Thursday, March 2, 2017

Disney Films: Zootopia- The Persistent Problem of a Perfect World

For decades, nay centuries, mankind has sought a perfect world where we can all live in peace with one another. Where we all get along, look out for each other's best interests, and appreciate each other's differences.

Turns out, humans aren't the only ones interested in a utopia. Animals are, too. At least, they are in the Disney fantasy world that lives in Zootopia. In this computer animated dimension completely devoid of humans, animals (or more specifically, mammals) have developed a city where predators and their former prey live civilized urban lives in a shining metropolis.
It's always been a dream of young rabbit Judy Hopps to leave her small rural carrot farming town and become a cop to help make the world a little safer in the best city on earth, where "anyone can be anything". Where even a bunny can be a cop.

Not that that's ever happened before. But thanks to, uh...affirmative action on behalf of Zootopia's lion mayor, Judy gets her chance. And she uses all the years of racist...erm...speciesist oppression that's been dumped on her since childhood as fuel in her passionate fire to graduate top of her police academy class.

Sadly, in Zootopia, anyone can't really be anything. Judy may officially be a cop, but her department chief doesn't have time to babysit a tiny rookie bunny in his department full of bears, rhinos, elephants, and other giant mammals. So he sticks her on parking duty, where she can do the least amount of damage to herself and the department's reputation, and he can get back to his 14 missing mammal cases.
While Judy struggles to come to terms with being less than the officer she dreamed of being, she's forced to deal with some of her own internalized racis....um...species-ism when she suspects a fox of shady dealings. At first, Judy berates herself for thinking less of Nick Wilde when he seems to be a decent father just trying to care for his son. But she comes to find out her stereotyping was spot on. Nick is up to some shifty business and Judy is humiliated at having been duped by his nice-guy routine. But when Judy makes a deal with Chief Bogo to solve one of the missing mammal cases in 48 hours or resign from the force entirely, she's forced to team up with Nick as he's her only lead to the victim's last-known whereabouts.

Can Judy overcome the expectations of others and finally be taken seriously as a cop? Is Nick conning Judy yet again? Can a leopard...or a fox...really change its spots? And is a utopia, animal or otherwise, ever possible?
The short answer is: no. Emphatically no. Utopia, Zootopia, whatever you call it, isn't possible on this earth. At least, not under the current circumstances. But more on that later.

I suppose the first thing I was really surprised by was how adult this film is. Not in violent or sexual ways. Though...it's not completely devoid of that. After all, this is basically a buddy cop movie for kids, with underworld contacts, mafia families, drug deals, political corruption, and following a lead to a nudist colony. For animals, of course, but still.

But it also touches on a lot of very current adult issues. The distrust between cops and civilians, racism, affirmative action, tokenism, and mass protesting. And it really manages to hammer home that you can never judge a book by its cover.

On the one hand, Nick, for all his shadiness, has only become so after becoming disillusioned with life thanks to prejudice against his predator status as a fox. "If the world's only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there's no point in being anything else." He's got a good heart. He just let circumstances dictate his personality for far too long. It takes Judy's naïve innocence and passion for justice to draw him out of his callous shell.
You know. More or less...
On the other, seemingly sweet Assistant Mayor Bellwether is tired of being treated like the sheep she is. Well, she's not cowering in a herd anymore. She's out for revenge against all predators, and she'll take out anyone that gets in her way, even fellow prey animals like Judy.

In spite of all that heavy artillery, though, the movie manages to come off as lighthearted and fun. My favorite bits center around Nick and Judy's witty repartee and all of the scenes dealing with Flash, the sloth who works at the DMV. (Odd that a movie that bashes stereotypes also thrives on laughable stereotypes.)

At the end of it all, Judy confesses that while Zootopia isn't the utopia she thought it was, it's still a pretty nice place to live. There will always be bad guys who don't want peace and harmony so much as they want power, money, revenge, or just to hurt others. But there will always be good guys out there to try and stop them, restoring some semblance of balance and justice. Even Chief Bogo confesses this in one of Judy's darkest hours.

"I came here to make the world a better place, but I think I broke it," Judy laments. Her boss replies solemnly, "Don't give yourself so much credit, Hopps. The world has always been broken, that's why we need good cops. Like you."

Indeed, the world has always been broken. At least, since a couple God placed in a garden decided they wanted to become gods themselves. But must it always be broken? Can we tap into the goodness in all of us and bring about the utopia we've been craving for ages? Disney bravely answers that question with, "No." And once again, coming from Disney, that's a real surprise. Like I said in my Inside Out review, Disney thrives on their "happiest place on earth" code. They strive to make their theme parks as perfect a place as you can find. But the healthy dose of reality contained in this film is refreshing.

Life can be a mess. And sometimes, you just have to make the best of a bad situation. You cling to truth and justice. You don't judge without knowing all the facts. And you work to live beyond the expectations of others to make the world a slightly better place. But there is no perfect world. And there never will be.

Well, not quite. Our human efforts can never eradicate the sin in the world, but there will come a utopia one day. A day when all will live in unity and the lion will lie down with the lamb. But only when the Lion who is the Lamb sits on the throne of eternity. Then, and only then, will every knee bow before Him. Then, and only then, will there be peace.