I went to see Zootopia last week expecting a solid children’s movie. What I didn’t expect was arguably the most libertarian children’s movie in recent memory. Seriously, Ayn Rand could have written this thing. Zootopia can teach kids about all sorts of libertarian ideals, such as citizen accountability, skepticism of government officials, civil liberties, and the rejection of majority rule justification.
We start with a relatively simple premise common in kid’s movies: our lead character has a dream that the world says will never come true. In this case, that lead character is a bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to be a police officer. A bunny has never been a police officer before, but Judy works hard and becomes the first one. What makes Zootopia somewhat unique is that it spends relatively little screen time telling us how that dream comes true. Instead, the movie focuses on all of Judy’s struggles after she becomes a cop and how sometimes dreams aren’t everything we thought they would be.
One of the overarching themes of the movie is the tension between predator animals and prey. The two groups are taught at a young age not to trust each other. The movie dismantles this collectivist mindset almost immediately and continues that throughout the film. We see animals of both groups doing good things and bad things. While Judy is a by-the-books police officer, her co-lead is a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist who still has his heart in the right place. On the flip side, you have prey who don’t even bother hiding their extreme prejudice against predators, such as Judy’s parents. You have predators such as Judy’s boss, who makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t think Judy belongs on the force and makes her a meter maid.
That internal prejudice against Judy creates an interesting dynamic. Even though Judy is technically a cop, she doesn’t have a lot of the power typical of cops. She can’t run a plate in the police database. Rather than an actual patrol car, she has a tiny golf cart that moves slower than she could on her own. For most of the movie, Judy is on this awkward middle ground between cop and civilian. I point this out because even though it would make perfect sense for a government employee to be reliant on government resources to do their job, Judy isn’t. She uses the Zootopia version of an iPhone throughout her investigation and even uses the camera to hold government officials accountable for their misgivings. We see how average people can use private sector technology to learn about the world around them and increase government transparency.
Government transparency ends up being quite important because it turns out that many of the government officials are working for their own interests (shocker!). I love this aspect of the movie because a common fallacy of statism is the assumption that people in government are working for the public good and people outside the government are not. Zootopia illustrates how everyone, government or not, has their own agenda. The mayor, a lion, keeps secrets from the public in order to make sure that predators aren’t given a bad name. The police chief has no problem sabotaging Judy in her investigation because he doesn’t want prey on the police force at all. Selfishness doesn’t magically go away when someone assumes a government position, and Zootopia recognizes that.
I also found it interesting how this fictional universe appears to abide by the U.S. Constitution. There is a scene when Judy and Nick are looking for evidence and they go on someone’s private property. Nick asks Judy if she needs a warrant, and Judy says she typically would, but by tricking Nick into going onto the property first, she had probable cause. Now some might argue that it’s not particularly libertarian to have your protagonists infringe on property rights to move the plot along. However, I’d like to point out that this is a fictional world full of talking animals. There is no logical reason for the 4th Amendment to exist here at all. If there had been no talk of warrants, most people wouldn’t have thought anything of it or they would’ve written it off as Zootopia having different rules than the United States, which would be perfectly reasonable. It’s admirable that the the writers took time to say “hey kids, cops aren’t actually supposed to this” when they really didn’t have to.
Possibly the most compelling political point made in the movie is towards the end when our villain goes on a rant about how 90 percent of the city is prey, justifying their anti-predator initiatives. In a world where many of my friends think I’m more likely to become a socialist simply because they stuck the word “democratic” in front of it, it’s important to remember that majority doesn’t –and shouldn’t– rule. Zootopia tells us that terrible, unethical actions are still terrible and unethical even if 90 percent of of the population approves. Minorities have rights, and those rights matter just as much as the rights of the majority.
Zootopia is a good example of a movie that makes libertarian points without ever uttering the word “libertarianism.” What’s even more spectacular is that it does this in a way that children and adults alike can understand. It’s worth seeing whether you have kids or not.