Zootopia (Alternative Version)

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?

Add bats.

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.

Shanghai Disneyland…where are Big Hero 6 and Zootopia?

Disney’s newest park opened in Shanghai in the company’s continued quest to appease and attract the Chinese market. (At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney started making more movies set in China later on.) As parks go, it does look really nice. If THIS video is anything to go by, a lot of effort was put into it.

But I couldn’t help but notice something.

There were quite a few moments when Anna and Elsa could be seen, but there was no trace of Hiro and Baymax (or the rest of the BH6 team for that matter) or Nick and Judy. I know there was a park celebration that played “Immortals” and had Baymax perform, but that was about it (and I’m not even sure if that’s going to be a mainstay event or if it was a one-time only deal); no meet and greet or special San Fransokyo attraction. And when I looked at the (English version) of the park’s site, I can’t find any references to BH6 or Zootopia. You can meet Elsa and Anna along with the other official Disney Princesses at the Enchanted Storybook Castle and they have a sing along celebration, but I can’t seem to find anything for BH6 and Zootopia.

Why does this bother me?

Well, Frozen’s total Chinese gross was about $48 million. Not bad, but compared to it’s run in Japan, where it made almost $300 million, that’s kind of underwhelming. Big Hero 6 on the other hand was known for being a bigger hit in China (along with DreamWorks’s Kung Fu Panda franchise), with about $83 million. And Zootopia was a HUGE hit in China, earning $235 million and having a huge impact with audiences. So, you’d think Disney would take China’s love for those two movies and feature them a lot in this new park, right? Well, apparently not.

What baffles me the most is that there’s an attraction for Star Wars characters, even though the Star Wars isn’t as big a phenomenon in China than in the rest of the world (in fact The Force Awakens did pretty poorly in China). So if they’re going to feature a franchise that doesn’t resonate as well, why not prominently feature franchises that DO resonate well?

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but to me this feels like Disney’s continued effort to focus exclusively on their billion dollar franchises and nothing else, even if that means forcing it on countries that have different tastes.

Now I could be wrong. There could be other reasons why this is happening. But at any rate, at some point Disney SHOULD feature good BH6 and Zootopia content in a country where they have both been proven to be popular, and it’s kind of ridiculous that it’s not the case so far.

We’ll have to see, but for now, I can’t help but feel a little suspicious. Let’s hope Disney proves me wrong.

EDIT: A friend pointed out that a possible reason why they have Frozen and Star Wars featured so prominently at the park is a way to make them more popular in China so that they’ll pay to see Frozen 2 and further SW films. That actually does make an unfortunate amount of sense. While I can understand Disney’s decision to do that, it still doesn’t excuse them to not feature BH6 or Zootopia AT ALL, where they are already popular (and could make them into bigger hits). So, you can understand my frustration with the whole thing.

EDIT 2: I have been told that Hiro and Baymax have a show at Tomorrowland, and Zootopia has been added to a parade. That’s relatively good news for Hiro and Baymax (though I would think the whole team would be added), but that’s pretty underwhelming for Zootopia, considering its monster  hit status in China. I guess we’ll have to see what happens from there. My point is, Zootopia and BH6’s attractions should be just as big, if not BIGGER, than Frozen’s and SW’s because they’re so popular in China. But we’ll see.

Zootopia Crosses $1 Billion!

Well, it finally happened! The critically acclaimed and wildly (pun intended) popular Disney hit has crossed the $1 Billion mark at the box office, making it the fourth highest grossing animated film (not adjusted for inflation, mind you) thus far!

Anyway, my biggest question right now is: What’s next?

I have no doubt there will most likely be a sequel. It may take some time, but given how eager Disney is with sequels now, I’m not surprised if one is announced sooner than later. I wonder if this movie will have the same marketing blitzkrieg that Frozen did or not. On one hand, it’s raking in a lot of money and has a wide audience, but on the other hand, it doesn’t have two princesses and an inoffensive snow man that are so easy to market. I know for a fact that this means Disney has absolutely no excuse to NOT market it all, as it’s been notorious for ignoring a lot of their other recent successes in favour of Frozen.

I feel like the success can prove two things. The GOOD thing is that it proves that movies that are well-written, intelligent, and have relevant and complex themes are successful and people appreciate more than just simple stories with flashy visuals. The BAD thing is that it (possibly) proves that Disney’s only other popular form of animated films, besides princesses, is talking animals. So I’m concerned about Disney not branching out on characters and stories beyond that.

Still, I’m very happy for and proud of the filmmakers for this achievement (and they’re probably going to receive more during Awards Season). Major congrats to Rich Moore, Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and all the animators and story artists who worked on it, and I can’t wait to see what else you’ll show us!