As Kristy explained in her review, Disney’s Zootopia is the best whoa-shit-you-didn’t-think-this-would-be-a-movie-about-racism-but-it-totally-is movie since Attack the Block (hallowed be its name). To sum up, Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) plays a rabbit cop (Don’t call her cute. Only rabbits can call other rabbits cute.) who teams up with a con artist fox (Jason Bateman) to track down a missing otter. (Named Emmet Otterton, because yay Muppets!) Over the course of their investigation, Judy comes to be aware of some of the prejudices she inadvertently holds about foxes and other predators.
The point—laid out for the elementary school audience, but worth hearing for some adults as well—is that racism, particularly in the 21st century, isn’t all burning crosses and segregated schools. Otherwise good people have unconscious biases that they need to acknowledge and work through. Zootopia specifically frames racism as something that it is the responsibility of the privileged to nut up and deal with. If they do, we get a more empathetic, harmonious society. If they don’t….
Massive Zootopia spoilers beyond the smiling sloth.
Zootopia’s big twist is that the Big Bad is actually Bellwether (Jenny Slate), the harried assistant mayor of Zootopia. She’s Judy’s first friend in Zootopia, telling the bunny cop (Ha ha. That never gets old.) that “we little guys have to stick together.” Just as Judy faces pushback for essentially being an affirmative action hire, Bellwether is constantly pushed around by the mayor, a lion, a fact that Bellwether attributes to her being a (literal) sheep.
Bellwether’s “prey pride” is revealed to be something more sinister when it turns out that she’s the one who’s developed the drug that basically reverses predators’ evolution and turns them savage. With the bulk of Zootopia’s population fearing that every tiger, lion, or bear (oh my!) that they see will go nuts and attack them, it’s easy for Bellwether to claim power for herself.
So: Zootopia’s bad guy is someone who manipulates the public biases against a minority for her own political gain. She does this by stirring up and then harnessing fear. Sound familiar?
Also relevant: Bellwether, like Trump, appeals to a perceived persecution complex. Prey makes up 90%* of Zootopia’s population, just as white Christians hold the majority of power in America. But oh noes, they’re trying to take your God-given right to deny rights to others! Let me pop on over to my crucifix for a moment and weep about guns and birth control!
Of course, Bellwether’s not a direct analogue for Trump, because animated movies take years to get done and Trump only decided, sure, he’ll try this politics shit like five minutes ago. But, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, Trump is the logical conclusion to a Republican tradition of fearmongering that has been in high gear for, oh, about 15 years or so. And Bellwether seems to actually believe in what he’s saying, as opposed to Trump, who would claim to be a lifelong supporter of NAMBLA if he thought it would get him in the White House. But still, the framework is there. And the message of Zootopia is ultimately a hopeful one: We have to shove all this dark shit out into the light, examine it, and make a real, honest, continual effort to correct it, instead of letting fear of people who mean us no damn harm (oh, those dangerous Syrian children!) twist us into something ugly.
Anyway, I’m sure we have about 15 minutes before the inevitable backlash against Zootopia starts, but for now, I’m going to enjoy celebrating how Disney has packaged a nuanced assessment of race in America into a movie where there are tigers dancing in go-go shorts.