21st Century Brontë # 12 by Brontë Bettencourt
Cartoons, Fantasy, Cultural Relevance
On Monday I made the mistake of seeing Zootopia, Disney’s newest animated release. By mistake I mean that by the time this post goes live, I would’ve seen the movie a second time with my good pal, Leabert, and will be scrounging for friends to see it a third. My attempts to be frugal have been dashed.
But it was just that. Damn. Good.
We follow Judy Hopps, a countryside bunny who moves to the city of Zootopia in hopes of becoming a full-fledged cop. Being that their universe distinguishes the animals as either “predators” or “prey”, and that only predators hold jobs in law enforcement, no one expects Judy to last very long. Together with Nick Wilde, a fox upholding the world’s stereotype as swindler, Judy sets out to prove her capabilities despite her disposition, cracking a case that runs so deep that it threatens to unravel the class balance of the city.
It’s a simple premise executed in such a mature, thought-provoking way. I love watching animated films, but in Western Culture, stories seldom have such depth for both adults and children. The more fast-paced the animation, the harder hitting the joke. Running gags run amok, and punchlines involving bodily functions abound.
That wasn’t the case with Zootopia. One of the parts where I doubled over laughing involved sloths. The humor relied on the cleverness used to create a world where animals walk on two legs and wear clothes, and the wit of the many different personalities. All of us can invest in a world that is cool, colorful, and clever in regards to all ages, which brings me to my next point: the heavier concepts of the story are not shied away from.
I’m personally not a fan of placing kids in hamster bubbles to keep them from all the bad things in the world. I wouldn’t let them stick their fingers in electrical sockets (thanks Grandpa), but children are capable of understanding more complex concepts. Zootopia takes prejudice and places it within a context for children to grasp, showing them that people can’t be neatly categorized as good or bad.
Because Judy is a bunny, she is automatically at a disadvantage in an occupation institutionalized for predators. She graduated from the police academy as valedictorian, strategically able to use her surrounding environment and use her wits to outmatch her opponents. But she’s labeled as the lesser social class. This unfairness spurs us to root for her, to achieve the respect that she completely deserves.
But this does not make her infalliable. Later in the movie she confronts her own prejudices so ingrained in the movie’s society that she doesn’t realize them until she’s made a mistake. What surprised me was that the writing didn’t rely on a zany misunderstanding between characters; Judy legitimately made a mistake, teaching children that even good people can fall subject to negative bias. All of the movie’s characters demonstrate both positive and negative traits, retaining complexity and believability instead of falling into a caricature of the presented archetype. Honest store owners “reserve the right to serve whom they please” which is horribly skewed early on. Law enforcers retain their own biases regarding their peers.
“Life is messy,” Judy states, allowing kids to exercise their better judgment instead of placing a neat, glossy bow on the issues.
What makes media geared toward the younger demographic so good are the parallels we can draw between their world and our own, granting us the ability to see the issues that we’re normally blind to.
I and so many others are drawn to Harry Potter for its rich world of magic and lore. My friends and I have been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter multiple times and we are not ashamed. We’ve waved our wands, scarfed down our weight in Butterbeer and magical treats, and ogled at every technological trick in the park.
And while I would love to fly on a broomstick, it’s the realistic parallels that grounds the world within ours. Harry is admired for yes, being the Boy Who Lived, but his character remains modest until the very end. He isn’t afraid to admit that the love and assistance from his friends and professors let him through life’s hardships. Harry easily could’ve become arrogant from the accumulated wealth and status. He could’ve also become cold and bitter from the years of endured abuse at the Dursleys. But he retains the same admirable qualities that we can sympathize with; the wizardry is just a bonus.
Characters aside, the series tackles many other issues that avid readers are still uncovering. There’s depression literally manifested as the infamous Dementors, and the isolation that accompanies the loss of a love one. There’s prejudice between those of wizard ancestry and those born from Muggles. And there’s the conflict of media versus reality, where officials would rather staunch any talk of potential danger because the truth is too painful to bear.
That’s why I believe cartoons and fantasy are so versatile as genres.
Take a kid to see Zootopia. Take yourself.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.