What crazy world are you living in where you think a bunny could be a cop?
On the surface, Disney’s Zootopia is just a kids film about some cartoon animals. But it gets a lot deeper than that. Zootopia can be read in multiple ways; apply any Hegelian dialectic and you are good to go. It could be a metaphor for feminism, racism, social class, speciesism… The list goes on. But this article will explore the film’s feminist element. More specifically, how protagonist Judy Hopps is a feminist icon.
For those unfortunate readers who have not yet had the privilege of watching the absolute masterpiece that is Zootopia, allow me to summarize; Judy Hopps is a rabbit from the small town of Bunnyburrow, where she seems destined to become a carrot farmer, just like her parents. But Judy wants more. Judy has a dream of moving to the big city (Zootopia) and becoming a police officer, which would make her the first ever ‘bunny cop.’ Judy ignores the warnings that she is dreaming too big, and gets into the police academy. During training, Judy is the only prey amongst a group of predators, including elephants, rhinos and bears. Judy works hard and becomes the class valedictorian and going on to become the first ever bunny cop.
It is far too easy to read this as how a woman in a typically masculine career is viewed; Judy has to work harder than the rest of her class to be taken seriously, and even when she graduates at the top of her class, she still ends up on parking duty. Or, as they like to call it, Judy becomes a ‘meter maid;’ the gendered nature of this label cannot be a coincidence.
But in true Judy fashion, she does not let this get her down. Instead, she exceeds expectations and gives out double the amount of tickets assigned, emphasizing just how hard she has to work to prove herself.
Is Judy trusted less than the predators because of her gender? This is my feminist reading, but the intersections cannot be ignored. Zootopia can certainly be read from an intersectional feminist viewpoint. Apart from gender, the way Judy is treated in the academy can be viewed as a reflection on not just women, but also the treatment of people of colour, or people from unrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds. As figure skater Surya Bonaly once said, ‘when you’re black everyone knows that you have to do better than people who are white.’ Bonaly’s statement rings true for various groups of people; any minority has to work harder to be given the same respect as the majority.
This is what I think Zootopia is trying to say. Judy is always referred to as ‘just a bunny cop,’ she is consistently judged on her identity rather than her ability, which repeatedly goes ignored. Zootopia demonstrates that as a woman or a minority, you will face disadvantages in the workplace, and society generally. They do not offer a solution other than to work even harder to prove yourself, which perhaps highlights that the only solution is to fight for equality. Until we do that, nothing will change. Zootopia highlights the inequality in our society in an accessible way, which will hopefully ignite debates on the subject among younger people.
It is also worth noting that even though the team behind the film are made up of men, (diversity in the film industry is still on its way to being progressive), I was pleased to find out that Zootopia passes The Bechdel Test. There are multiple occasions where two female characters discuss something other than men; such as Judy’s career, law and politics. Furthermore, while Judy’s sidekick is the sly fox Nick Wilde, and they definitely work together to solve the case, Judy does not rely on him to save her, which is refreshing.
Do not underestimate Disney’s animation. It is perhaps the first children’s film I’ve seen that really delves into contemporary political issues, which is incredibly exciting. Gone are the days of fairytales about damsels in distress, or princesses waiting for their Prince Charming. Now, we have Judy Hopps, the first ever bunny cop, and a true contemporary feminist icon.