It turns out that it’s a movie about institutionalized racism. I didn’t know it going in and was amazed at how important this film is.
Animated films, recently, are just as much of a film for adults as for children, but animated movies are still solidly in the realm of written for an audience of children. And they typically come with a life lesson for kids. Growing up, I remember scores of kid’s films, TV shows, and books that had the message to treat people right regardless of what they look like. And that does children a disservice by not introducing them to the whole picture of racism in our culture. It’s patronizing to think that they couldn’t understand anything less overt than that. The proof is found in Zootopia.
Peggy McIntosh’s essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which I was recently introduced to, includes this:
I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.
Zootopia explores racism taught at home by the family, structured racism in the governance and law enforcement, and unintended micro aggressions. If tolerance is still being taught to white kids the same way as it was taught to this white guy when he was a kid, these are themes that are omitted. Zootopia includes them.
Sure, this film isn’t going to write all of the racial issues in our country, but I was absolutely amazed at the morality lesson included in a cartoon that tackles complicated themes and does an amazing job at approaching and achieving it’s goals. The use of animals to give distance to our reality and then return the audience’s view to our issues projected on the animals was a brilliant choice.
I cannot recommend this movie enough.