Zootopia is the witty story of young bunny Judy Hopps who travels to the big city, Zootopia, to pursue her dream of being a police officer. She wants to make a difference in the world, but that’s harder than she thought. Still, through hard work, character, a lot of determination, and an abundance of energy Judy does help Zootopia and its citizens in big ways. It’s a great, fun movie with a lot of very practical applications to real life.
I watched this movie with a young teenager and want to show you a little of the discussion we had about the movie after in hopes that it will help you in your own discussions. But first, let me give you a little more movie background in case you haven’t seen it.
Judy’s parents want her to give up on her dreams of being a police officer (there’d never been a bunny officer before) and instead follow in the footsteps of all bunnies and become a carrot farmer, enjoying the quiet family life in the country. She was determined.
At the academy, she was constantly opposed. Bunnies weren’t cops, after all. She passed the academy, but it didn’t get easier. The police chief didn’t take her seriously and relegated her to meter-maid, ticketing cars. Finally, the assistant mayor, a female lamb, intervened and helped her get an actual missing persons case. She was often sticking up for Judy, saying the little people had to stick together.
One thing you need to understand about Zootopia, it’s a place where predator and prey have learned to get along. There is no longer predator nor prey, but rather citizens of Zootopia. All are equal. Well, Judy’s missing persons case turned out to be connected to a string of missing persons, all predators. And when she found them, they were all acting rabid, frankly. They were not the kind-hearted animals they had been—fathers, business animals, etc… They were wild, predatorial, ready to kill.
Judy was celebrated for finding the missing persons, but then, in her interview with the press, her answers had some serious consequences. Bellweather had simply suggested that maybe the animals were simply responding to their DNA, returning to their predator roots. Maybe they couldn’t help it. Judy, completely innocently, repeated this possibility as the press asked her why the animals were acting wild. She had no idea the consequences of her answer. All of Zootopia turned upside down. All predators were treated with fear and suspicion, removed from places of authority and replaced by prey animals. What if they can’t be anything other than a predator, after all? Judy hadn’t realized the power of what she was suggesting. She also hadn’t realized that within her was still a seed of doubt and fear about the trustworthiness of predators around her. She thought she saw all animals equally, but when Bellweather suggested that maybe predators were returning to their true nature, suddenly Judy had a twinge of doubt about her best friend Nick (a fox).
In the end, Judy discovered that this was all a plot by Bellweather. She had felt suppressed by predators, “underestimated, underappreciated”, and she took her revenge by infecting various predators with a poison that made them wild. She wanted power, and removing predators put her in power. She then planted the idea that maybe this was simply the real nature of the predators, and watched that little seed of fear grow. “Fear always works,” she said. Of course, Judy overcame fear with truth and Zootopia was restored.
Two Perspectives, Same Movie
When asked what she thought the general message of the movie was, my friend talked about how empowering it was. Judy didn’t give up on her dreams. She worked hard. She didn’t let anything hold her back or tell her what she could or couldn’t be.
That message is totally there, in the movie. Great insight! We could have delved deeper into that, had we had the time. Like I could have asked her what her dreams were. Where did she think those dreams came from? Does she think she was created with a purpose and/or a specific destiny? Why or why not? If so, where does she think that destiny comes from? Then I could have talked to her about how the Bible says that God created her, formed her, and had good works in mind for her to do.
She asked me about my perspective though, so we moved on to that. I shared that I thought it was really a movie about racism and prejudice, and reverse-prejudice. Judy and Bellweather were limited because those in power didn’t think they were capable. They may not have persecuted them, eaten them, hurt them, but they also didn’t see them as equals. They’d made a lot of progress towards become a society of equals, but those roots still ran deep.
Bellweather and Judy responded to that differently. Bellweather was angry and bitter about being “underestimated, underappreciated” and she decided to get revenge. Judy, however, responded with grace and worked even harder to earn respect and get the recognition she deserved. She didn’t get bitter, instead she became more motivated to be excellent. She had such a generous heart. She wanted to be the best she could be, but she didn’t feel a need to take down predators in the process. Bellweather, however, wanted to hurt all predators. She instilled in her fellow prey animals a sense of fear and hate towards predators. She fostered doubt and gave people reason to turn unfairly on each other not because of any of their actions, but rather because of their DNA.
Nick, a fox who becomes Judy’s help and friend, talked about his own struggle with prejudice. For all their claims in Zootopia about animals living equally, foxes still got a bad rap. People assumed they were all a bit sly. Nick was like Judy when he was little. He had great ambition to go into law enforcement and to do good in the world. He worked hard to join a boy-scouts-type organization as a child, a stepping stone to his future dreams. The boys cruelly refused him admittance though. Nick explained to Judy, “I learned two things that day. 1. I was never gonna let anyone see that they got to me. 2. If the world was only gonna see that I’m shifty and untrustworthy, then there’s no point in being anything else.” Sadly, this is how so many respond to being unfairly judged, to being a victim of prejudice. They become exactly what is expected of them, because no one will let them become anything else.
Those are the three responses you see in victims of prejudice. Some let it define them. Others get angry and hostile and take revenge. And only a few, the Martin Luther Kings and Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinsons of the world, rise above it and respond with grace. They prove the haters and the judgers wrong by becoming excellent instead.
Ok, to be honest, I didn’t go into quite that much detail. She’d seen the movie so I didn’t have to explain, and I’ve refined and expanded my thoughts a little with time. But she didn’t need me to unpack it all for her. Just exploring the idea of the movie as a metaphor for racism and prejudice with her was enough. She was actually amazed. She hadn’t thought of it like that, but when I said it, she saw it. Her interpretation was spot on, but this was another, perhaps deeper layer to consider. I could have gone deeper with her on this too. I could have talked about the history of the church and how Jesus came to break down the walls of race and class. I could have talked about how Paul started taking the gospel to the Gentiles, about how in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). I didn’t. I just planted the seed, and sometimes that’s enough.
If there’s one thing the movie shows us, it’s the power of just one subtle suggestion. Bellweather subtly suggested to Judy that the problem could be a matter of biology. That took root. Judy then repeated that small suggestion to the news. All of Zootopia was upended because of it. Suggestion is a powerful, powerful thing. It can do great harm…but the right suggestion can also do great good. This is why I didn’t need to go further with my young friend in that moment. Sometimes you just say/suggest a thing or two and then step back and watch as that idea grows.
Questions for Discussion:
- What did you think was the main idea/lesson of the movie?
- What dreams do you have? Have they been supported or discouraged by those around you?
- Where do you think your dreams/ambitions come from?
- How powerful were Bellweather’s words (her suggestion) that the predators couldn’t help but act like predators?
- Have you ever suggested anything (like Judy did) and found that it hurt people?
- Do you believe that our biology determines who we are and how we behave? Or can we be different and/or more than our DNA?
- How did Bellweather, Judy and Nick all respond to the same forces of prejudice differently? Who had the best response? Which response is the one you would be most likely to take?
One other thing I just can’t let pass by. In a world where people are saying they “can’t help it, it’s who they are”, I love that this movie staunchly suggests that we are more than our biology and that we CAN overcome our nature. Bunnies can become heroes. Predators can change their diets and resist their urges to eat others. Foxes can be trustworthy. It’s a very non-PC message, frankly. It’s inspirational, and daring and probably they couldn’t pull it off in anything other than a cartoon without a heap of backlash…but it’s there. And it’s the message of Christ. He saves us. We don’t have to be enslaved by our former passions anymore. We don’t have to sin. We can be more than that, better than that, freed from that. Amen! And please, let us not hinder each other in that process. When a fox shows up and says he wants to join the club, (so to speak), let us encourage him to be more than the typical fox and hope and pray for him along the way as we welcome him to the club.