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Friday, June 24, 2016

Disney Almost Erases Decades of Misogyny with Zootopia. Almost.

Early on in Disney's newest animated feature Zootopia, our hero, a bunny named Judy Hopps, voiced by Gennifer Goodwin, enters the police station in which she'll be working for the first time. She's greeted by a huge (pun intended) cheetah named Clawhauser, voiced by Nate Torrence, who comments on how cute Judy is. Judy responds by saying that only other bunnies can call each other cute, but not other animals. Clawhauser sheepishly apologizes for his ignorance and helps direct Judy to her first ever police briefing.

In a way, Zootopia is an apology for the decades of both overt and latent misogyny its released in the world over the past decades. Whether it's one of their earlier films like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which taught girls to sit quietly while you wait for a man to save you, or one of their later films like The Little Mermaid which teaches young girls to actively be quiet while you attempt to lure your crush with only your looks, Disney studios does not have a good track record of helping to mold the minds and attitudes of young females. Which is unfortunate considering how instrumental they are in their development.

Disney has gotten a lot better at changing this over the past few years. Maybe its because of the rise of Pixar films, or maybe because the culture within the studio itself has finally changed where it realized females are humans too, but Disney's animated films in recent years are a marked improvement. Between outright bad-ass characters like Sgt. Calhoun in Wreck-It Ralph or having pro-feminine princess story like Frozen, the studio is producing films I'd be proud to show my fictitious daughter.

Disney's most recent and most successful feminist project is Zootopia. The film centers around Judy Hopps who's life goal is to become a police officer in a fictitious city of evolved anthropomorphic animals of all walks of life. All her life she's been told that bunnies are too weak to become police officers, and she makes it her mission to prove everyone wrong. On her first day on the job, where she's degradingly been assigned to be a Meter Maid, she stumbles upon a hustler of a fox named Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman, an animal she's been told is always up to no good her entire life. Through hap and circumstance, they must team together to search for a Family Man Otter who has mysteriously gone missing.

On its surface, Zootopia is about proving the haters wrong. Judy proves even her laughably unsupportive parents as well as her police chief, voiced by Idris Elba who literally can't stop voicing animals in 2016, that she can be a successful police officer- despite her size- and Nick proves the haters wrong that he's not just some sly hustler the world believes him to be. If Zootopia were just that, then it would be just a good, but not great film. It would basically be Finding Dory. But the film is so much more.

Judy Hopps is an allegory for all females in society trying to navigate their way through a male dominated world. She's not just a small animal in a job filed with large, aggressive, male creatures, she' a woman doing her best to navigate through the patriarchy. Judy shows that woman anywhere can do whatever they as long as they have determination.

Zootopia is a film that delves deep into America's societal issues. Not only does it address our treatment of women, but it also addresses our xenophobia- a film that's unfortunately spot on thanks to our xenophobic Republican presidential nominee. A subplot of the film is that a small percentage of the animals are going wild and feral; reverting to the predators we know these animals to be now as opposed to the human-like and civilized animals that are portrayed in the film. Judy accidentally sparks a race riot where the smaller prey animals gang up on the larger predatory animals. The latter are being judged by the former that's eerily reminiscent of how Muslims are treated in this country post 9/11. Along the similar lines of how Judy and Nick were unfairly judged based upon what type of animal they were, Zootopia's society starts to unfairly judge the book solely based upon the larger animal's cover.

As a whole, Zootopia has a fairly generic and predictable plot (I guessed who the bad guy was half way through the film), there's a fair amount of chuckle worthy animal puns (At one point, Judy Hopps is doing math and she says, "I can multiply, after all, that is something I'm good at!") that I quite enjoyed, and there's even some fun pop culture references for adults (how the film managed a Breaking Bad reference is beyond me), but what makes it as good as it is is just how deep its message is about our own society. It's a film that's great for kids based upon the pretty pictures and fun adventure it tells and it's also great for kids as it ingrains morals in them (and morals you want your kid to have). After making films for over a century, Disney finally makes a film you should be proud to have your daughter watch.



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