During its Golden Age, some of the best Hollywood movies were able to bridge America’s social divisions in clever, entertaining ways that had broad appeal.
For example, in the Frank Capra Great Depression classic It Happened One Night, a working, nononsense city reporter played by Clark Gable was able to fall in love with a spoiled rich girl, played by Claudette Colbert, and even win the admiration of her wealthy father. Thus, tensions between rich and poor during a volatile time of social upheaval in America were smoothed over by love, with a dash of integrity and humility. In the end, Gable’s character realizes his assumptions against wealthy people being completely selfish were too harsh, but the rich girl and her father learn, conversely, that their assumptions that a regular working guy like the reporter is envious and will only want money from them. Both assumptions turn out to be wrong, and they lived happily ever after.
Disney’s new animated movie, Zootopia, at times reminded MOVIEGUIDE® of this long-lost ability of Golden Age Hollywood fables like It Happened One Night to bridge the divisions between rich and poor, male and female, young and old. It’s a movie with solid messages that can appeal to both liberals and conservatives, both Democrats and Republicans, both atheists and religious people. For example, the movie pictures a world where animal predators and their prey, the lion and the lamb, have “evolved” to live in complete harmony in a utopian city called Zootopia. At the same time, it pictures a fallen world where bad things can happen, a world in need of a good, hard-working cop to identify the bad guys, lock them up and keep the peace. The clash of Left and Right can even be seen in the movie’s theme song by pop sensation Shakira, which is entitled “Try Everything.” The song appeals to liberals in that it encourages people to pursue their dreams and “try everything,” but the song also appeals to conservatives in that the lyrics admit that the world is messy, and you’ll make mistakes every day, so you just have to get up and try again if you fail, or do something else. (For more of the Zootopia storyline, go to movieguide.org.)
Zootopia is funny and exciting throughout. It also has plenty of heartwarming moments as well as some fantastic, beautiful animation. It’s both a buddy comedy and a police comedy, so there’s lots of action. Some of the action involves scary animals going berserk, so caution for younger children is advised.
Zootopia has a strong moral worldview with some redemptive elements. There are positive references to God, prayer and miracles. Also, Nick grows from becoming a con man to becoming a good guy. Zootopia has a lot of positive moral messages, including never giving up, perseverance, courage, seeking forgiveness, helping others and fixing a broken world by becoming a diligent police officer seeking truth and justice, and doing the right thing. Unlike the feelings of some people these days, being a police officer is seen as a good thing in Zootopia.
The movie’s more liberal messages, such as follow your dreams and the idea that you can be anything you want, are mitigated by these positive messages. Also, the movie makes fun of transcendental meditation in one scene and mocks political correctness at one point when Judy tells people that only other rabbits can say she’s a “cute” bunny. That said, there are a couple references to animals “evolving.” Also, the movie deliberately attacks stereotypes – notions like elephants never forget anything, rabbits are always timid and foxes can’t be trusted. This message fits in with the movie’s title song, which is entitled “Try Everything.”
Eventually, however, the movie’s protagonist learns that the world has always been a broken place and needs a good, courageous cop to enforce standards and keep the peace. Also, the movie’s environment reflects American society. Like America, Zootopia is a melting pot. While people are free to be anything they want, they can’t just satisfy their own selfish wishes by trampling on the liberty, wishes, dignity, and rights of others.