Prejudice and Stereotypes in The 2016 Disney Movie "Zootopia"

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Words: 1493 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Nov 15, 2018

Words: 1493|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Nov 15, 2018

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 culture. But as in every society considered balanced, there are also hidden conceals in the system: the prejudices and stereotypes that the two social groups nourish against each other, and the discriminatory ideology that those concepts carry along with them.

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An ideology, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a "system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy, the set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual" or more in general, "a visionary speculation, especially of an unrealistic or idealistic nature." Karl Marx, a German philosopher and revolutionary political socialist theorist, defined every ideology as a superstructure of the society, as a social projection of a cultural consciousness: consequently, a dominant ideology is the reflection of the ruling class conception, and can be created and shaped in many ways.

In Zootopia, we can see the ideology of this utopian system formed mostly through the representation of its individuals. The easiest way to depict representation is probably through stereotypes and prejudices, in the movie as in real life. The world stereotype comes from Greek STEREOS (rigid) and TUPOS (footprint), and can be described as a belief, a very simplified image shared in a collective level of a social category, generalized and often exaggerated, in which identical attributes are given to all members of a group without taking into considerations the differences between the members.

A prejudice in the same way, is a pre-established illogical and irrational way of presenting certain individuals or groups without rational justification, a way imposed by the environment and the education system, and based on traditional or common convictions. As shown in the artifact, Zootopia does a great job not presenting any of the social classes (the animal "species") as a particular social class in the real world, but it still presents the issues related to them: preys outnumber predators, but are also seen as weaker: for example, the main character of the cartoon, police force Judy, has difficulties in succeeding in her job, since she is in the discriminatory role of prey and female. In the same way, the population of Zootopia doesn't trust Nick, the other main character, since he’s considered a sly and trickster fox, and nothing more.

Those ways of representing the world are individual constructs that leads to a negative predispositions to groups that are not ours (the "outgroups": a prey in Zootopia can see the predators’ outgroup as dangerous and not trustworthy), or a protective image of our own "ingroup" (a prey may reconognize another prey as civilized and rightful, but not a predator). This happens because people increase self esteem by identifying themselves with a specific social ingroup, but only if they perceive it superior to others: the ingroup often sees as devious, morally inferior and potentially threatening to their values the members of the outgroups. For this reason, it’s created an homogeneous group of outsiders of the ingroup: since we are more familiar to our ingroup, we tend to distinguish members of our group in many aspects, while members of outgroups are typed and homogeneous.

This causes a diversity of judgment, usually more negative and with greater abstraction and generality towards the outgroups: and it can lead to an illusory correlation, a non-existent association between belonging to a certain category and some attribute of a single person belonging to the same group. For example, since 9/11, the correlation on medias between the words "Muslims" - "enemy", and "immigrants" - "fear", increased of the 100%, inducing the readers to create an illusory correlation between the two. In the movie, some of the predators were secretly drugged by Bellwether (a sheep, a prey, that wants to take over the government, lead by a lion, a predator). This drug makes the predators go savage and extremely aggressive, and the oblivious population of preys is lead to think that every predator is dangerous through an illusory correlation, and since the preys outnumber the predators, the sheep can eventually take the power over the lion.

We can say that the predators are used as scapegoats by Bellwether to succeed in her political career, nothing that we haven’t seen before. After World War II many social psychologists studied stereotypes, prejudices and illusory correlations to explain the Shoah and to understand the psychological processes underlying the scapegoat phenomena. This mechanism can in fact be explained by two theories: the frustration-aggression theory of Dollar, and authoritarian personality theory of Adorno. They explain that people, when they are frustrated, can not reach a pre-determined goal, or unhappy and unsatisfied, tend to show more aggression against more unpopular, less visible, and marginal outgroups, which have the function of scapegoat, dispelling aggression towards those weaker social group, exactly how the preys behave when they feel unsafe around predators, attacking them not as dangerous individuals, but as a dangerous and inferior outgroup.

Scapegoats situations are usually generated and spread by authoritarian personalities, and as the philosopher Hannah Arendt explains in her work "The Banality of Evil", those individuals are dominated by rigid and dogmatic thought, succubi of a probable severe family education, and a relative tendency to follow higher orders, authoritarian figures that are symbolic reproduction of parents, and those individuals are often miserable ethnocentric and conservative beliefs, exactly how the character of Bellwether the sheep is presented. An individual that is in this sense an authoritarian subject, channels through prejudices and stereotypes anger, spreading it into the public, and brainwashing the audience with a series of political and social attitudes coherent with these tendencies.

As a result of that, there are some groups that end up being considered extremely negative, especially after individual events linked to those outgroups (all the predators are considered dangerous after a few predators started to attack) and they start to be delegitimized, constantly excluded, and not allowed to get in contact with other groups. The desire for the ingroup to elevate their group, added to the illusory sense of threat perceived from the outgroup, creates a very simplified and division between good and evil, reducing individual complexity to a dualistic dichotomy as right and wrong, and this can lead to a dehumanization of the individuals of the outgroup, that are deprived of their humanity: this leads to socially exclusion initially (as we all know, this happened with the Jews in WWII, through an Antisemitic Legislation in 1930s, and similar laws are introduced against the predators in the movie as well ) and can finish in social atrocity (the Shoah during WWII, and represented in the movie through the use of a muzzle, that in the original idea was an electric collar, against the predators).

A stereotype is also very difficult to change. It’s protected by cognitive, linguistic and behavioral processes that make it very resistant to change. If we experience something that is against the stereotype, it can be seen as an exception to the rule. (For example, Judy says that Nick is not "that kind of predator", generalizing that all predators are dangerous, but Nick is an exception). The way to change a stereotype, and in consequences the way to change an ideology to reach equality, may be an accumulation of information that contradicts it with repeated consistency, but is not always that efficient.

One of the best ways to cancel a prejudice is experienced by Judy: by personal contact, or by acknowledging an individual as on its own (Nick), and not as one of the members of its outgroup ("a predator"). The second way is instead experienced by the media in Zootopia: the impact of a very strong information that radically change the ingroup mindset (Bellwether was lying, the predators go savage because of a drug, they are not actually dangerous).

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In conclusion, experienced by the whole society, there is a lesson about humanistic culture, the acknowledging of every class in a globalized system, and the message that we should appreciate each other looking for a common purpose: equality. Prejudices and stereotypes are not phenomenas on their own, but are supported and reinforced by thoughts, associations, emotions or laws; the challenge for the future is to incorporate the many complexities that these phenomena involve, without forgetting the social and civil responsibility that everyone should have, not only in denouncing what doesn’t work, but in trying to change our interpretations of the world, our patterns. To build a decent world we must learn to empathize, to understand the people living beyond our borders and to question ourselves. With empathy, we will acquire the ability to understand others’ perspective, and this is precisely the main tool provided to overcome our preconceptions and boundaries: this, is the great solution against inequality.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Prejudice and Stereotypes in the 2016 Disney Movie “Zootopia”. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
“Prejudice and Stereotypes in the 2016 Disney Movie “Zootopia”.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
Prejudice and Stereotypes in the 2016 Disney Movie “Zootopia”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 Apr. 2024].
Prejudice and Stereotypes in the 2016 Disney Movie “Zootopia” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2024 Apr 19]. Available from:
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