes grant her an exaggerated affective expressiveness, this exaggeration remains within a ‘tamed’ zone of persuasiveness highlighted by its contrast with the wildly elastic bulging of Weaselton’s eyes; an elasticity that emphasizes the grotesquely comic harmlessness of his strangulation. If we return to Leslie’s argument, the opposition between Hopps’s realistic physicality and Weaselton’s plasmaticness demonstrates how reigning in the invulnerability of the cartoon figure ‘allowed for a world of cause and effect matched by psychological validity’. 64 In contrast to the chaotic propensities of characters like Mickey and Weaselton, Hopps represents the imposition of order in the animated world, which becomes rooted in extradiegetic reality. The stakes of cuteness in Zootopia consist in a grounding of cartoon form in a sense of physicality and vulnerability, lending a greater affective significance to the animal image.

Slapstick and sincerity juxtaposed in Zootopia.

Slapstick and sincerity juxtaposed in Zootopia .

The mode of cuteness that informs Hopps’s characterization bears ethical consequences, as her body, unlike that of the slapstick figure Weaselton, is shown to be profoundly vulnerable. In the confrontation with Bellwether in the National History Museum, Hopps cuts her leg as she and Wilde flee past a horned animal exhibit. A detail shot shows Hopps’ leg catching against a horn, and in the next shot a tearing sound accompanies her cry of pain as she falls to the ground clutching her leg. This visual and auditory shock invites the concern that is reflected on Wilde’s alarmed face in a shot/reverse-shot sequence, which cuts from his consternated reaction to a medium closeup that once again shows Hopps’s pained expression as she unclenches her hand to reveal the wound on her leg, visible through a tear in her trousers ( figure 5 ). The invitation to fearful empathy at the sight of an open wound has been described by Julian Murphet as an association between a human viewer and an animal subject ‘along the vector of pain, victimhood and death’. Unlike the case Murphet describes of an animal being slaughtered before the camera, however, this appeal to shared mortality in Zootopia is an illusion constructed through animation; in this respect Hopps’s wound recalls Murphet’s description of ‘the miracle of animation as cinema’s rhetorical and therefore political capacity to stun and therefore shatter the frames of a merely descriptive ontology’. 65 Animation in Zootopia creates a cinematic punctum that reminds us of the destruction of the material animal body.

The vulnerable animated body in Zootopia.

The vulnerable animated body in Zootopia .

In the diegesis of Zootopia , the perils Hopps faces during her police duties in Zootopian precincts unsuited to her size and build are listed in a scene set in the police academy, as her instructor repeatedly and dismissively pronounces her ‘dead’ upon her initial failure to clear the various obstacles she faces in training. The threat of death is implicit at various points of the plot, ranging from a confrontation with an Arctic shrew mafioso to Bellwether’s attempt to stage Hopps’s death in a feral predator attack. This threat is further implied in the body armour and shin guards she wears while on duty – the absence of which is notable in the museum scene where she is wounded with relative severity. Death as a dark shadow in the plot also extends beyond the diegesis, as I note above in the production context of animal slaughter. By lingering on the affective power of the animal image, expressed but not contained in the experience of cuteness, one might also, however, consider the ties inhering in the specifically anthropomorphic representation of animals, interweaving the labour of animators and voice actors with the movement and remains of animals.

Akira Mizuta Lippit draws on Georges Bataille’s description of the Lascaux cave painting as a depiction of ‘humanity’s entry along with the animal into the world of representation’, in which a man and bison lie dying, in Bataille’s words ‘united in the face of death’. 66 The endangered animals represented in animated and ventriloquized form in Zootopia face death in the extradiegetic world in a manner irrefutable even in the western metaphysical tradition that, as Lippit notes, denies animals the individuality seen as a prerequisite for death: ‘because animal being is not thought of as singular, the death of each individual organism is survived by the entire species. All animals of a given species are, according to this logic, extensions of one another.’ 67 The animated animal figure opposes this logic, inverting the formula described by Lippit by portraying a mortal, vulnerable animal that represents a dying species. The rhinoceros police officer McHorn and the nudist elephant yoga instructor Nagi exemplify this dynamic, as comic characters whose inclusion is nonetheless melancholic if we consider the imminent destruction of their species in the extradiegetic world. These diegetic figures also capture the profilmic efforts of human animators and voice actors, creating a symbiosis between the animal image and human labour. The rendering of the animal as animation thus spectralizes the animal species, along with the individual human animators and voice actors who rendered it, in a hybrid presence by which the human and the animal, sharing a presence in the world of representation, are once again ‘united in the face of death’.

In an interview with Bernard Stiegler, Derrida ties the spectre closely to film as an eminently spectrographic medium: ‘because we know that, once it has been taken, captured, this image will be reproducible in our absence, because we know this already , we are already haunted by this future, which brings our death’; we are thus ‘spectralized by the shot, captured or possessed by spectrality in advance’. 68 The stakes of animation in this filmic spectralization process are clear if we consider Zootopia ’s inclusion of characters belonging to critically endangered species. With these animals being positioned as objects of visual pleasure, the experience of joy at the sight of animal life can serve as a prerequisite for a sense of loss in the knowledge of animal death. A similar dynamic is captured in Vivian Sobchack’s analysis of a scene from Pixar’s WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008), in which the eponymous robot watches an old recording of Hello, Dolly! (Gene Kelly, 1969). Sobchack describes the scene as ‘an elegiac piece of what psychoanalysts call “mourning work”, less for the quasi-mechanical WALL-E than for the audience viewing their own absence in a future “that will have been”’. 69 Arguably another future ‘that will have been’ haunts the audience of Zootopia through the images of Nagi and McHorn. A dialectic between their status as spectacle and spectre thus runs from within diegetic history, in the Zootopia Natural History Museum’s exhibit of the extinct sabre-toothed cat, through the animals populating the diegesis to their extradiegetic inspiration. Thus regarded, Zootopia serves as another piece of mourning work.

The anthropogenic animal spectres thus demonstrate the potential to bring the destructive mechanisms of industrial capitalism into critical focus. While animated films such as Zootopia translate animal bodies into commodified images, Derrida reminds us that ‘the autonomy lent to commodities corresponds to an anthropomorphic projection. The latter inspires the commodities, it breathes the spirit into them, a human spirit, the spirit of a speech and the spirit of a will ’. 70 The agency of the animal that is studied and rendered as a hybrid figure in an animated film such as Zootopia can thus be examined in terms of the ‘visor effect’ described by Derrida, according to which ‘the spectre is not simply someone we see coming back, it is someone by whom we feel ourselves watched, observed, surveyed, as if by the law: we are “before the law”, without any possible symmetry, without reciprocity’. 71 It is through the demands that the spectre can place on the viewer that we perceive ‘what everyone alive knows without learning and without knowing, namely, that the dead can often be more powerful than the living’. 72 While Shukin critiques this position, arguing that ‘capitalism is biopolitically invested in producing animal life as a spectral body’ and that through this investment ‘animals and other signs of nature are kept in a state of suspension that Derrida himself characterizes as a state of “interminable survival”’, 73 I nonetheless regard this ‘interminable survival’ through the medium of animation as a potent demand on the viewer’s recognition of animal mortality, even as it occurs within circuits of capital accumulation.

In the present context, the knowledge that an animal whose life and movement is a source of visual pleasure to the human viewer faces extinction can place ethical demands on the viewer with regard to the future of animal life. Perhaps counterintuitively, the anthropomorphic animal image can serve as a visor for the dying animals of industrial modernity, co-opting human labour into a protest against animal extinction. Notwithstanding Shukin’s objections to analysis that ‘celebrates film’s sympathetic features at the cost of overlooking its pathological relationship to animal life’, 74 the anthropomorphism at work in Zootopia reveals an ethical counterweight to this pathological relationship: the ventriloquized animal, spectralized in film, serves as an index of human affection for animal life, and its human voice codifies this affection and lets it speak to its audience. While such sympathy is contingent on a prior acceptance of these animals’ charisma in human perception, it remains that the marginalized and threatened animal lives of modernity, preserved in a hybrid construction of human labour and animal bodies, can thus utter a protest that resonates with that of Zootopia ’s utopianism.

The affective tie between Zootopia ’s political satire and its reanimation of vanishing animal bodies suggests an ethical dimension to Zootopia that issues from within and overruns its diegetic boundaries, as the animal spectacle both represents the violent entanglements between human and animal existence and presents the viewer with a manifestation of human affection for animal life. The elision of non-mammalian animal life in Zootopia signals the strategic aspect of the film’s allegorical use of animal imagery, while creating ‘petishistically’ attractive animal figures that demand the viewer’s affection, in a manner that highlights the power struggle Ngai identifies in the experience of cuteness. Zootopia ’s animal images recall the instrumental hierarchy between humans and animals, while simultaneously serving as a site where this hierarchy is troubled by the attention demanded by the animals within and beyond the film’s diegesis. As I have attempted to demonstrate, such attention reveals that the use of animal images in an allegorical depiction of societal racism also rehearses an extradiegetic logic of discrimination with its own violent consequences: namely the marginalization, commercialization and destruction of animal bodies.

Although Zootopia expresses no explicitly conservationist sentiments, the vibrant depiction of animal life expresses and nurtures a utopian desire for the latter’s preservation. This desire is arguably an important by-product of Disney’s animal spectacle, as the creation and commercialized enjoyment of these technological, spectral animal images also creates the possibility for animal life to establish an affective bind with the human viewer. The prosthetic contact established in such imagery recalls the clear emotional response in Thomas and Johnston’s further anecdote regarding the work on Bambi , in which a doe brought in as a model for the animators endeared herself to the class through the interest she took in Johnston’s sketch pad. 75 The animal’s ability to ‘surprise the man’ 76 complements its affective power and its ethical consequence, and highlights the political potential of animal imagery created in a sentimental realist aesthetic, even as this sense of affective surprise emerges from a primal anxiety surrounding the human–animal divide.

The primal war on animals that nourishes human endeavour including the film industry thus haunts the sentimental aesthetic exemplified in the selfconsciously cute protagonist of Zootopia . The film allows us to demonstrate the ethical returns to be gained from an attention to such spectral doubles in the text by offering a melancholic backdrop to an overtly utopian imagination. The dialectics represented in the film, which exemplify ‘animation’s contestations between matter and movement and between its naturalization and denaturalization’, 77 allow Zootopia to serve as a tutor-text in an archaeology of conflict spanning racism and the primal ‘petishistic’ terror underlying the alienation of animal life.

This research was funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust, and its open access publication was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I am grateful to Laura McMahon for her guidance throughout the writing of this essay, and to Karen Lury for her invaluable advice during the revision process. I would also like to thank Screen ’s reviewers and Caroline Beven, whose feedback was integral to the final version.

1 Rosa Prince, ‘Burn your princess dress: Disney’s new heroine is a badass feminist rabbit’, The Telegraph , 16 March 2016, < > accessed 13 September 2019.

2 Jordan Hoffman, ‘Zootopia review – Disney’s furry fable gets its claws out for the bigots’, The Guardian , 3 March 2016, < > accessed 13 September 2019.

3 Michael Cavna, ‘How record-setting “Zootopia” is the perfect film for this politically divisive campaign season’, The Washington Post , 8 March 2016, < > accessed 13 September 2019.

4 Peter Debruge, ‘Film review: “Zootopia”’, Variety , 12 February 2016, < > accessed 13 September 2019.

5 Notably, the film was released under the title Zootropolis in numerous territories including the UK, in a manner that captures this metropolitan and cosmopolitan investment.

6 Eric Herhuth, Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2017), pp. 7–8, 53–54.

7 Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76 , trans. David Macey, ed. Mauro Bertani, François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana (London: Penguin, 2003).

8 It should be acknowledged, however, that the drawing of this link is the subject of a fraught debate, addressed for instance in José Esteban Muñoz et al., ‘Theorizing queer inhumanisms’, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies , vol. 21, no. 3 (2015), pp. 209–48, and Christopher Peterson, Bestial Traces (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2013).

9 Herhuth, Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination , p. 60.

10 Jessica Julius, The Art of Zootopia (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2016), p. 105.

11 Nicole Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

12 Herhuth, Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination , p. 60.

13 Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

14 Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, ‘Spectrographies’, in Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews , trans. Jennifer Bajorek (Cambridge: Polity, 2002), pp. 113–34.

15 Although Shukin argues that Derrida’s figuration of spectrality risks depoliticizing the animal figure and denying its mortality, I would maintain that the mechanism of anthropomorphism in Zootopia can be co-opted as a way of torqueing the human–animal divide and figuring the animal as a spectral influence.

16 Foucault, Society Must Be Defended , p. 158.

17 Ibid., p.7.

18 Julius, The Art of Zootopia , p. 28.

19 Foucault, Society Must Be Defended , p. 16.

20 Ibid., pp. 81, 256.

21 The particular significance of public transport in this historical discourse is also reflected in Disney’s Remember the Titans (Boaz Yakin, 2000), a live-action portrayal of racism in the USA featuring a scene in which white parents protest against the de-segregation of school buses.

22 Foucault, Society Must Be Defended , pp. 254, 258.

23 Ibid., p. 260.

24 Mark S. Roberts, The Mark of the Beast: Animality and Human Oppression (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2008), p. 90.

25 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York, NY: Vintage, 1979).

26 Roberts, The Mark of the Beast , pp. 90–91.

27 The use of cattle cars to transport the victims of the Holocaust also links to Akira Mizuta Lippit’s reading of Adorno’s Minima Moralia , which traces a ‘delusional economy’ by which ‘if one’s victim can be seen as inhuman, the aggressor reasons, one is then justified in performing acts of violence, even murder upon that inhuman body, since those acts now fall beyond the jurisdiction of the anthropocentric law’. Lippit, Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 168.

28 Roberts, The Mark of the Beast , p. 91.

29 Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p. 15.

30 Cited in Julius, The Art of Zootopia , p. 28.

31 Dinesh Wadiwel, The War Against Animals (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill Rodopi, 2015).

32 Ibid., p. 17.

33 Shukin, Animal Capital , pp. 91, 95.

34 Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (New York, NY: Hyperion, 1997), pp. 339–41.

35 Shukin, Animal Capital , p. 130.

36 Ibid., pp. 67, 101.

37 Julius, The Art of Zootopia , p. 105.

38 Ibid., p. 44.

39 Shukin, Animal Capital , p. 155.

40 John Berger, ‘Why look at animals?’, in About Looking (London: Bloomsbury, 1980), p. 26.

41 Randy Malamud, ‘Zoo animals’, in An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 116, 120.

42 Jacques Derrida, ‘The animal that therefore I am’, trans. David Wills, Critical Inquiry , vol. 28, no. 2 (2002), p. 394.

43 I am grateful to Leor Zmigrod for this observation.

44 Derrida, ‘The animal that therefore I am’, p. 400.

45 Andrew P. J. Flack, ‘Capturing the beasts: zoo film and interspecies pasts’, in Michael Lawrence and Karen Lury (eds), The Zoo and Screen Media (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 23.

46 The use of animal subalterns as allegorical figures echoes George Orwell’s 1945 novella Animal Farm , perhaps the most prominent use of animal allegory in western popular culture and an exemplar for the characterization of animals in sociopolitical terms. A striking difference, however, resides in the persistence of humans as an ideological rival and counter-revolutionary influence in Orwell’s narrative, compared to their complete absence in Zootopia – an absence that links to Zootopia ’s more oblique or tamed treatment of military violence.

47 Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories , p. 11.

48 Ibid., p. 54

49 Ibid., p. 64.

50 Sigmund Freud, ‘Fetishism’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI , trans. Joan Riviere (London: Vintage, 2001), pp. 154–55.

51 Laura U. Marks, ‘Animal appetites, animal identifications’, in Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 26.

52 Horses are also a notable absence as western culture’s most prominent beast of burden.

53 Paul Wells, The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons and Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), p. 77.

54 Eric Jenkins, ‘Seeing life in Disney’s mutual affection-images’, Quarterly Review of Film and Video , vol. 30, no. 5 (2013), p. 429.

55 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image , trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Continuum, 2005), p. 68.

56 Thomas and Johnston, The Illusion of Life , p. 476.

57 Ibid., p. 477.

58 Julius, The Art of Zootopia , p. 30.

59 Herhuth, Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination , pp. 58–59.

60 Thomas and Johnson, The Illusion of Life , pp. 58–60.

61 Esther Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde (London: Verso, 2002), p. 32.

62 Sergei Eisenstein, On Disney , ed. Jay Leyda, trans. Alan Upchurch (London: Seagull Books, 2017), p. 59.

63 Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands , pp. 111, 122.

64 Ibid., p. 32.

65 Julian Murphet, ‘Pitiable or political animals?’, SubStance , vol. 70, no. 3 (2008), pp. 112–15. For a fuller exploration of the ethical significance of bodily vulnerability, see Anat Pick, Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2011).

66 Lippit, Electric Animal , p. 11.

67 Ibid., p. 172.

68 Derrida and Stiegler, ‘Spectrographies’, p. 117.

69 Vivian Sobchack, ‘Animation and automation, or, the incredible effortfulness of being’, in Screen , vol. 50, no. 4 (2009), pp. 379–80.

70 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International , trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 197.

71 Derrida and Stiegler, ‘Spectrographies’, p. 120.

72 Derrida, Specters of Marx , p. 60.

73 Shukin, Animal Capital , pp. 38–39.

74 Ibid., p. 108.

75 Thomas and Johnston, The Illusion of Life , p. 339.

76 Berger, ‘Why look at animals?’, p. 2.

77 Herhuth, Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination , p. 53.

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Review: In ‘Zootopia,’ an Intrepid Bunny Chases Her Dreams

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zootopia summary essay

By Neil Genzlinger

  • March 3, 2016

Easter is still weeks away, but pet stores may find that the added demand for rabbits the holiday brings will come early this year thanks to the irresistible “ Zootopia ,” an animated movie with an intrepid bunny named Judy Hopps at its core. Her fox sidekick, Nick Wilde, is mighty enjoyable, too.

This film, action-packed and filled with enough savvy jokes that adults should consider slipping into the theater even if they don’t have an accompanying child, is set in a world where animals have transcended the carnivore-and-prey dichotomy and now live together more or less harmoniously.

Judy (the voice of Ginnifer Goodwin of “Once Upon a Time”), a country bunny, wants to become the first rabbit police officer in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia, but her parents are not exactly the follow-your-dreams type.

“If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail,” her father (Don Lake) tells her. It’s a gag that encapsulates one of the best things about this film: It trusts young viewers to recognize the clichés they’ve been fed by other animated movies over the years and to appreciate seeing them subverted.

Judy graduates from the police academy and ends up on the force in Zootopia, but her boss (Idris Elba) relegates her to parking-ticket duty while more experienced officers investigate 14 missing-mammal cases. While obsessively writing tickets, Judy meets Nick (Jason Bateman), a world-weary hustler who slowly becomes her friend and adviser as she pokes her nose into the missing-mammal epidemic despite her boss’s resistance.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this delightful movie you’ve already had a taste of what might be the greatest takedown of bureaucratic ineptitude ever filmed. It involves a trip by Judy and Nick to the Department of Motor Vehicles, with its all-sloth staff. In the context of children’s movies, it’s a fairly daring scene, since in an otherwise fast-moving story the joke takes a loooong time to roll out. But it sure is worth it.

Anyway, Judy learns some hard truths as she delves deeper into the mystery, and young viewers will, too. Chief among those is one adults know well: Being civilized doesn’t mean tension and ugly thoughts disappear. Also, bringing about positive change isn’t as easy as it seems.

“I came here to make the world a better place,” Judy laments after her good intentions backfire, “but I think I broke it.”

Funny, smart, thought-provoking — and musical, too. Shakira provides the voice of a pop star named Gazelle, and her vocals complete the package appealingly.

“Zootopia” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for gently rude humor and occasional scariness. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.

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D isney is well known for its charming, witty and emotional animated stories, and the Zootopia script is no different. Writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston provide a thought-provoking screenplay that is, in fact, a thinly veiled commentary on prejudice and stereotypes. As we break down the script and provide a Zootopia summary, we will show why this story is even more relevant now than it was in 2016.

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Zootopia Script Teardown - Jared Bush Headshot


Written by jared bush and phil johnston.

Jared Bush is an American screenwriter born in Maryland. His most famous works include Zootopia (2016) and Moana (2016). He also worked on Zootopia as both a co-director and a voice actor.

Phil Johnston is an American screenwriter born in Minnesota. He wrote both Zootopia and   Wreck it Ralph (2012). He also wrote and directed Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018). Phil provided voice acting for all three films.


Structure of zootopia screenplay.

Here is the story structure for Zootopia screenplay:

The script opens with a school play where Judy establishes the rules of this world; predator and prey live in harmony. Afterwards, Judy’s parents “encourage” her to give up on her dreams of becoming a cop. Instead, she helps a sheep who was being bullied by foxes and realizes that she must become a cop.

Judy trains hard at the police academy and graduates. Just before she boards a train heading to Zootopia, Judy’s parents remind her of how dangerous foxes are. When she arrives at Zootopia, Judy is amazed by the lavish city. She arrives at her apartment, only to discover that it is a dump.

Inciting Incident

Judy arrives at the police department and discovers that there is a major investigation going on. Several mammals have gone missing throughout the city, including an otter. Unfortunately, due the fact that she is a bunny, Judy is relegated to meter maid duty.

Plot Point One

After issuing parking tickets, Judy sees Nick walk into a store. Suspicious because he is a fox, Judy follows him. She discovers that he is just trying to buy a popsicle for his son. She helps them out and buys them a jumbo pop.

Plot Point Two

Judy bumps into Nick and his “son” again and discovers that they are, in fact, hustlers. They melt down the jumbo pop and re-sell it for profit. She confronts Nick, a heated argument ensues about ethics, stereotyping and crushed dreams. Judy goes home, defeated.

Rising Action One

After issuing a few more parking tickets, Judy is informed that there has been a robbery. Eager to prove herself, Judy chases a weasel across Zootopia. She catches him and saves the life of a shrew named Fru Fru.

Rising Action Two

Judy’s boss, Chief Bogo, reprimands her for abandoning her post. Suddenly, Mrs. Otterton walks in, begging for help in finding her husband. Judy volunteers her services. Judy is on the verge of being fired, but Assistant Mayor Bellwether barges in, saving Judy’s job.

Plot Point Three

Judy realizes that Nick is connected to the missing Otter. She blackmails him into helping with the investigation by recording their conversation about his tax evasion. Cornered, Nick reluctantly agrees to help Judy.

Plot Point Four

Judy and Nick begin their investigation. They acquire a license plate number from a yak, which leads them to the DMV. After running the plate, they discover that the plate belongs to a limo.

Upon investigating the limo, Judy and Nick discover claw marks inside the vehicle. They also realize that the limo belongs to Mr. Big, a crime boss. Before he can kill them, Fru Fru, the shrew Judy saved, saves them. Grateful, Mr. Big reveals that Mr. Otterton went feral.

Judy and Mick meet with Manchas, the jaguar driver that was attacked by Mr. Otterton. He recalls the incident mentions something about “night howlers.” Shortly after, Manchas goes feral and attacks Judy and Nick. They barely manage to escape.

Judy tries to explain what happened to Chief Bogo, but he doesn’t believe her. Nick stands up for Judy, protecting her job. They have ten hours to find Mr. Otterton before Judy is fired. While tracking their next lead, Nick recalls how, as a child, he was bullied for being a fox/predator.

Judy and Nick recruit Ms. Bellwether so they can hack into the city’s security cameras. The footage they find reveals wolves may be behind everything.

Judy and Nick infiltrate and asylum. There they find all of the missing animals that went feral, including Mr. Otterton. They also discover that Mayor Lionheart has been keeping this a secret from the police. They escape the wolves and inform Chief Bogo.

Mayor Lionheart is arrested. During a press conference, Judy infers that all of the feral animals were predators. This creates concern in public as well as fractures the relationship between Judy and Nick. 

Animals are being hospitalized, predators are being arrested and protesters are in the streets. Full of guilt, Judy relinquishes her badge and leaves the force. Back at the carrot farm, Judy discovers that “night howlers” are actually flowers that can make animals go crazy. Judy returns to Nick and apologizes for everything she did.

Judy and Nick conduct an investigation where they discover that ‘night howlers’ are being farmed in the city. A chase ensues, which leads them to the museum. Ms. Bellwether reveals herself as the true Zootopia antagonist, asking for the imprisonment of all predators. Her confession is recorded and she is arrested.

Predators and prey are working together. An antidote is created that cures the madness caused by the night howlers. Judy is working side-by-side with her new police partner, Nick.

Zootopia   Script Takeaway #1

Zootopia and its take on prejudice.

When writing the Zootopia script, Bush and Johnston took a clear stance against prejudice and stereotypes. A recurring theme throughout Zootopia ’s plot is how predators and prey view each other and why those misconceptions do more harm than good. Zootopia’ s characters are constantly having to reassess how they perceive each other.

After seemingly solving the case of the missing animals, Judy is asked to speak at a press conference. Despite her good intentions, her commentary had disastrous results. We added the Zootopia script to the StudioBinder screenwriting software so we could examine this scene. 

Zootopia Script Teardown - Press Conference Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Zootopia Press Conference  •   Read Full Scene

Judy was simply stating the facts. She did not consider how harmful her words could be, both to her friend Nick and the city of Zootopia. Her actions would lead to unlawful arrests, protests and fear mongering. Judy is not a bad person, but even she had prejudices that she was not fully aware of.

This scene is also the beginning of Judy’s darkest hour. In storytelling, this is the moment when the protagonist is seemingly defeated. They come to a crossroads that will ultimately determine the outcome. 

After this scene, Judy quits the force and returns to the farm, giving up on her dreams. She eventually discovers the truth and takes a stand for her friend, for Zootopia, and for herself.

Zootopia Press Conference

The Zootopia script is not a perfect allegory for contemporary human relations and issues. However, the message it is delivering is important: we all have our prejudices that affect how we view and treat others.

Zootopia ’s characters learn to love and live in harmony with one another, and so should we. Diversity is what makes us humanity so great. We should cherish what makes us unique.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #2

Zootopia ’s characters have arcs.

A common mistake in scripts these days to make things too simple for the protagonist. Easy wins and minimal struggles not only undermine any dramatic tension, but make the victory feel cheap and unearned. The Zootopia script doesn’t do this. Judy Hopps is a dynamic character that constantly has to fight for what she wants. 

Even when she wins, she still loses. For example, Judy finally realizes her dream of becoming a police officer in the city of Zootopia. Unfortunately, her first day doesn’t go as planned.

Zootopia Script Teardown - ZPD Bullpen Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Zootopia ZPD Bullpen  •   Read Full Script

It would be too easy for Judy to get a case to solve on her first day. Police Chief Bogo and the other officers view her as a “token bunny.” The fact is, they do not trust her to handle big cases because she is so small. A prejudice Judy has been dealing with her whole life. Despite everything she has accomplished, she still has to earn the respect of her peers.

Judy has to break the rules in order to get some semblance of recognition. In this scene, Judy undermines Chief Bogo so she can do the right thing and help Mrs. Otterton.

Judy’s Insubordination

Judy also grows as a character. She knows she has her own prejudices. She has to learn from her mistakes and deal with the consequences. This comes together in her apology to Nick.

Zootopia Script Teardown - Judy's Apology Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Judy Apology  •   Read Full Scene

A story is only as good as its protagonist, and the Zootopia script has a strong one. Characters need to struggle and grow throughout their stories. That is what makes them likable, relatable and memorable.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #3

Inspirational  zootopia  quotes.

Great characters often have important things to say. Judy is an advocate for change and personal growth. She did a lot of growing herself. In Zootopia ’s ending, she says: “Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us.”

Zootopia Script Teardown - Judy's Monologue Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Judy Monologue  •   Read Full Scene

Judy is emphasizing the importance of personal change. She sought out to change others, when she herself needed to grow as a person. The hypocrisy of telling others what’s wrong with them while not addressing your own flaws is a timeless lesson for us all.

Another great Zootopia quote comes from Nick. It happens rather quickly, but there is an important lesson to be learned when he says: “Never let ‘em see that they get to you.”

Zootopia Script Teardown - Nick's Line Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Nick's Line  •   Read Full Scene

This was a pivotal moment for Nick, as this is the point in the story when he actually started liking Judy. It’s also an important lesson in obtaining self-confidence.

Judy is constantly being mistreated because she is a bunny. Nick wants to encourage her to be who she is and not let others define her. Here are some other memorable lines from Zootopia :

  • But just 211 miles away stands the great city of Zootopia! Where our ancestors first joined together in peace, and declared that anyone can be anything! Thank you and good night!
  • I’ve got three items on the docket. First... we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Francine, happy birthday.
  • Sir, I’m not just some “token” bunny.
  • It’s called a hustle, sweetheart. And I’m not the liar, he is.
  • Actually, it’s your word against yours. And if you want this pen, you’re going to help me find this poor missing otter or the only place you’ll be selling popsicles is the prison cafeteria. It’s called a hustle, sweetheart.
  • What? Are you saying that because he’s a sloth, he can’t be fast? I thought in Zootopia anyone could be anything.
  • I uh, I may have sold him a very expensive wool rug... that was made from the fur of a... skunk’s butt.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #4

How humor softens tone in zootopia.

It would not be a Disney story unless it had charming and humorous characters, and the Zootopia script is no exception. Judy, Nick, and the others use humor in clever ways to help make adult themes a bit easier to understand for kids.

Criminals, corruption, the Mafia — ideal subjects for any children's movie, right? Those topics are certainly beyond the purview on animated movies aimed at kids. But that doesn't mean they must be avoided either. What the  Zootopia script does really well is make "adult themes" accessible and appropriate for the younger demographic.

For example, in this scene, Nick is pulling a hustle that Judy interrupts. This introduces her to the criminal element of the city, without making Zootopia’ s plot too dark and not family-friendly. Like any protagonist bound by a strong moral compass, Judy confronts him in this scene.

Zootopia Script Teardown - Nick's Hustle Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Nick’s Hustle  •   Read Full Scene

The uses of jumbo popsicles and cute costumes ironically pairs up well with the hustle. Rather than coming off as a complete jerk, Nick is portrayed as cunning and charming.

Nick’s Hustle

Later on, Judy and Nick have to deal with the Zootopia equivalent of the Mafia. In reality, this should be a terrifying experience, but any fear of the polar bear bodyguards is undercut by a shrew named Mr. Big.

Zootopia Script Teardown - Mafia Parody Scene - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Mafia Parody  •   Read Full Scene

Zootopia’ s clever writing and humor makes the characters fun, memorable and likable. Even the more unscrupulous characters have positive attributes to them. A story with great characters makes for a much more entertaining read.

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Zootopia Movie Review

Updated 10 August 2022

Subject Movies

Downloads 59

Category Entertainment

Topic Movie Analysis ,  Movie Review ,  Movie Summary ,  Zootopia

In this Disney animated film, a mammal metropolis is transformed into a vibrant, colorful city. Judy Hopps is the city's first rabbit police officer and quickly learns the challenges of enforcing the law. When a mysterious case comes her way, Judy jumps at the chance to solve it and team up with the wily fox Nick Wilde. However, she may have more questions than answers. Judy Hopps The movie follows the adventures of Judy Hopps, a police rabbit in the mammal city of Zootopia. When she joins the police force for the first time, she learns just how tough enforcing the law can be. When an intriguing case presents itself, she jumps at the chance to solve it, even if it means teaming up with a wily fox named Nick Wilde. The Origin of an Animal Tale If you've read the talking pig book, "Babe," you'll already be familiar with the plot of the movie. The main message of this animated film is to never judge a person by their looks. This theme is also central to the movie, which tackles issues such as bullying, prejudice, and discrimination. As you'll see, Zootopia is a touching film for all ages. 3D glasses Despite their enticing color palette, 3D glasses do not add anything to the Zootopia movie review. The gorgeous landscapes, adorable characters and exceptional animation are enough reasons to watch the film without 3D glasses. Moreover, children will enjoy the film more if they do not have to wear the glasses. Weighing the pros and cons of 3D technology is an important step to take before purchasing your next set of 3D glasses. Racism Racism is a persistent and pervasive problem in contemporary society, and this Disney film allegorically addresses this issue. French philosopher Michel Foucault described racism as "a primal struggle" rooted in the discourse of racial purity. From its early focus on military dominance to its current preoccupation with the pseudo-hygienic segregation of racial groups, racism has evolved into a societal system that is closely connected with National Socialism. Zootopia captures these tendencies, and even links them to the Nazi state. Sexism This movie is full of misogynistic themes. In spite of winning an Oscar for best animated feature, Zootopia celebrates the privileges of male animals while undermining and insulting Judy. The movie is a strong example of how sexism works. It shows how a society can make decisions for its members based on their gender identity. A movie that does not acknowledge its sexism is a bad movie. Conversational humor Is Zootopia a great film? Well, yes and no. Though this Disney animation film stumbled on its social issues, it is still a charming, playful, and funny experience that should be enjoyed by kids and parents alike. Themes of nature versus nurture, equality, and human rights are all part of the movie's theme.

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This film is definitely fun for kids, but parents should take care not to over-stretch themselves, as there's plenty of themes to get under a child's skin.

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Home / Essay Samples / Entertainment / Movies / Zootopia

Zootopia Essay Examples

The theme of predator and prey distinctions in zootopia.

In the film Zootopia, a major theme is the classification of characters in the category of predator and prey, with the feral or predatory characters being viewed as a danger to the society. The film faces a challenge in effectively exhibiting this to audiences through...

The Role of Voice in the Film Zootopia

Zootopia is an animated comedy film produced by Walt Disney Studios. It was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. The movie stars actors Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and Jenny Slate. The movie tells the story of an unlikely partnership between a rabbit...

Organizational Behavior Concepts in the Film Zootopia

Disney’s animated blockbuster, Zootopia, takes place in a world where animals behave like humans. The story is about a rabbit and a fox who work together to solve the mystery of the fourteen missing mammals in their city. One of the protagonists in the film...

Discriminatory Ideology in the Movie Zootopia

Zootopia, the 2016 animation Disney masterpiece, is the perfect symbolism of the modern myth about a contemporary multiethnic society, where all the animals, prays and predators, live together in peace, in a perfectly functioning society where each animal has its place in economy, politics and...

Analysis of Societal Issues in the Film Zootopia

In spite of the overwhelming success of the film, Zootopia was originally supposed to have a completely different protagonist. The movie was going to revolve around Nick Wilde and his journey of proving he didn’t commit a crime he was framed for. All of the...

The Comparison of Little Red Riding Hood and Zootopia

Stories change over time depending on the time period, context, and audience for which a text was written. Texts are retold in order to show the challenges that arise in the modern era in a way that resonates well with the audience. Little Red Riding...

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