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Faith Reels: Zootopia… layers of meaning!

Faith Reels: Zootopia… layers of meaning!

by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster

There are lots of good things about this movie.  The story is remarkably well suited for kids and adults. There is a nice subtext that even the most jaded adult may find charming. Disney has done a fine job with this animated film and the messages of acceptance: be who you are, stick to your dreams, be nice, stand up for people if they are bullied and keep a great sense of humor, all come through loud and clear. Besides, it is a fun movie to watch. Maybe that’s why it’s been number one at the box office since it came out.

A rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is vocationally single minded. She wants to be a cop. So Judy enrolls in the Zootopia Police Academy, and through perseverance, a positive attitude and creative thinking, she graduates at the top of her class and heads for her dream job as a police person, in uniform, in the big city. Naturally, her parents’ whiskers are all a-twitch about her safety. Equipping her with a spray can of some sort of “fox mace,” Judy hops on the train leaving her 200+ siblings at home in the country.

‘Zootopia’ is a city where the animals have apparently matured into a “live and let live” lifestyle with former predator and prey working and living side by side with nary a scratch or snarl. Everybody has a job. In a hilariously funny scene at the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) the careful, slow to respond sloth at the desk finally answers the questions posed by Judy. The news anchors are a snow leopard and a Moose and yep, you guessed it, Judy Hopps in her duty as a cop, gets accidentally involved with a fox aptly named Nathan Wilde (Jason Bateman).

Voices of J.K. Simmons, Shakira, Idris Elba and Octavia Spencer give this animated film real credibility.

Real world issues such as xenophobia, racial profiling, and sexism, are considered in a tone that makes them understandable and easy to hear. After all, the ones guilty of these things are animals, so we can watch and chuckle, but the meaning and inference is not lost on us. For instance, Judy reminds a fellow officer that it’s okay for one bunny to call another bunny “cute” but it’s not so good when another animal does it. And, as she declares, “I am not just a token bunny”.

Even though the plot is a bit like a traditional crime-stopper film, there is no old-style to this film. It is all fun and games embellished by the reality of living in a world of obvious, and often surprisingly subtle, differences. Just like the world we live in.

We can learn a lot from these anthropomorphic animals. They take on good and bad human characteristics. You might find yourself asking, “What would Jesus’ otter do?”



Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California.  They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels


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