Theme: Sacrificial Love
Disney’s Zootopia is sure to delight children of all ages, but its real message is aimed at adults. The story is anthropomorphic, meaning human traits, emotions, and intentions are attributed to non-human entities, in this case the zoological kingdom. By using animals for people, Disney subversively brings home a powerful message: worldly utopias do not eradicate old prejudices and fears; only sacrificial love breaks down the walls that divide predator and prey and create true harmony and fellowship.
The movie begins with the word “fear”. Young animals are enacting an old story, the story of vicious predators and meek prey, and even though there is a happy ending to their talent show with an “evolved” harmony and a lamb with a rainbow, the real world outside is still based on fear.
Judy Hopp lives for her dream of Zootopia “where anyone can be anything”, for Judy wants to grow up and become a bunny cop. Such a thing is unheard of where she comes from. She lives in a fearful worldwhere dreams are traded for settled complacency and a safer life on the carrot farm. Her dream is not only unheard of, it’s a joke to her nemesis, Gideon Grey, the fox who scratches her face to make her remember how the world really is and who she really is.
Fifteen years later Judy heads off to the police academy in Zootopia. Much to her chagrin, she discovers that Zootopia may be beautiful on the surface, but underneath all the old divisions, fears and prejudices remain. As one sly fox tells her, “we may be evolved but deep down we’re still animals.”
Drawn into a precarious partnership with the fox Nick Wilde, she discovers he too was scarred by a childhood attack. In his case, he was the victim of a large group of “prey” who put a muzzle on his face and beat him. His dream of being a scout in uniform ended and he made a decision . . . ”if the world saw a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there was no point in being anything else”.
Working together Judy and Nick appear to have uncovered the true story of Zootopia’s fourteen missing predators. The mayor is arrested and Police Chief Bogo holds a press conference in which he calls upon Judy to make a statement. In trying to explain just how the fourteen missing mammals “went savage”, she reverts to the old story; it’s who they are in their DNA. Her words not only incite terror, they betray Nick and expose her own deeply held prejudices and fears. Like Zootopia itself she is glossy and evolved on the outside while on the inside her heart remains unhealed and abiding in fear.
Returning home in defeat, Judy is surprised to learn her old foe, Gideon Grey, is now in partnership with her parents. Both Gideon and her parents have been changed on the inside, and from this new fellowship Judy receives the truth she needs to know: “Night Howlers” are poisonous flowers and not howling wolves, and bunnies like one of her own family members can “go savage” when they eat them.
Dashing back to Zootopia, Judy finds Nick and makes a tearful confession filled with repentance. Won’t he please help her so predators don’t have to suffer for her mistake?
Together in a new kind of partnership, one which is based on mutual trust, they uncover and expose the truth. The real villain is not Mayor Lionheart, but rather his assistant, the outwardly meek Bellweather the Ewe.
Like the broken world Judy and Nick were broken deep within their hearts. Each had to learn that neither external righteousness nor internal resignation would ultimately heal them and release them fromisolation and fear. Only sacrificial love by “The Other” was powerful enough to break down the walls that divided predator and prey and bring about true community . . . which is, after all, the true utopia.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment,
and the one who fears is not perfected in love. I John 4:18 (NASB)