Political correctness runs amok in “Zootopia”

MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating:               

Zootopia has everything a great animated film should have: witty writing, amazing landscapes, multi-faceted characters, and a positive message for youngsters. Yet while there’s much to like here, the movie’s emphasis on political correctness leads to the blurring of some important lines.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a small-town rabbit with big dreams of being a cop in the thriving metropolis of Zootopia. Years ago, the ancient world was divided by predator and prey, but now everyone—from lemmings to foxes, lambs to tigers—lives in peace. Yet, racism…err…speciesism still dominates the culture, and Hopps is keenly sensitive to the fact that she is the first “prey” on the force. Under the city’s “inclusion program,” the police chief reluctantly gives Hopps 48 hours to solve a missing person case, but her unlikely partner in the pursuit of justice is a street-smart fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Through the course of the investigation, Hopps’ expectations and prejudices are challenged again and again, proving the sins one hates most are usually found within.

One lesson taught by Zootopia has been so overdone in children’s entertainment it seems like a banal waste of screen-time: “you can be anything you want to be.” The sentiment is constantly echoed by the film’s insufferable theme song. Hopps’ parents are unsupportive of her goals, encouraging her to “settle hard.” She is also teased by her classmates, and has a rather violent encounter with the local bully, a redneck fox. Yet this is a Disney movie, so Hopps’ dreams are only a montage away.

But life is more complicated than Hopps would like to think. While Zootopia believes it has moved beyond animals’ primitive instincts, many attitudes of the past remain. Though they represent only 10 percent of the population, predators dominate almost all positions of leadership and authority. Early on, Nick makes the mistake of calling Hopps “cute.” “Cute is something bunnies can call each other, but it’s not okay when other animals say it,” she insists. Yet Hopps is not immune to prejudice, and carries around “fox repellant,” a fact that does not go unnoticed by Nick.

Zootopia is very easy to like. It says all the “right” things about prejudice and empathy with great wit and beautiful animation. It largely succeeds in addressing its primary issues of race, but at times takes its politically correct message too far. Inclusiveness and the movie’s “be anything you want to be” sentimentality are pushed to the point of absurdity when, in one scene, Hopps affirms a young fox who aspires to be an elephant. “You can be anything you want be,” she tells him. Yeah, right.

I recently received a painful reminder of how this appeal to inclusion can overreach and become insanity. Every year thousands attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholic educators in the country and a “who’s who” of Catholic publishers, including Ignatius Press. I went to a workshop entitled “Transgenderism in the Church: One Bread, One Body,” which would be described by some as the “largest discussion on this issue in the history of the Church.”

Rather than being a healthy affirmation of the dignity of the human person, as suggested by the title, the presentation became a platform for two people who have undergone gender reassignment to describe their experiences as “God’s saving grace,” while constantly pointing out how the Church’s teaching is backwards and wrong, and even manipulating Scripture to defend their cause. Worse still, I watched in muted horror as hundreds of teachers, catechists, and clergy give them several standing ovations. Rather than bringing the gospel of Christ to the world, many have allowed the world to bring its gospel into Christ’s Church.

On one level, Zooptoia feeds into this frenzy for unreflective inclusivity at all costs. Its message on racial prejudice is an important one, but it unfortunately careens into equating disagreement with intolerance, playing into our generation’s relentless “hashtivism” and sucking much of the joy out of an otherwise wonderful movie.

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About Nick Olszyk 201 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".