Anyone may know of my love for Zootopia- Walt Disney’s recent animated classic. To me, I thought it had something for everyone. It is funny, sweet, inventive and beautiful to look at. However, one criticism I do hear is that the messaging is heavy-handed. I feel those who make this critique fail to understand the type of movie Zootopia is: Zootopia at its heart is a fable and Walt Disney Animation has a long history of fables. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see them return to this important format that teaches children lessons and entertains adults.
A fable, if you didn’t know, is a story that teaches a moral to children. These are most famously done in the Aesop’s Fables, which have been around since 650 BC. Most indigenous cultures, however, also have their own versions of fables or legends.
These fables are important because, believe it or not, sometimes kids don’t like to listen to their parents lecture and teach them. A fable on the other hand, can teach a child about right and wrong in a story which is easier for them to absorb and listen too.
Now, before you all freak out, I’m not saying Zootopia is for children. I’m saying the fable part of it is. Then, everything around said fable is meant to entertain the adults in the audience. For the life of me, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
Disney is no stranger to fables. They even had a release of 6 volumes called Walt Disney Fables on DVD. These include stories such as the Prince and Pauper, The Tortoise and the Hare, the Ugly Duckling, and more. These stories exist to teach a lesson to children.
Like what does a child learn from Tortoise and the Hare? They learn that slow and steady will often win the race and that cockiness can be our undoing. What does a child learn from the Ugly Duckling? They learn that what we see as ugly may actually be a beautiful swan. We judge something to be different and therefore it is bad when in reality it may be the most beautiful of all.
Prince and Pauper teaches us that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and that money doesn’t always equal happiness. You get the idea.
Is it just because Zootopia has the guts to actually write an original fable? I don’t hear anyone breaking down the metaphorical flaws in The Ugly Duckling or Prince and the Pauper. I mean surely there are other swans in the lake and surely someone would notice a different person is the prince? Of course we don’t do that. It would be ridiculous to do so.
But I’ve heard many a pundit break down the metaphor in Zootopia in this way and to be honest I think it is equally ridiculous. It’s a fable to teach a lesson to children, for goodness sake.
In a way, I wish we lived in a world that didn’t need Zootopia. Unfortunately, parents need a way to discuss shootings and hate crimes with their children. Zootopia gives them a doorway to start such discussions with characters kids can relate too.
It also has answers that aren’t that simple because in reality these issues aren’t easy to fix. Judy, the main protagonist, is as guilty as anyone else of prejudice and fearing others that are different. What a great tool for a parent to say to a child ‘what did Judy learn?’ and then have a discussion.
And it doesn’t just stop there for Zootopia. There are lessons about bullying, never giving up, and forgiving others that are also important to teach to children. We even get an anti-drug message you could talk to kids about.
I suppose what it comes down to is: does the humor, characters, settings, story give adults enough to enjoy the film or is the fable the main draw? For me, the answer is a huge yes. I love Zootopia and I think it is really cool that Disney stepped away from a fairytale-style narrative and gave us a modern-day fable. It is a new original entry in their rich history of fables and one I think parents will be grateful for generations to come.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden