Drinks with Disney: Racism in Zootopia

After getting home from work Saturday I settled in on my couch with dinner and wine to watch some Netflix. While scrolling through the new releases Zootopia popped up. I love animated movies, they’re always a perfect choice for a pick me up. So I started watching and about a third of the way into the movie and half a bottle of wine deep I had a serious epiphany. It went along the lines of “Holy Hannah this movie is all about racism!!!! Whaaaattt??!! Ahhh! OMG” I grabbed my pen and paper and madly started analyzing and overthinking the littlest details of the movie. Not going to lie… The wine definitely had a lot to do with this…
A heads up for anyone who hasn’t seen Zootopia and would like to watch it there will be spoilers but I will do my best to not give up the whole movie.

Zootopia takes place in a world of animals: predators, and prey. Years ago there was a problem with predators being savage and attacking the prey, but everyone has evolved and now live in harmony. Or do they….? DUN DUN DUN (sorry guys that’s the wine talking)

Judy is the main character, she’s a little rabbit with a big dream to become the first bunny police officer. Her parents discourage her and tell her that bunnies can’t be cops. Judy still tries and she goes to the Police Academy to take the test.

Let’s talk about this test. The Police Fish.jpgAcademy is expecting a small bunny to pass an obstacle course built for rhinos, lions and elephants. Seems pretty ridiculous when you watch the scene but yet we expect kids in school to all be tested the same way even though they are all different with unique skills and abilities. The wine probably made this connection to standardized testing but the scene does make you think.

With lots of hard work Judy gets assigned to the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department). At the train station her parents lecture her on the dangers of predators and even give her fox repellent and a taser. I know that it’s a generalization but a lot of older generations still hold on to prejudices that were instilled when they were younger. A friend of mine in high school once told me a story of how his grandma made inappropriate comments about their German waiter. Of course Judy’s parents are just worried about their daughter but they are not helping to diminish the stigma that all predators are savage. perpetuating-stereotypes

When Judy gets to the ZPD she is greeted by Benjamin, the nicest, sweetest predator ever. You go Benjamin! Take down those stereotypes! (That’s the wine again…) Then this happens….thenwordRemind you of any other word…? This Disney movie exposed such an important truth! They basically replaced the N word with cute! More and more these days you’ll hear white people using the N word and personally it makes me uncomfortable. It is a word that has been reclaimed by the black community and not our word to use. The article “Stop Saying N****a If You’re Not Black” sums it up quite nicely.

Judy goes to her first assignment meeting and sits with giraffes, elephants, wolves, and tigers. Everyone gets assigned a cool case and Judy.. well she doesn’t exactly get what she wanted…


Because of her small size Judy is not taken seriously and gets parking duty while the other officers get more important cases. This can be adapted to portray minorities roles in the workplace, including women. Another example of inequality in the workplace for women can be seen through assistant mayor Bellweather. Although she is the assistant mayor she is pushed around and overshadowed by her male coworker, the mayor. While the mayor gets a snazzy office, the female assistant mayor has a supply closet as an office and refers to herself as “a glorified secretary”.  In fact, the plot twist at the end of the movie really brings the theme of inequality home. A woman… feeling underappreciated.. If you want to know what I am getting at watch the movie!

Anyways, while on parking duty Judy sees a fox. Instincts that have been drilled into her by her parents kick in and she gets suspicious. Judy follows Nick the fox into an elephant ice cream parlor and this scene plays out.


Nick tried to buy a lollipop for his son but because he is a small fox the elephant refuses to serve him. Remind you of a particular event that took place in 1960 at a diner? 4 black students sat at the bar in protest of the rule that they had to sit at the back of the diner. They sat for days and were refused service because of the colour of their skin. This event is known as the Greensboro Lunch Counter and whether Disney intentionally made this reference or all the wine did, this scene is one of the best examples of racism within Zootopia.

Ultimately the movie revolves around the fact that predators are “biologically” programmed to be savages and prey perpetuate those stereotypes. Despite the fact that both live in “harmony” Zootopia as a society still has a long way to go to create equality. Very much like our current society.

So as I was making all these connections I thought about all the Disney movies I have ever watched. There is no way Zootopia is the only one that deals with some real life issues. And then brain blast, I am not a kid anymore. I have a reference frame that is way more educated and informed than what I had as a kid. So I messaged my uncle and asked if he could get my little cousins ideas on the movie, what did he think the main take away was?

“I think the lesson is maybe always follow your dreams. Because in the movie Judy is trying to be a cop but she’s not really got at it and people are taking her as this not good bunny and they give her parking duty. So I think the lesson was to follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something”

ADORABLE! My little cousin picks up on the main message of the movie without over analyzing it as I have. Follow your dreams and never give up no matter how many people tell you to quit. Absolutely adorable that he gets to watch this movie in a blissful innocence, and it’s okay because he is young and no one expects him to know much about inequality in the workplace or racism. In fact, when my uncle tried to prompt him by asking if he thought there was a lesson in the predators and the prey the little guy said there wasn’t a lesson and “you know how it goes”. Makes me wish I could be a kid again for a bit!

Well I could go on and on about all the connections I made in this movie but what fun would that be? Watch it yourself and see if you can determine what scenes made me think of the following:

  • Lack of respect for women
  • Media twisting the words of the police
  • Government secrets
  • Don’t judge a book by it’s cover (hint, Mr.Big)
  • Instilling fear to gain power

Have you seen the movie? Watched it with your kids? What are your thoughts or theirs? Should we be talking to kids about these deeper lessons? Let me know in the comments:)








7 thoughts on “Drinks with Disney: Racism in Zootopia

  1. I wish wine made me as smart and observant as it does you (I only think it does that for me… and I can dance and speak fluent Spanish- ha!). I have not seen this movie but I am going to watch it now and with your assessment at the fore. Thanks for this fun and candid take on the film and for calling out the very real racism, sexism, size-ism, age-ism, every other kind of ism we still throw at each other in the name of being “not like that anymore”.

    • Oh I would be right up there dancing with you if it was tequila instead of wine!
      I’m so excited for you to watch it! Hope you enjoy it as much as I have:)

  2. When I read your post I immediately thought of the Shrek series. Adults and kids can watch those movies together and really see two different movies. I think that Disney has always tried to teach us sutle messages in their movies and they seem to be getting better at it. Then again, maybe the wine is better and the messages haven’t changed. Thanks for this!

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself! We’re watching the same
    movie with completely different perceptions.
    When shrek was out I watched it as a kid. I think I have an idea of what makes you say that about the series… But I’ll have to rewatch it! And analyze, with wine of course. Haha

  4. Considering the recent shining of light (through social media) on racism, the messages in this movie seem to be on point, teaching kids ideas with humour. I think you just gave me an idea what to watch this weekend! What kind of wine did you drink? I’d like to watch through your lens.

  5. Pingback: 6 Things I Learned in 6 Weeks of Blogging – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

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