Hey! A G-Rated movie! Not unrated, but full on G! Watch this with kids. (Sure, there are scary parts, but it's also Disney and Disney is weirdly terrifying at times.)
I'm going to establish my evaluative claim first. This movie is absolutely amazing. In college, my theatre professor built his curriculum on the concept that all art should be trying to change the world for the better. I always took things a little farther in the sense that art had a responsibility to be challenging. Perhaps some people will take this as a sign that films need to be controversial. I don't necessarily agree with that, but this film definitely has a bit of controversy hidden beneath its brightly colored exterior.
In many ways, Zootopia is the Black Lives Matter movement of children's films. While not preachy, the story does involve many of the concerns that plague American race relations today. The story surrounds Judy Hopps, the first rabbit police officer in her new position in the city of Zootopia. A victim of species violence as a kid, she wants to right the wrongs that come with being a smaller weaker individual in a city full of dominant species. While she tries her best to be as objective as possible in her new position, her experience with a fox causes her to fear foxes and carry protection against foxes. Her motives are honorable, but her emotions betray her. It is through her partnership with a fox that she learns to grow with people instead of actively trying to change them.
There is quite a bit of plot that shouldn't be revealed here, but thematically, it surrounds the concept that fear causes people to do stupid and dangerous things to society. Knowing how long it takes to make an animated film, I have to wonder if the fine folks at Disney have a supernatural prescience for today's culture. Between violence between the police and the political landscape, perhaps a film like Zootopia needs to be shown.
I'm always nervous about getting kids involved in politics. There's something icky about it. I can't help but criticize myself because Zootopia aligns with many of my political beliefs. When Toy Story came out, there were jokes aimed at adults that kids wouldn't get. I remember people tearing each other apart about whether that was appropriate. The thematic message of Zootopia is overt, but I don't get the vibe that kids will ever get that message until they are older. Does that make it right? I'm not quite sure. But it should be kept in mind when screening this for children. That and the fact that the movie is often very scary.
I love the fact that Judy Hopps is a flawed protagonist. Her flaw doesn't come from a mistake or a choice, but rather from simply existing in a dangerous place. Her intentions are completely noble and nothing she does contrary to the movie's primary message is intentional or even prejudiced necessarily. The movie creates a new character flaw, one that can be found in every one of us. Judy is scared of her job and knows that someone could hurt her. Her natural prejudices are reinforced by the society around her. Sometimes the wrong thing to do isn't necessarily an evil that was committed, but rather the inability to turn off one's natural instincts when the time is right.
For such a politically charged movie, Disney doesn't fail to make the movie fun and entertaining. At the end of the day, Disney knows how to create films for families. The humor is on point without trying too hard. The characters are lovable. My son carries around a Nick Wilde Infinity figurine because the movie is just fun. This is what blockbusters should be. Sure, there's going to be a blockbuster film that is going to challenge some very strong beliefs I hold, but I hope I have the openness to applaud a well delivered argument.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.