(over)analysing Zootropolis - opinion

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the animated movie Zootropolis. It came highly recommended by a friend who said it was funny and very entertaining. And it was. I laughed throughout, and all the way up until the very ending, I wasn't aware of the worrying message it contained.

Everything from this point onwards will contain SPOILERS so if you are so inclined, stop reading now.

The protagonist is a female bunny. She has the body and the curves of the unrealistic body standard that's been shoved down girl's throats via cartoons and toys for a long time, which is to say a ridiculously tiny waist, head too big for the body, body-stocking clothes and a sort of inappropriate sexyness that is supposed to be neither here nor there, but is nonetheless there. So, this bunny wants to be a police officer, in a city called Zootropolis where all the animals, predator and prey, now live together in harmony. So far, so good. There has never been a bunny on the police force, and this sexy female bunny is repeatedly discouraged from her plan, by her parents, teachers, peers and instructors at the academy but eventually, she works hard and succeeds. She moves to Zootropolis as a rookie policebunny full of dreams, but she soon encounters a police station full of male predatory animal police, wolves, bears etc, and a water buffalo chief who might not be a predator per se but can probably take on the best of them with his massive body and impressive horns. So he ain't prey either. He treats our bunny like shit, and despite the fact there are fourteen missing animal cases, he puts her on the humiliating traffic duty, trying to get rid of her for good. On the street, bunny meets a wily fox. Foxes are discriminated against in Zootropolis, because they are stereotyped as liars and thieves, so this fox lives within those parameters, because as hard as he tried, throughout his life he was betrayed and left behind just because he was a fox. Excellent, exploring discrimination is a burning issue, especially in the wake of Trump, Brexit and systematic murder and incarceration of black Americans.

Now, in the middle of all this strife, our bunny is befriended by a middle aged female sheep, who is an aide to a male lion Mayor. Apart from the sexy bunny and her mum (that has about 1:30 minutes screen time in the entire movie) this sheep is the only other female character, and there's not one female, predator or not, in the film that has a position of power, except for the bunny who, as we are constantly reminded, has her authority repeatedly ridiculed, disrespected and ignored throughout the film. This too is pretty realistic, especially if you are a woman, disabled, a foreigner, fat, ugly or simply - poor, this kind of reckless disregard for you by those higher up on the social ladder will feel very familiar indeed.

So the major plot point happens when the predatory animals start suddenly exploding in a wild rage and attacking others. Bunny and the fox start investigating this and soon realise that all the missing animals the police are looking for are the ones who had gone beserk, were captured and are now being held in a laboratory on the orders of the Mayor. He thinks that because all these predators have gone wild, he'll lose his job because as a predator himself, he'll also be deemed unsafe. Reasonable assumption. However, our bunny blows the lid on this, Mayor is busted, all the crazed animals are transferred to a hospital (in cages) and bunny is asked to hold a press conference. So when the journalists ask the bunny whether they should be worried about the predators in Zootropolis, she says, rightfully so in my opinion, that even though they don't know what's causing this, it appears that some predators are, randomly, reverting to their previously wild nature and as such that everyone should be careful. This is called putting safety first and protecting the public. Listening to internal alarm bells. Makes sense to me. And yet, this is where the cartoon turns ugly.

Now Zootropolis is no longer a happy paradise and it's all bunny's fault. The predators, who are clearly entitled to special treatment within Zootropolis, feel hard done by and this throws the entire society into mayhem. Mayor has been arrested and his aide the sheep, inherits his job. Sort of like token English Queens used to come to the throne. A poor overweight tiger on the reception of the police station is demoted to a job in the basement because police don't want to scare animals away. See kids, how unjust and horrible it is that this obese, slow tiger that wouldn't hurt a fly even if it landed on his doughnut can't be the face of the police department anymore? Considering an implied suggestion that it would be preferable to expect all the prey animals in Zootropolis to live in fear and sacrifice their lives randomly to predators gone beserk, a parallel can be drawn with the US with regards to gun control and mass shootings. But in the cartoon, our bunny is so ashamed for speaking the truth and putting the lives of the many before the ambitions of the few, that she quits in disgrace.  So to recap, the bunny has spent her entire life fighting the system and everyone that didn't believe in her becoming a policebunny, but now she'll quit because she made predators feel unsafe with her words.

So bunny hands over her badge and is selling vegetables on her parent's farm when she learns of a flower that made her bunny uncle go vicious, and realises that this toxin can make a killer out of anyone, predator or prey, but that someone is deliberately targeting the predators. Off she goes back to Zootropolis, gets her friend the fox and discovers a lab where a sheep scientist is growing these flowers, making bullets out of the liquid extract, and shooting random predators in a covert smear campaign. Bunny and fox are just about to escape with the evidence when they learn that the middle aged female sheep character, now a Mayor, is the mastermind behind it all. In her defence, the token Mayor says that she is fed up of being pushed around and treated like shit by predator animals, just because they are bigger and more threatening doesn't mean they should hog all the power. With 80% of the population being non-predators, they should be equally represented. Sheep is, naturally, immediately overpowered and arrested by the bunny, bad, bad sheep! Order is restored in Zootropolis by all the predators returning to their positions while the sheep goes to jail as the true menace to society. Token female bunny prevails, and oh look, the fox joined the force too. All the beserk animals are well again once the effects of the poison have worn off. The end. And before I forget, there's an obligatory subplot glorifying a murderer, where the bunny makes friends with a shrew mobster who tries to off her and the fox, but he helps them when he finds out that bunny saved his daughter's life. All rejoice! Crime and murder can be cute too, especially when a minuscule prey orders massive predators to 'ice' his enemies. It's the predators who need protection from prey after all, didn't you know...

It was hard to miss the neoliberal propaganda in this film. We've been witnessing this predator-prey struggle for a long time, but more acutely since the 2008 recession. Our predators are ruthless, exploitative, aggressive men in suits and uniforms, who have no problem depriving others of life and livelihood in order to increase their wealth and power. Neoliberal capitalism has only refined these roles, through banking crisis, pornification of our culture and never ending wars, where the rest of us, the prey, are seen as nothing more than a resource to be harnessed and discarded once we are no longer useful to the predators. How dare the prey, the sheep, lose their shit and demand a piece of the cake? Predators have been killing prey in their millions, but that's nothing compared to prey taking matters into their own hands and making a few predators temporarily insane, in order to make the point about class-wide mistreatment and inequality they are expected to live with? The sheep should have found a nicer way to go about it. As a feminist, I can never get bored of this last suggestion...

Last time I had similar sentiments over a movie was this Christmas when I watched 'It's a Wonderful Life' for the first time. A movie that managed to show, in the first thirty minutes, blatant racism as well as sexual harassement of several women and to glorify bankers and capitalism. And this is what generations of people in the West remember fondly as the "most touching Christmas movie ever"? When I shared my impressions with my friend, he said I was overanalysing. What I'm trying to say is, they are gaslighting you because you are not analysing enough.

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