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Bunny cop Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) consoles con-artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) in Disney’s newest triumph.

The Art of Racial Reconciliation

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Disney Animation Studios has been on quite a roll. While I expected good things from their newest release, Zootopia, I admit I was floored by, well, just how good it was. I dare say it may even be one of their best to date. Walt would be proud.

Drawing on their history of all-animal “casts” like Robin Hood and The Lion King, the first thing I was blown away by was the sheer scope and beauty of the animation. The trend towards computer animation can leave many films feeling cold onscreen, but Disney has avoided this with the groundbreaking techniques they have used since 2010’s Tangled, and is here perfected.

But the real kicker is the story. What could have simply been a good animal buddy-cop befriends con-artist romp becomes a morality tale on racial reconciliation that is heartfelt without becoming preachy. It is a tale that is very timely for the racial rhetoric being spewed by an array of politicians and talking heads on both sides in our society.

Headline after headline in the past two years in particular has shown how divided America still is in terms of black and white, not to mention the rest of our melting pot. And the communication and cultural breakdowns between respecting authority figures and having compassion for marginalized communities threaten to further drive us apart. The film’s conflict between predator and prey serves as a parable for the historical racial tension between black and white in America.

Without giving away too much, Zootopia illustrates (pun intended) that even well-meaning good guys like protagonist bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) bring their own prejudices to the table, and that seeming stereotypes like sly fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) are often a product of the expectations society has already put on them based on cultural assumptions. And both characters show that we can all change if we just – well – try.

As far as the Oscars go, Zootopia finds itself as an early frontrunner in the Best Animated Feature race. And the original song “Try Everything” (performed by Shakira) is infectiously upbeat and has good potential for a Best Original Song nomination. No Disney film’s script has ever been up for a writing nomination, not even Best Picture nominee Beauty and the Beast, though Pixar films have scored a host of writing nominations, so it’s not impossible, and the writing is certainly solid enough here to warrant consideration.

As for the redemptive qualities of the film, I think Zootopia will endure as a lesson in understanding and non-prejudice for youngsters and parents alike. While the mystery at the center of the plot does reveal a primary antagonist character – the ultimate villain of the movie is prejudice itself. It was impossible to walk out of the theater without meditating on the following passage from Isaiah 11:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

As all of Creation fractured in the Fall, so it will be restored by the King of Creation through whom all things exist and are being held together (Colossians 1:15-17). Zootopia gives us a fun albeit fictitious glimpse of what that could be like – and should convict us humans to analyze our own prejudices and put ourselves into the shoes – or hooves or paws – of those who look different than us. The Good News is for all peoples, not just one ethnic group, and even Christ’s own genealogy is a mixed bag. In the meantime, there is a lot of healing that needs to happen still, and believers must be active agents of understanding and compassion, not side-choosing pariahs or passive bystanders.

Also, we must not neglect to prey. Sorry, I mean pray.

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