Thoughts on Zootopia (2016)

My first thoughts on finishing Zootopia (2016; early 2016—timing is key) were about the same as Matt Zoller Seitz’s over at the Roger Ebert website; in his review, after praising the animation (that train sequence!) and voice acting (shout out to Jenny Slate’s Dawn Bellwether!), he points out that although the film’s message is that people shouldn’t be taken at face value according to the broad, superficial categories they belong to, most of the gags in the film do precisely that. But then I remembered what George Clooney says to Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (2009): “I’m like my mother: I stereotype. It’s faster.”

The truth is that, just like if we erased skin color people would still self-segregate along other lines, pretending that superficial differences don’t exist is pointless. The idea of multiculturalism is not acceptance but tolerance; you don’t have to love people of a different race/gender/sex/religion/sexual orientation/education/class/occupation/age/football team fandom, you just have to treat them as if they were not of a race/gender/etc. that rubs you the wrong way, to the best of your ability.

People on the (American) cultural right argue that you can’t get everyone to like you, nor is life fair, so it makes more sense to foster self-confidence and a thicker skin. On an individual level this does make more sense; the problem arises when the specific prejudice is systemic and consistent. On the emotional level, one worry can be brushed aside, but the same worry repeated ten thousand times gives a person depression; on a material, bureaucratic level, one biased clerk is a hassle, but a biased office, or agency, or Federal Department, results in a de facto deprivation of rights (just ask any African American with a modicum of sociohistorical awareness). Progressives are so wound up about things like microaggressions because the specific kind of prejudice manifested in each instance still exists on a systemic level. The slippery slope argument beloved of the right—if you remove Robert E. Lee’s statue today, it’ll be George Washington’s tomorrow!—is more appropriately applied to the left: “First they came for the Socialists, . . .” Or, as I recently came across on tumblr, this true story.

So the ending of Zootopia, with its reversal of the “slow sloth” stereotype in the person of a speeding Flash (Raymond S. Persi), has its messaging exactly where it wants it.

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