Zootopia and the careless allegory – Movies are for the birds

Zootopia and the careless allegory – Movies are for the birds


Today we’re gonna talk about Anthromorphic
animals and use Zootopia as an example for some stuff, so right off the bat, this video
is gonna be furry as all get out. I feel I should probably lean into that. Ah, I have an idea. Be right back. Okay, let’s do this thing! Zootopia is a bunny cop mov- Zootopia is a buddy cop movie about the difficult relations between animal species in- What
th-? Is it Zootopia or Zootropolis? Hang on where’s the box? ZooMANIA?! WHAT?! Anyway, Zootopia is a movie with a Strong
Allegorical connection between Animal-Species and race. This allegory is arguably the core of the
movie and prejudice is with us from the very start of the film. One of the main conflicts of the movie is
Judy Hopps, member of a species generally seen as being incapable of police work, proving
that anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it, by becoming a successful cop. I am going to be… A police officer! What makes her supposedly unfit for policework
is her species. Her parents are bunnies, her siblings are
bunnies and all her children (should she decide to have any and not adopt) will be bunnies. She’s been a bunny from birth and there is
no way for her to ever not be a bunny. This is how the movie presents race. More specifically, what keeps her from just
being a cop is that society and especially the other cops don’t see her as fit. Parking Duty. Dismissed! I wanna be a real cop. Do you think the mayor asked what I wanted
when he assigned you to me? Which is because they see her as lacking in
physical strength and size, which they consider essential qualities of a cop
Now, she is, comparatively, weak and small, this is true because of her species, which
she has since birth and will always have. They’re innate, genetic qualities. She makes a good cop anyway, not because the
other cops are wrong about her species being inherently weak and small, but because they
are wrong about what a cop needs to be. She manages to be an asset due to other qualities:
namely resourcefulness and a penchant for blackmail. Of course I could let you off with a warning
if you were to glove those trunks and I don’t know… finish selling this nice dad and his
son a… A Jumbo Pop. Actually it’s your word against yours. And if you want this pen, you’re gonna help
me find this poor missing otter or the only you’ll be selling popsicles is the prison
cafeteria. Ice this weasel. Alright alright please! I’ll talk! I’ll talk! Jesus Christ, Judy! Another main conflict is Nick Wilde’s transformation
from a petty criminal to an agent of the law In the context of the film, the police are
a force of good. They’re definitely flawed, mired in the same
prejudice as everybody else- Y-You think I’m gonna believe a fox?
-and at times incredibly ineffective, but ultimately a positive presence in Zootopia. Other Bird: Hey. Bird: What? Who’re you? Other bird: I’m you from the past. I’ve come to remind you not to get into the
police stuff. Bird: But like, I have so many opinions
Other Bird: No. Save them. Stick to the point, for fuck’s sake! Bird: Okay fine. Anyway in the context of the movie, the police
are basically okay and good, it’s just that individual cops are prejudiced and junk, but
so’s pretty much everybody in the film. The Ranger Scouts serve as a similar symbol
in Nick’s backstory. The Scouts symbolise a part of lawful, orderly
society. Nick wanted to be part of that as a child. His parents got him a uniform and he was incredibly
proud to join. But the other kids made it clear to him that
he wasn’t wanted here, on account of being a fox. He was never given a chance to show his commitment
to this lawful society. He was rejected and ostracised and this is
the inciting incident that led him onto a path of petty crime
Nick’s criminality is then a symbol of a rejection of society, its norms and the law. Nick wasn’t allowed to play by the rules,
so he’s playing outside the rules and it’s jaded him. But halfway through the movie, Judy and Nick’s
success opens the door for people like Nick to enter the police force. Nick gets to be a part of lawful society and
doesn’t feel the need to break rules anymore. Hooray! Now he gets to be treated like a person and
all he had to do was almost get killed several times in a row. Buddy! From one predator to another- Nonononono! Great! We’re dead! We’re dead! That’s it! I’m dead. You’re dead. Everybody’s dead. One thing that works a bit better here is
that the children are actually, truly wrong about the entire species thing. They attribute to Nick a predatory nature
based on his species, but unlike with Judy’s rabbity qualities, the movie goes out of its
way to show that predators aren’t actually predatory. It’s simply prejudice. The whole police investigation that forms
the core of the plot is laid out in a way to make a statement about racism as well. At first all signs point to the disappearances
being caused by specifically “predators” “going savage”. When Judy unwisely says just that at a press
conference, it causes a pretty serious backlash against predators in society. People no longer feel safe around predators. Or less safe, I should say. Because Anti Fox Tasers are a thing already. Oh for goodness’ sake! It turns out that the cause is in fact a poison
administered selectively to predators by a conspiracy of sheep that want predators to
stop taking positions of power. The poison has the same effect on anyone. There is nothing genetic about people going
savage. It’s just… a psychoactive drug. The problem isn’t a systemic one, but a conspiracy
of evil sheep, who are decidedly not an inherent part of Zootopian society or anything. They’re just racist individuals with an agenda
of racial hate. The movie decidedly puts the blame for racism
on individuals. Racist children, racist terrorists, people
who have been told a lie and are now really scared of predators. It posits that if Zootopians stopped underestimating
people because of their species, they could solve racism. The problem according to the film is people,
often good people, being racist. Otherwise, society is fine. But that’s neither here nor there. That’s not really what this video is about. I only bring this up because no matter how
you interpret the portrayal of race or ethnic relations in the movie, these issues are clearly
central to the film. And it’s not sublte. Get back to the forest, predator! I’m from the savannah! Let’s get to the real problem at hand. I would like to draw your attention to the
bit with the bunnies on the train with the tiger. The bunnies are terrified, because they are
afraid that the tiger might go savage, like several other predators have done at this
point. Look at the size difference. That Tiger is fucking huge compared to the
bunnies. That Tiger has claws and sharp teeth. Pretty much all adult tigers in the movie
look roughly like this one. They’re all bigger than bunnies, all far stronger,
all equipped with far more deadly built-in weaponry. But… That’s not at all how race works. The Allegory is severely, horrendously broken! Race is a social construct. Race isn’t based in biology, but in social
forces. Common ideas of what defines certain races
determine who is considered part of what race. Race is, thus, determined by the most superficial
characteristics: skin colour, the form of one’s hair, facial features, manner of speech
and so on. You said this was going to be quick! What, are you saying because he’s a sloth
he can’t be fast? Different animal species, however, are more
meaningfully different. They vary wildly in physical strength, bodily
features, instinctual habit and so on. All of this is true in Zootopia. Rabbits breed like rabbits – as the movie
keeps reminding us… Yes! Your dad, me, your 275 brothers and sisters… I mean I’m just a dumb bunny but we are good
at multiplying. Anyway- We are good at multiplying. Rhinos, Bears and Big Cats are strong and
pretty much impossible to beat in a fight by, say, foxes and bunnies. Wolves can’t help themselves but howl at the
moon once somebody else initiates it. This scene is supposed to depict racial hysteria,
an unreasonable fear based in racist prejudice. The movie tries to tell you that there was
never anything to legitimately worry about. The savage stuff could have happened to anyone. People’s fear of predators was unfounded. But was it really? Look at that tiger! I mean I’m sure he’s nice and peaceful and
I’m sure tigers generally are, but the fact that he could just eat these bunnies and there
would be absolutely nothing they could do about it and all this due to how he was born
and how the rabbits were born makes this read not like an allegory for Race as it functions
but for Race as racists think it functions Oh boy, okay, this is where this shit gets
dark. Hope you’re ready for this. According to the racists that like to refer
to themselves as – heavy airquotes here – “”””Race Realists”””” race is a meaningful system
of categorising people into groups with different characteristics that make them more or less
suited to certain tasks and whatnot. Zootopia at least mostly dodged the bullet
of mapping specific species to specific races in the real world, but by not thinking through
their allegory, they accidentally made a film that compares race and ethnicity in humans
to species in animals in a way that causes severe problems. The idea of comparing different ethnicities
of humans to different species of animals has a long-standing tradition in reactionary,
racist and fascist propaganda. The Nazis likened Jewish people to all manner
of things, but among them were rats and spiders. Nazi Propaganda tried really hard to link
Jewish people to literal vermin in people’s minds. American World War 2 propaganda shows Japanese
people as bats and rats. In general, fascists and other racists are
really fond of conceptualising different races as different species to legitimise their fearmongering. If you can convince someone that people of
some races are just inherently stronger or weaker, smarter, or less smart, more sexually
forceful or less so, you can then make the argument that oppressing other races is reasonable
and necessary. Look again at the shot with the tiger and
the bunnies. It says, unwittingly, that maybe they should
be afraid. After all the tiger is huge and has claws
and they are just little bunnies. This is obviously not what the movie is trying
to say and I would be acting in very bad faith if I were to argue that it does. I just feel the movie severely undermines
itself and its vaguely progressive message by framing things this way. It betrays either a careless metaphor, or
some really harmful ideas held by the creators of this movie about what race is. Now, you might say “Well what’s the point
then? You can’t make a story in which characters
are animals and that makes a point about race, ethnicity and racism?” Not at all, Mr. Strawman, Sir. There is in fact a really damn good counter-example! And this is where the cat ears come off. Maus is a comic created by Jewish American
artist Art Spiegelman and released between 1980 and 1991
It is, first and foremost a biography of Art Spiegelman’s father and holocaust survivor
Vladek Spiegelman framed inside an autobiographical narrative of how the comic itself came to
be. Maus is interesting in that it also uses an
animal metaphor to tell its story about racial hate, despite it being non-fiction. In Maus people are depicted as animal species
based on ethnicity and/or nationality. Jewish people are depicted as mice, hence
the name, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs. You see the obvious reference to American
cartoon logic, yeah? Polish people are depicted as pigs, French
people as frogs and the British… hang on are there Brits in here? Oh. Oh my god!
And yet I feel it avoids the pitfalls that Zootopia falls into. How does it do that? The metaphor is very thin. The Anthropomorphic animals work kind of like
masks. Jewish people are referred to as Jews, not
as mice. Germans are referred to as Germans, not as
cats. It’s not a world of animals. It’s a world of people of different ethnicities,
simply drawn as animals Natural size disparity between species is
elimininated, everybody is human-sized, nobody actually retains any biological advantages
or disadvantages their species would have. Spiegelman put a lot of thought into the symbology
he was putting into the comic. A lot of it is a direct reference to the way
Nazis conceptualised race and how they viewed different ethnicities. Jewish people are mice as a nod to Nazi propaganda
depicting them as literal vermin to be exterminated. Any value that can be extracted from them
is incidental. Complete eradication is the goal. Germans as cats then follows pretty easily. Cats hunt and kill mice. By extension, Americans are dogs because in
cartoon logic, dogs hunt cats, but also because dogs, more than cats, are known for being
very diverse, what with the great diversity of different races of dogs. This was very important to Spiegelman: depicting
the USA as a diverse nation. Polish people are depicted as pigs because
pigs are production animals. They exist, to humans, to be killed for meat
but they are not to be eradicated entirely. The Nazi plan for Polish people was to serve
as slaves to build their Empire. And so on and so forth
The comic knowingly invokes fascist propaganda in an effort to counter and subvert it. The Jewish mice are drawn in a way that makes
them look very appealing rather than the hideous depictions used in actual propaganda. The German cats are often sinister and scary. Maus also invokes Cartoons like Mickey Mouse
and Tom and Jerry. To the Nazis, Jewish people are vermin. In American Cartoons, the mouse is the underdog,
the protagonist, the one we root for. The comic is extremely aware of the inherent
problems of the metaphor and where it breaks down and it purposefully draws your attention
to these problems. This is especially powerful because it lays
bare some of the logical holes in Nazi ideology. In Part One Chapter Six, Vladek and Anja are
looking for shelter after the Ghetto they lived in was massacred by the Nazis. In order to avoid being detected and reported
by collaborators among the Polish populace, they have to avoid being recognised as Jewish. Now in the real world there isn’t an obvious
difference in outward appearance between a Jewish Pole and a non-Jewish Pole. But due to the animal metaphor, they are very
different, so Vladek and Anja wear pig masks to look Polish. Part Two Chapter One starts with the artist
and his wife Francoise having a discussion about what animal she should be depicted as. She is French and not ethnically Jewish, but
as she points out, she converted to the Jewish faith. Every other French person in the comic is
depicted as a frog, but as you can see, Francoise is a mouse. She is an edge case that draws attention to
the question of what makes one Jewish. In Part 2 Chapter 2, a man at the Auschwitz-Birkenau
concentration camp tries to convince the guards that he is neither Jewish nor Polish but German
and doesn’t belong in the camp. For a single panel he turns from a mouse into
a cat, because Vladek simply didn’t know whether he was telling the truth or not. In the panel where the Nazi guards murder
him, he is a mouse again, because to them, he was Jewish. In Part 2 Chapter 5, Vladek and Anja stay
with a married couple in Hannover. A German man and a Jewish woman, a cat and
a mouse, married with children. And Note here that Spiegelman didn’t have
to depict the children, as they’re not critical to understaning the story. But here they are. Little mouse children with the stripes of
a tabby cat. Once again, the animal metaphor is purposefully
shown to be flawed. According to Nazi ideology, there are very
clear and real biological differences between them and Jewish people or between them and
Slavic people. To them the difference between races is clear
and meaningful. Maus starts from this hypothesis, depicting
ethnicities as clearly, obviously disparate. But as the very real story of a holocaust
survivor shows, the lines that Nazis and other racists like to draw are in fact very blurry
and very artificial. Because of all this the comic never ends up
giving the impression that relations between ethnicities are comparable to those between
species. In fact the comic very clearly states that
they are not. That the metaphor is flawed and needs to be
handled carefully especially in the parts where it doesn’t work. So what am I actually trying to say here? It’s definitely not that Zootopia is a bad
movie or that you should hate it. I myself actually like it a lot! It’s beautifully made, it’s exciting and fun
and it has the sexiest tigers that I’ve ever- This is more about a nagging feeling that
I have that Zootopia, as it tries to gently introduce children to the concept of racism,
fumbles severely and depicts it as something it is not, that it might have a hand in giving
people a flawed understanding of ethnicity, race and racism. And Maus shows, that it’s not inherently the
animal metaphor that causes this. Through expert, thoughtful handling, it can
be used to great effect. Okay NOW we talk about how the police are
inherently a load of utter f- Thank you for watching. This video took me very long to make. Please let me know what you think in the comments. In case you haven’t read Maus yourself, I
strongly recommend it, it is an absolutely stunning, thought-provoking, finely crafted
work of art. As you can likely imagine, given the subject
matter, the comic is quite grim, often disturbing and depressing. So before giving it a read, make sure you’re
mentally stable enough to handle it. If you read it and want to know more about
it and how it came to be, I also recommend reading MetaMaus, in which Art Spiegelman
discusses a lot of the thoughts and personal experiences that went into the comic and which
I used as one of my main sources for this video. It’s a fascinating read and it comes with
a CD-ROM with just a ton of additional material like sketches, photos, essays and audio recordings
of interviews Art conducted with his father. All right, nonbinary pals and guys and gals. See you next time!

25 thoughts on “Zootopia and the careless allegory – Movies are for the birds

  1. I hadn't thought about how one could do the animal metaphor WELL like that even though I read Maus, so I'm really happy to see it not only showcased, but used as a comparison point- I think it's a really good choice, and a great video!

  2. The anime/manga series Beastars deals with a similar presence but completely distances itself from the racism allegory through worldbuilding and establishing the rules of the series. The people in Beastars are NOT meant to be allegorical to humans, they're anthropomorphic animals that have grown into a society similar to humanity, but vastly different. It portrays relations between species, gender, etc in ways that almost seem to exist within a vaccuum- the author makes you forget that you could draw comparison between our society and theirs.

    Anyway, it's brilliant and I recommend checking it out. Definitely a darker tone than Zootopia.

  3. Oh, I can leave comments again

    I never thought about using the animal-race metaphor well, but it's such a cool idea

  4. Thank you for this wonderful contrast between the use of animal imagery in Zootopia and Spiegelman's incredible Maus. Your argument came through clearly and was easy to follow. The visuals added meaningfully to your argument and illustrated what you were speaking about at every point. After this first part, I'd lost all hope for making use of such easy-to-recognize imagery to discuss issues of race and ethnicity, and then you did such a great job reminding me about Maus and how artfully Spiegelman planned his use of the imagery and critically examined its use in part 2.

    Very glad Jack Saint posted about your video on twitter; subscribed and looking forward to more content like this from your channel!

  5. this was fantastic! i knew there was a reason why zootopia missed the mark with it's allegory (apart from the police being inherently a load of utter f-) and you articulated it perfectly! super entertaining too 😀

  6. this was a really nice video! Did you also know that often in media Birbs are used as an allegory for good media critics 🤔

  7. This was a wonderful video; I even was really swayed as someone who really loves Zootopia (Animation, Story, Characters especially)

    I always knew the racial metaphor was kind of sloppy because you can't do a straight 1:1 comparison of animals/pred/prey with race cause it's so different. However I do think because the movie plays into the scale and these inherent differences between the species, it does leave a lingering element of "Well…some stereotypes are true." The movie doesn't lean into that with the messaging, however it definitely does when it comes to the humor. Part of it makes me think they missed this step because Disney was really happy to explore the scale and different environment to create when you put that into process. (Which did make the animation really good)

    I do have one question though considering the themes. What do you think about the arc of Gideon? Does he also fit the narrative that racism/prejudice is more individual than systematic or is he more of an outlier? I do think you generalize things a little to broadly as racism being entirely individually driven (as the system does influence some characters to become more actively prejudice) I remember that character sticking out as something unique in the discussion cause his change towards Judy was very unique. Either way, you really dove into the subject expertly…and hope more people will be reading Maus.

  8. Imagine how much more impactful that Zootopia subway scene would be if they instead had a giant giraffe recoiling from a tiny otter. Great video!

  9. I am so glad you talked about Maus here as a comparison and not Beastars because with it now coming out as an Anime, anyone and their mom has "BEASTARS IS ZOOTOPIA BUT GOOD/SMART/CLEVER" going around and it's… annoying.
    So yeah i went into this video primed with negativity, rolling my eyes when i saw it going live last night and finally watched it now. It's good! I think the points stand that metaphores need to be handled with a lot more care. I think Zootopia still works as a "first dive" but it shouldn't be the end-all. If it can be traced to anything, i'd say Fables, where most anthropomorphic stories hail from and that might be why Zootopia is careless in some depictions and fumbles: Because it hails back to a genre thats ancient and has always done this kinda carelessness because the basic point boils down to "Racism bad". Similar to how Wolf and the Seven Goats is an elaborate "don't open the door to strangers" story.

  10. Another lovely video I really enjoyed! Your videos are so fun to actually watch, too, because your little birb is just so delightful to look at! Really awesome job at the comedic editing of the Zootopia parts and scripting!

  11. Nice Job, I enjoyed it a lot!, See this New Album 'Monish Jasbird – Death Blow', channel link www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_x5rlxirO-WKjLIyk6okQ?sub_confirmation=1 , you can try 🙂

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