Zootopia and Cognitive Dissonance

Well, it happened. And unless a miracle occurs, it’s going to stick around for about four years (hopefully no more). It probably won’t be AS bad as we think it will be, but things are going to be difficult from here on out.

Still, watching the election gave me this negative, nagging thought: did Zootopia teach us nothing?

Zootopia came out earlier this year and was a huge success. In addition to grossing over a billion dollars worldwide (!), it got lots of praise from critics (with a Rotten Tomatoes score of like 98%) and plenty of adoring fans. The reason? It delivered a ‘timely’ and ‘important’ message about bias and prejudice in a racially charged environment. People were praising its message of ‘uwu try to make a difference change starts with you’.

Yet apparently this message didn’t stick because soon after racism and other forms of bigotry just got more and more intense in the coming months, and ultimately, hate won out in the election.

This also got me thinking: how come THIS is the movie that got so much praise for tackling a (metaphorical) issue? Where were these people with Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Those are movies that tackle actual problems with racism and prejudice (with people of colour, not animals!), no metaphors, and deliver a definite, clear message of “don’t just try, DO make a difference, or else the worst will happen”?

No, those movies got derided for being ‘preachy’ or ‘boring’ or ‘serious’.

So, to recap: when you show kids a movie that takes the subject matter of prejudice and bias seriously, with no metaphors and with marginalized groups present and onscreen, it’s a bad movie, but when you show kids a more sugar-coated, metaphorical movie on similar issues, all of a sudden it’s a masterpiece and important.

Yeah, I don’t like that. I’m not saying Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame are perfect, but the point is, they TRIED to represent non-white people (and feature women of colour leads) and TRIED to discuss an important issue with depth and maturity. There’s really nothing Zootopia offers that is new, but because it has cute animals, it’s omg so important!

But again, it doesn’t really matter, because the message of the movie didn’t stick. And I’m not surprised. We live in a world where people like to pat themselves on the back for not being racist without actually doing anything to combat or change racism in real life. Zootopia just made white people feel better about themselves, but it didn’t actually have an impact to cause white people to go out and do anything. And that’s just disappointing.

I’ll leave on a positive note: we still have Moana and the Big Hero 6 TV series coming out, which will remind children of colour that they are still important and powerful. That should help us stay afloat while we go out and actually do make a difference.




Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.