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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 predators wear forced to wear tame collars that shocked them anytime they felt any emotions that prey would find dangerous. In the last year of production, the producers changed their mind, deciding that Nick’s character seemed too unlikable. Changing the main character to Judy Hopps, a very friendly and likable bunny, would help to make their message about the discrimination the animals face in Zootopia clearer. Through the actions and struggles of the main characters Judy and Nick and those of the predators as a whole, Zootopia is able to implicitly portray current societal issues, teaching the Disney demographic about these issues.
Zootopia is a movie about two undervalued animals, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, who are trying to earn the respect that they deserve. Along the way, they are faced with many different hardships that impact their ability to be successful. The main plot of this movie revolves around Judy trying to prosper as the first rabbit to join the police force. Everyone, including her parents, thinks that she shouldn’t try to pursue this dream. She does anyway, and is instantly met with failure, as she almost gets fired for trying to stand up for herself. She is given 48 hours to find a missing otter who went savage, with practically no evidence. In order to find this otter she has to team up with Nick, a fox who makes a living by swindling others. They spend their time trying to figure out the reason behind only predators going savage, despite they fact that everyone believes it is because it is in their blood. They eventually find out that the assistant mayor, a lamb, was making predators go savage using night howlers to force the mayor, a lion, out of office so she could get the power she deserved. Judy and Nick face many adversities during this process, allowing the demographic, both kids and parents, to learn about what is causing them to struggle, and how it applies to today’s world.
Judy Hopps’s struggle to become a well-respected police officer helps Zootopia portray the issues with today’s education system and job market. Judy was the valedictorian at the police academy that she attended. She worked very hard to be at the top of the class, despite being told she could never be a police officer. Once she graduated, she got a job at the Zootopia Police Department (ZPD). On her first day of the job, she wasn’t really even acknowledged. Her chief of police, Chief Bogo, said at the daily briefing that “there are some new recruits with us I should introduce, but I’m not going to, because I don’t care”. This was Judy’s first taste of the disrespect she was going to receive, despite having great academic success. According to Beaudine et al., “the idea that is some simply worked harder, they would be more successful, seems to be a driving force in Hopps’s story line… Even with the academic and professional success, Hopps remains an afterthought on the Zootopia police force”. Judy did not let her stereotype bring her down, she used it as fuel to try to prove everyone wrong; she succeeded by graduating at the top of her class. Even though she was one of the best cops the in ZPD, she was still underappreciated. On the first day, she was assigned parking duty because everyone considered her “a dumb bunny” and didn’t think that she could handle a real case. When she confronted her boss by saying “You probably forgot, but I was top of my class at the Academy”, he replied, “Didn’t forget. Just don’t care”. This really shows the issues that minorities have in the job market. Judy had all of the qualifications she needed to work on the missing mammal case, but because she was a minority, no one cared about her achievements. This is happening with minorities all across American today; African Americans, Hispanics, and Latino’s are having a difficult time earning respect by their coworkers, even though they are qualified to be doing the job. Zootopia is able to teach its viewers about this issue, without actually telling them about it. A kid watching this wouldn’t understand why Judy was so underappreciated. But throughout the movie, they can see that the other animals all just believe that a bunny becoming a police officer is something that shouldn’t be done. They are able to learn that it was wrong for the animals to assume that because Judy ended up being a very successful cop.
Judy’s actions as a police officers help to teach Zootopia’s viewers about the problems with our police system. Towards the beginning of the movie, Nick was just innocently walking into a popsicle shop while Judy was doing parking duty. Judy saw Nick, and instantly started to follow him. Before joining the ZPD, Judy was warned by her parents about the dangers of foxes and how they were untrustworthy, so Judy just assumed that Nick was doing something illegal. This represents the issues with the police department today. Some police just assume that minorities, particularly African Americans, are always doing something illegal. According to Kirsten Weir of the American Psychological Association, “The probability of being black, unarmed and shot by police is about 3.5 times the probability of being white, unarmed and shot by police”. In some of these instances, the black people weren’t even doing anything wrong, they police just assumed that they were. This is exactly what Judy was doing to Nick, even though she may not have realized it. Not only was Judy biased against foxes, she also exploited the law. Judy needed to get more information about Night Howlers, the flower that was being used to make the predators go savage, so she tried to get information from Duke Weaselton. When Duke refuses to tell her what he knows, she used the threat of icing him. This involved going to get help from Mr. Big, a well-known criminal, and having him hold Duke over a pit of ice, dropping him in it if he wouldn’t talk. Judy was threatening him with death, and this is completely against the law. This can represent how police think that they can do whatever is necessary just because that have power. Just like David Crewe stated in his article “Animal Harm: Discrimination and Difference in Zootopia”, this is “about as clear-cut an example of police brutality as one can imagine, even including conspiring with organized criminals”; so not only did she break the law by threating Duke with death, she also worked with a criminal in the process. All of these unethical actions Judy took as a police officer can teach kids about the unethical actions of our police officers. They will see that it was wrong for Judy to assume Nick was doing something bad because of the type of animal he is, implicitly showing them that it is wrong for police to assume someone is doing something illegal, just because of the color of their skin. The viewers will also learn about police using immoral forces, such as threats, to try to get information they need.
Nick’s struggles as a predator in a world full of prey help represent the dangers of stereotyping. As a child, Nick wanted to join the Junior Ranger Scouts. He was so excited to finally be apart of something after being shunned as a child for just being a fox. When telling Judy about this, he said “by God, I was gonna fit in. Even if I was the only predator in the troop”. This happiness quickly ended when he was muzzled by the members of his group because they could never “trust a fox without a muzzle”. At this point, Nick realized that he would never be seen as anything other than an untrustworthy fox, thus showing the dangers of stereotypes. As David Crewe stated in his article, “…in a flashback to Nick’s past as an eager young scout betrayed and muzzled by his prey peer. This kind of blatant bigotry — both instances which are directed at foxes—is offered up as kind of an explanation for Nick’s morally dubious lifestyle”. Nick being bullied as a child for being a fox is what made him into the swindler he was at the beginning of the movie. He thought “if the world’s only gonna see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point in trying to be anything else”. The parents of Nick’s peers also played a huge role in how Nick turned out. Without their parents there to tell them otherwise, there is no way that the scouts would have known about the stereotype that foxes can’t be trusted. Their parents enforced this on them, making them believe that it was true, without ever having an experience with an untrustworthy fox. This case of parents teaching children stereotypes is also evident with Judy and her parents. Judy’s parents told her over and over that “foxes are the worst” and even gave her fox repellant, fox deterrent, and a fox taser before she left for Zootopia. Even though she didn’t firmly believe this, she still let this information cloud her judgment and was suspicious of Nick when they first met. Nick’s struggles being a fox teaches kids the effects that stereotyping have on people and how if parents didn’t instill these thoughts into their children’s brain, the world be would a more optimistic place. If Nick wouldn’t have been disrespected as a child by the scouts, he would have actually been a part of a group, and perhaps wouldn’t have turned out the way he did. Kids can see that this make Nick very vulnerable, and it wasn’t right for his peers to assume he wasn’t trustworthy. This can also teach the parents watching this film to watch what they say to their children regarding their thoughts on specific groups of people.
Some people may believe that Zootopia doesn’t give its viewers the right idea about certain societal issues. According to Hianly Muljadi in his article “Discrimination in Zootopia: A Critical Reading”, “In this case, the viewer of the movie may see that there is nothing wrong with doing such things because there are more animals doing that than believing that discrimination should be abolished”. This is saying that because the majority of the animals participate in the stereotyping/discrimination, it makes the viewers think it is okay for them to also do so. This is a valid point, but the overall theme of the movie belittles this point. Judy and Nick are able to set their differences aside to come together and fight against stereotypes, proving to everyone that predators weren’t going savage just because it was in their blood. Judy was also able to help her parents learn that it was wrong for them to judge foxes. According to Beaudine et al, “During Hopps’s crisis of identity, her parents demonstrate their newfound appreciation for her playground bully and, in part, reenergize Hopps’s desire to help make Zootopia the utopian place she believes it to be”. Judy defining the stereotype that bunnies cannot be cops and firmly believing that foxes can be trustworthy influences her parents to give foxes a chance, as they eventually hired a fox to deliver for their farm. This shows kids that even though the majority of people are participating in discrimination, it is indeed possible for them to stand up for the people being discriminated and to change other’s opinions on certain stereotypes.
Zootopia is a film that teaches its viewers about societal issues, all while being an overall entertaining movie for families. It educates children about issues minorities face, the ethical issues of our police force, and the discrimination and stereotypes people face. It is also used to educate parents about these issues and how forcing their opinions on their children can have a negative affect on others. If the writers would have went with their original idea to revolve the story around Nick and the tame collars, these messages might not have been so clear. The movie would have been more about segregation in the past, not about current issues. Changing the main character proved to be a good decision, as it allowed Zootopia to give its viewers insight on problems occurring in today’s society, teaching them how to go against the traditional way of thinking.
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