When Zootopia first came out, everyone loved it, praising it for its timely message on bias and prejudice. But some people have pointed out that the theme of predators vs prey doesn’t really hold up as an allegory for modern racism.
A good video that discusses the problems can be seen here:
Basically, if this movie was just about prejudice in general, that would be one thing, but the problem is that it tries too hard to mimic real world racial dynamics in modern America and it doesn’t work because sometimes the predators look like the marginalized group, other times it’s the prey, and the prey technically have a right to be afraid of the predators. What makes this worse is that, in the early drafts of the movie, it hit much closer to home: predators were definitely a stand in for minority groups, had almost no rights, and were forced to wear shock collars. This was cut because this would’ve made the story and setting too unlikable, but you can tell that they were originally going to go all the way with this.
I think to myself, you know what could have made the allegory a lot more apparent and have a bigger impact without being too depressing?
Think about it. Bats are often depicted as freaky and scary. They’re mammals and can resemble foxes and rats, but they have wings. Some bats eat meat, others don’t. They can be both predator and prey. Some are nocturnal, others are not. They’re, quite literally, freaks of nature. In a world like Zootopia, where there’s already bias, how do you think the other animals would feel about bats?
So instead of trying to be about predators vs prey, which is way too broad to be made into an allegory, have both groups harbor a common prejudice for bats. That way, you can have a clearer, more accurate metaphor for an oppressed group.
The hero would also have a bigger incentive for being a police officer and getting so involved with the case. In the original, I think that while Judy does have good intentions, I feel that her main motive for becoming a cop (as opposed to say, a social worker or a relief worker, jobs that actually do make the world a better place) is so that she can have a stronger sense of power in control in her life, what with her being a bunny with so many siblings being heckled by foxes. In this version, our protagonist, a bat, wants to become a cop so she can actively help and protect bats being discriminated against.
In this version you could have the missing mammals all be bats too. To be honest, I never liked the villain or thought her plot would hold up. Okay, so she hates her boss, so she wants to get him fired by…drugging every predator? So she can…stay in power and let prey become the dominant species? Um, you do realize that you can and will be voted out of office, right? This also underscores how messy the metaphor really is because, again, who is the discriminated species in this world? Because at first it looks like prey and small animals, and suddenly it’s predators. But in this version, you can have the villain be someone who actively hates and is trying to scapegoat bats. Maybe they’re angry at the fact that a bat got an important job in the city. This also makes the police’s chief disdain in letting the protagonist take on the case make more sense and make the protagonist’s stakes higher.
Zootopia definitely has good intentions, but because the metaphor is so messy, it didn’t have the impact on audiences as much as the creators would’ve hoped, as racial tensions in the states just got even worse as 2016 rolled on, and now nobody really talks about the movie that much. It’s hard to tell if Zootopia featuring bats as an oppressed group would’ve been as successful as the original, but I think it would have left a bigger impact on audiences, for better or for worse.