Brief thoughts on Zootopia

At the risk of sounding like a embittered old man, an observation on society:  the word “cool” is one of those words to which it’s difficult to assign a specific definition, as it’s usually used as shorthand for “I express approval of this thing,” rather than being used to assign a universally agreed attribute.  However, one of the better ways of describing what most people mean by this, at least as the word is represented in popular culture – and here I’m thinking of pop stars, or perhaps any Kardashian – is that the definition has a lot to do with the attribute of not visibly wanting something.  Wanting something risky, and working hard to get it, is not seen as particularly cool, and not caring (or at least pretending to) is one of the easier ways that we have of protecting ourselves – and, not coincidentally, of appearing to be cool.

A complete rejection of this way of thinking is one of the reasons that Zootopia is such an interesting movie, and I’m looking forward to the inevitable thinkpieces and long-form reviews that will eventually come out about it.  (It’s movies like this that make me aware of how much I miss Grantland.)  I would expect that most of the talk will center around the deft treatment of racism and sexism in the movie; this is for obvious and appropriate reasons.  There are a few remarkable scenes:  Judy has to repeatedly deal with people not taking her seriously, the police press conference in which Hopps speculates that a certain demographic is more likely to “go savage” is a remarkable scene for a kids’ movie, and while kids may find it easy to understand how this is a terrible experience for Nick, adults are probably more likely to draw the parallels between this and, well, actual press conferences.

strong independent bunny

Judy Hopps

What may be comparatively unappreciated is the role model that is Judy Hopps.  Most of the Disney movies that I grew up watching didn’t have strong female leads, and to the extent that women were featured, getting married was pretty much the happy ending that heroines could expect.  This is not really where Zootopia is headed.  One of the reasons why Hopps is such a compelling character is neatly summed up by Shakira’s “Try Everything,” which is on Hopps’s iPawed 1, and which does not fit the mold of the typical animated Disney anthem.

“I wanna try even though I could fail”

Yeah.  That’s not cool, at least in the pejorative way I’m defining it.  Judy visibly wants something.  Multiple somethings, in fact:  to be the first rabbit cop, to make the world a better place, and to be reconciled with her friend.

“I’ll keep on making those new mistakes
I’ll keep on making them every day
Those new mistakes”

Mistakes aren’t cool, and Judy makes a whopper of one, but is able to bounce back.  A better life lesson than “Let it Go,” perhaps.

Maybe it’s not surprising that an animated bunny is one of the better role models out there, but there it is.  I hope this isn’t the last that we see of Judy and Nick:  Zootopia feels like a world that’s constructed carefully enough that there would be enough room for a sequel.


  1. I’m hoping that’s what she calls it

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