*SPOILER WARNING* This essay heavily uses textual evidence from throughout the film.
The name “Zootopia” (a portmanteau of “zoo” and “utopia”) works ambivalently as the declaration of what this animal society wants to be and as an ironic joke about its failure to meet those aspirations. The joke is on us though since it’s one large Aesop’s fable about prejudice in the real world. The city motto is “anyone can be anything [and not be limited by what they are],” an ideal that protagonist Judy Hopps takes as her own personal motivation to become the world’s first bunny police officer. However the anthropomorphic pretense of the film forces characters to test their devotion to the ideals of this claimed post-racial utopia. Judy believes that foxes can be trusted, despite personal experience and warnings from well-meaning though racist parents, but is she willing to bet her life on it? This is the “Chekov’s gun” of the film, represented by something that literally goes where Judy’s police issued side-arm would be if this weren’t a cartoon. Judy reaches for the “gun” when fear overwhelms logic for the film’s argument about how we don’t live in a society rid bigotry, but only a society that wants to be rid of it.
It’s a very daring choice to make a world full of prejudice and have this spread over into other marginalized characters as well as the main characters. It’s writing 101 to throw the worst and most unfavorable traits at your villains, not the heroes. Supporting lead Nick Wilde (a fox) carelessly calls Judy “carrots” and “cute,” which the rules of the film sates are racist slurs for rabbits. Judy accidentally performs a micro-aggression on Nick, praising him as a “real articulate fella.”. (more…)