Judy and Nick, the two protagonists of 'Zootopia,' are showcased. (Image courtesy of Mike Mozart / Flickr)
Orange County School of the Arts

Review: ‘Zootopia’ is a deep demonstration of American racism — relevant to the recent BLM movement

“Zootopia” is an animated Pixar movie that depicts a bunny police officer as its protagonist in the fictional city of Zootopia. This is a place where all animals, predators and prey, have evolved and live together in harmony, living out their lives in whatever way they want to. Or, so we think.

The story progresses as Judy and her newfound partner, Nick, work to solve a case on a missing animal which turns out to be something much more sinister.

It may seem a little strange, reviewing a movie that came out all the way back in 2016 — however, in this review, I wanted to look at this film from the perspective of the current events in the United States. Specifically, the Black Lives Matter movement which has escalated in the forms of protests and huge media coverage recently.

You may also ask how a film primarily made for children can be reflective of such complex and serious issues in our real world today. I thought the same thing four years ago when I watched the movie for the first time when it came out. However, watching “Zootopia” now, as a high school student rather than a child, helped me to see the film from a much different view and the meaningful similarities with the real world, which I want to share in this review.

Firstly, “Zootopia” hugely tackles the topic of prejudice. As a part of the film’s worldbuilding, although the city of Zootopia seems to be full of possibilities and equal opportunities for all on the surface, it is revealed that there are deeply ingrained stereotypes on identity — the animals treat and think of each other differently in subtle ways on the basis of biological identity. A clear example of this is in the character Nick.

As a fox, Nick is introduced as a sly and unkind scammer. However, it is illustrated later on that Nick was mistreated once as a child, when animals (who were all prey) bullied him for wanting to join a Boys Scouts sort of group as a fox — putting a muzzle on him, calling him a fox who could never be a part of their group which strived to do good. This all came together to show that because of that incident, Nick decided that he couldn’t fight against the stereotype which confined him and instead chose to just embody it because he had no other choice.

This film, setting and theme of prejudice described above can be easily compared to current-day America and the topics of racism that have rapidly risen. Of course, not every aspect of the plot and movie overlaps with real life.

However, similarly to how Nick had preconceptions built around him, despite America’s strong themes of equality and freedom, it has been revealed there are numerous stigmas around minority groups such as the Black community through media and the BLM movement.

In relation, “Zootopia” also demonstrates the dangers and pain of preconceptions. In the plot, predators, who are biologically aggressive and the minority in the Zootopia population, start to go “savage” like the prehistoric times. This new development, which Judy and Nick investigate, fosters hostility from the prey towards the predators even if they show no signs of violence.

The city is shown as being torn apart by the divide between the two animal groups and specifically, the oppression towards the minority predator group. There are protests happening in the city, the two animal groups don’t act the same way towards each other anymore, predators are being mistreated, etc. The future can be seen as being shaped in a negative direction.

Again, this shows major correlations with what has been happening recently. Since the event of George Floyd’s death by police brutality, the racism which had been occurring towards the Black community has been brought to light and a huge movement, the BLM movement, has been greatly active. The discrimination against Black people based on prejudice has been diverging it as more and more cases of it (such as police brutality videos, statistics, etc.) are being revealed, showing the need even more for real equality.

This necessity is also portrayed in “Zootopia,” as Judy tries her best to uncover the mystery of why predators were turning “savage” in order to clear their name and for the gap between prey and predators to be eliminated.

Therefore, “Zootopia” can be reflective of what is happening in the United States in the current world. Going farther from that, “Zootopia” is also greatly relevant because it shows us that we are not who we are defined as by physical identity to be but of who we are inside and the kind of society we should strive to be as a result.

To elaborate, “Zootopia” demonstrates that Nick, as a fox, is not actually so sly but a kind-hearted individual as the relationship between him and Judy develops.

In addition, the film also shows that Judy is not just a “dumb bunny” like she was stereotyped as but an intelligent and determined police officer who figured out the mystery of the predator targeting. Both characters end up becoming police officers in the end, which was an occupation all of society told them they couldn’t be previously because of their animal identities.

Moreover, to emphasize the motif of internal identity rather than physical identity, in one scene specifically, the movie makes a point in that a bunny, believed and claimed as unable to go savage by Judy because of the cute and fluffy bunny stereotype, actually did once become extremely violent and predatory in contrast.

This allows the audience to conclude that it’s not the type of species (physical identity) you are which dictates your actions but what you decide to do internally and that the predators’ biology was not what made them savage, but an outside force which had nothing to do with them.

Another way “Zootopia” is also chiefly relevant now is because it has a huge police aspect. The background of our protagonist, Judy, is that she is a new police officer in Zootopia. However, she is seen regretting her announcement of the animal savagery, specifically towards predators, after the publication of predator savagery because it caused discrimination against predators.

She instead wants equity again for all Zootopia citizens. This, along with her illustrated values as a police officer — conscientious, hardworking, impartial, etc. — can demonstrate what “good” police look like. In the context of the current fight against police brutality, it can lead the call for change in the nation’s law enforcement system in the right direction now, when police brutality is a huge controversy across the nation.

I really recommend watching “Zootopia,” especially now. Personally, as an overall film, it packaged its surprising depth in a humorous kids’ film with a strong storyline and characters. Because of this and just its overall comedy, I truly enjoyed “Zootopia.” 

Having watched it in the context of today’s events, I believe it greatly reflects what we as a nation should endeavor to become in light of current social issues.