Zootopia is more than a good movie. Zootopia is so moving to me, it aches. In this feeling, I know I’m not alone. As I write this, there is over 700 million dollars worth of proof that it has touched millions of people worldwide. This is something no one anticipated. Out of nowhere, Zootopia has emerged to touch us in a way that goes far beyond what we might expect from even an inventive and artfully told animal fable (of which Zootopia most certainly is).
This is because it is not really about the adventurous police caper.
Zootopia is a movie about possibility.
Zootopia’s true story is about two, dare I say real, characters, each who enter the story with their own views and blind spots and barriers and foibles, and who sail the messy seas together. Over the course of the film, Judy and Nick travel way more than the metaphorical 211 miles between Bunnyburrow and Zootopia. Through their escapades together, their personal journeys are immense.
That is the true heart of Zootopia. We bear witness to the deep and profound insights and growth that rocks each of them to their very core. To be clear, these are not superficial shifts, minor adjustments of character or the learning a quick and easy slogan. They are foundational. The Nick and Judy who dance together at the end of the movie are not the same Nick and Judy as those we met at the beginning.
Furthermore, everything is on display. Zootopia is not necessarily a “positive” movie. It presents no magic moments. Throughout the movie, they confront all manner of existential and philosophical barriers, and they deal with them. Judy and Nick earn their transformations because they work for it. They make serious mistakes. They take risks. They let themselves be vulnerable. Nothing is ever guaranteed. They fail, and they go back.
Consider what we see get transformed in the movie: hidden bias, personal barriers, incidents from our past, broken friendships, societal and peer pressures, and fear. We witness amazing examples of taking ownership, of apology and forgiveness, of empathy, of trust, and that anything can be worked out in communication. We are reminded that we can fail without being a failure, and that we are never stuck in who we think we are, or who we think we have to be. We can always choose, and we can always change.
Through it all, we follow Judy and Nick as they develop one of the most incredibly authentic friendships ever depicted in cinema, one forged in understanding and, by the end of the movie, in deep acceptance of each other.
All of these, all in one movie. That’s… beyond remarkable.
Here’s the thing: We are hungry for this.
We want to journey, like Nick and Judy, towards the best versions of ourselves we can be.
We want to be dragged, like Nick, kicking and screaming if need be, back to our own idealism of a world that can work for everyone, with no one left out.
We want to know, like Judy, how to handle a world that doesn’t always fit our hopes and dreams.
We want to find friendships where we truly feel at home.
We want to make a difference in this world.
This is it. This is what we all want in life. These are the hopes and desires we all share. And this is why this movie calls to us so strongly. It not only touches our shared humanity, but celebrates it.
And that is why Zootopia has captured our hearts so strongly, in so short a time. Zootopia is a clarion call towards those aspirations that we have hidden and buried under resignation and overwhelm.
I’m going to make a bold declaration here: Zootopia is more than just a good movie, Zootopia is IMPORTANT.
Stories are powerful. Everything we know about ourselves, and about the world, is codified into stories. Some of the stories we make up ourselves. Most of the stories, we hear… and then make up something about. Often, our mind doesn’t know which are which. This conflux of narratives gives us our experience of life, and they tell us who we are, and who we are not, tell us who others are, and how others are not, and tell us how the world is, and how it is not.
That’s why, when we see these kinds of possibilities and are shown wonderful examples of powerful transformation on the screen, they all becomes a part of us. Possibility begets possibility. When possibilities are shared, they create space for possibilities for others. They alter our worldview, and thus, our world.
As we journey along with Nick and Judy, as we witness and experience their trials and triumphs, we too gain access to this world of possibility.
Equally important, we get to see that the path is not an open road. It is one that is littered with pitfalls and upsets. We equally get to see that is OK. That is how it goes. Not everything is fatal. We can clean it up. We can make amends. We can forgive. Things take time.
Sometimes, there will be strong and entrenched forces in our way. That too is OK. That’s how it goes. We can regroup and continue. Rome (and Zootopia) wasn’t built in a day, nor did it fall apart in a day. There is history there. It takes time to write new history.
And then, there lies the biggest barriers before us: those within ourselves. We’re all faced with incidents and failures in our past, our weaknesses, and our nagging, persistent, unproductive ways of being. And yet… those weaknesses are just another reminder of something. “Hey, glass half full,” says Judy in her speech at the end of the movie, ” we have a lot in common!”
In both our desires and our faults, we share a common bond.
We need this kind of storytelling. We need this kind of experience. Stories are potent because they can create experiences as real as our own. Zootopia seeps deeper into us than we might expect because it talks directly to us, entering our imaginations with grace and honour and respect. Zootopia possesses a visceral intimacy that bypasses our knowledge and our “yeah, buts…” to dance directly with our human spirit.
The creators at Disney didn’t have to do this, of course. They didn’t need to write this kind of insightful and profound meditation on life. They could have made a silly movie filled with animal hijinks and called it a day. That they didn’t speaks to their commitment to what storytelling can achieve.
The brilliance of Zootopia is in these two main characters. Judy is us. Nick is us. They start in very different spaces and places. Neither is a paragon of the animal kingdom. But in the end, they achieve remarkable wisdom, together.
Zootopia reminds us what who we truly want to be, opens us up to possibility, and shows us the path to take while giving us the gumption to see it through along the messy road.
That is everything great storytelling can do.
Read all entries in this series: The Zootopia Meditations