Zootopia isn't just a fun adventure featuring a cast of anthropomorphic animals. Well, it is that, but it's also much, much more. So what is Zootopia about? The film brilliantly tackles racism and prejudice better than most serious dramas or documentaries touching on similar subject matter. Yes, it's a Disney movie about adorable animals, but it's also loaded with incisive commentary on how and why Americans are continually divided along racial lines.Many of Zootopia's themes focus on inclusion and how to live among people who are different from you, but the film also addresses issues like police bias and political correctness. In spite of this, it's not preachy or pedantic. Check out this Zootopia analysis on how the film subtly uses the coexistence of predators and prey as an allegory of past and current racial issues in America.
Judy Hopps, the First Bunny Cop, Hopes to Change the System from Within
Most of the film focuses on Judy Hopps's struggle to become the first-ever bunny cop and the pressures that come with that. The film expertly shadows the struggle many of the first non-white and non-male police officers have had in the United States by being undermined by their superiors and not being taken seriously by the public that they serve. Judy not only encompasses "the first ______ cop," but every time any individual has stepped into a professional position previously denied to them based on race.
Interact with the Individual, Not the Race... Er, Species
Much of the Hopps family's concern regarding foxes is due to Judy's childhood interactions with a vulpine bully named Gideon Grey. When a grown-up Judy interacts with Nick Wilde, she unknowingly carries over anti-fox prejudice despite Gideon and Nick being entirely different people. She even carries a fox repellent spray out of fear. She eventually accepts both of the foxes as individuals, but her personal bias illustrates how many people can have a prejudice towards an entire race due to the actions of one individual.
"It's in Their DNA"
DNA is discussed with surprising frequency in Zootopia. First, predator bullies such as Gideon Grey state that bunnies are weak and cannot become cops due to their inferior DNA, bringing to mind the incorrect claim of white supremacists that other races are genetically inferior. Second, Judy states in a press conference that predators are savage because it's built into their DNA. This reasoning has been used in the past to write off African Americans as "savage" and enforce stereotyping during police investigations despite evidence to the contrary.
"Cute" Is an Offensive Term
When Judy first speaks with the lovable Officer Clawhauser, he calls her "cute" in a complimentary way. As Judy explains to Clawhauser, however, "cute" is a demeaning word to describe bunnies, to which Clawhauser immediately apologizes. This touches on a certain incendiary word, one that has different connotations coming from a Caucasian person than an African American one.