‘Zootopia’ attracts broader audiences with deep messages

December 9, 2016 — by Ethan Ko

As children filed into the theater in anticipation for the Disney movie “Zootopia” this past March, they found themselves looking at a sea of teens and adults. Although most animated films are aimed at younger audiences, a few have managed to attract moviegoers of all ages.

Over the past decade or so, there seems to have been an animated movie renaissance as the best animated films of the decade have become leaders in creativity and imagination.

Gone are the movies about silly adventures; in its place are movies with nuanced messages woven throughout the storylines. Their popularity may correlate with their increased sophistication.

For example, social commentary on racial issues is embedded in “Zootopia,”  in which anthropomorphic animals live in a city where predators and prey have evolved from their “savage ways” and now live together in harmony. The main character, a bunny named Judy Hopps, dares to become a police officer, a role dominated by larger animals.

While the subliminal themes of “Zootopia,” such as oppression of minority groups and racial stereotyping, may not be obvious to younger viewers, older viewers readily pick up on the parallels.

For example, when fox Nick Wilde touches the wool of assistant mayor Bellwether, a sheep, he is scolded for touching it without her permission. Today, there are those who view African American hair as an exotic exhibition; African Americans, however, find this habit offensive and even degrading.

Another instance of social commentary can be found in DreamWorks’ “Home.” In this animated film, an alien named Oh seeks refuge on Planet Earth after his homeland comes under attack from an invasive alien species.

Like “Zootopia,” the audience’s demographics were ranged and can be contributed to the insights on the current issue of immigration that the movie offers.

Reflecting on the Syrian refugee crisis,  in “Home,” Oh and his race of Boovs, an alien race, face hatred in the new place, even though they must flee the imminent danger back at home. However, the trip is not easy and if they make the arduous journey, they often face racial hatred and are seen as potential threats.

To attract a more diverse audience and maybe better ratings, the filmmakers who made “Zootopia” have implemented themes that older viewers can appreciate while still entertaining younger viewers.

Although many other filmmakers have tried implementing cheesy jokes and happy endings to satisfy the children’s love for magic, it is the complex themes that directors subtly incorporate that make current animated films such as this one so successful.

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