Disney’s “Zootopia,” and the Urban Zeitgeist in American Political Discourse

Want a primer on intersectional politics? Go see Disney’s “Zootopia,” a tale of a tenacious country bunny rabbit with aspirations of being an urban cop in Zootopia where the majority of residents are prey and the minority, predators. If you, like I, thought that seeing a kid’s movie would be a nice break from watching primary-election coverage, think again. Evertything is politics, including Disney movies.

“Zootopia,” the movie, presents an animal world eerily reflective of the detritus of American domestic policy. Still pondering what effect 1990s-era crime legislation has had on American society? Note that in the Zootopian metropolis something appears to be affecting a minority of the predators’ behavior leading to moral panic and irrational quality-of-life-mediating decisions by some of the prey-majority. In the introduction, audiences receive a primer on the entire ecosystem of Zootopia and the outlier-communities. The predator class, sly foxes, family-loving otters, courageous-lions, live under suspicion of wilding-out to the detriment of the mellow bunnies, meek sheep, and other prey.

An aesthetically stunning film, “Zootopia” provides a way to reflect upon the current divisive rhetoric of the American presidential primary campaigns. How do political science professors, social studies teachers, and parents go about having conversations with children about politics, today? When one presidential candidate offers to pay the legal bills of audience-member thugs who lash out at disruptors, can there be hope?  Campaign politics aside, America appears to be a nation constantly at the verge of reconciling, or attempting to reconcile, the trauma of centruries of colonialist ptractice.

“Zootopia” audiences see echoes of a ’90s-era rhetoric of “super-predators” and restrictions on the freedom of suspect predators. Rodney King’s message about getting along, takes on new meaning (Zootopia is an urban space much like Los Angeles). With forays into alternative cultures, gender inequality, underground economies, and mixed relationships, “Zootopia” comments on the precarity of identity and the diversity of the American experience. A cute bunny cop and her enlisted partner, a fox (surprise!) navigate an emotional tightrope in order to maintain their fragile relationship and solve an incredible mystery related to the politics of identity.