Invading Worlds in Zootopia

"Zootopia" | Art by AndyFairhurst. Used with permission.
When you’re a little mammal, the world can be a big and scary place. Stu and Bonnie Hopps know this and go out of their way to emphasize the danger to their daughter, Judy. For her part, Judy courageously leaves the small town of Bunnyburrow for the big city of Zootopia. She’s convinced that she’s going to make her mark on the world as a police officer, despite her parents’ inhibitions. She plans to conquer the world by doing good deeds.

As it turns out, there are a LOT of worlds for her to conquer. The boroughs of Zootopia include a variety of cultures and biomes, and each has a distinct vibe and a unique climate. Judy learns to handle the physical challenges during her time at the police academy, but learning to connect with the different species takes a little longer.

Her first attempt at being a “do-gooder” doesn’t work out as expected. She encounters a fox by the name of Nick Wilde. It seems like he and his son are being discriminated against in an elephant neighborhood. Judy steps in, asserts her authority, and goes away feeling pretty good about herself. Except the good feeling fades away when she realizes that Nick is a smooth-talking con-man, his “son” is an adult, and the two of them are running a just-barely-legal scam to turn a quick buck.

Staying in my own world and refusing to step into others is a challenge.

Judy is furious at Nick for hustling her and at herself for falling for it. She had made one of the classic mistakes of a would-be hero; she invaded Nick’s world instead of entering it. I’m often guilty of the same thing. I reach out to help someone, but I don’t take the time to get to know them and find out what they need. I just stomp in with my solutions and then declare the problem fixed—never mind what the person actually required or wanted.

Judy has to re-engage with Nick when he turns out to be her only lead in an important missing mammal investigation. She coerces him into helping her. As they begin to work together, each of them gives a little and begins to enter the other’s world.

At first, this doesn’t seem like a good thing. Judy’s world of police work collides unexpectedly with Nick’s criminal past and the two of them are nearly killed by a local crime boss. Once they escape, the two of them are nearly killed by an out-of-control jaguar. Judy is not happy about entering Nick’s world.

Nick has been a self-declared “hustler” for most of his life. He works around the law to achieve his goals. His views are the polar opposite of Judy’s. Except, he stands up to Judy’s commander when she’s told her career is over; he demands that she be allowed to continue the investigation, even promising that they will solve the case. Nick might not have a cop’s instincts, but he knows injustice when he sees it. He steps away from his self-centeredness and does something nice for Judy—something risky that doesn’t benefit himself.

If I was in his place, I don’t know if I would have done the same thing. Am I willing to stand up for justice? What if somebody is gossiping to me? Telling demeaning jokes? If I don’t feel connected to the victim’s world, it’s all too easy to keep my mouth shut or even to join in. Empathy and courage are hard to come by when I’m talking about somebody who’s not part of my world.

As the investigation progresses, Nick tells Judy about a hazing incident from his childhood. He tells her that he learned something important that day, “That if the world’s only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point in being anything else.” The kids that Nick grew up with only saw him as an outsider.

Judy empathetically shares in Nick’s pain. She leaves her own world and, for a moment, enters his. Her new perspective lets her call him a friend. She even invites him to join the police force. After all, it would be nice to have a partner.

I reach out to help someone, but I don’t take the time to get to know them and find out what they need.

Their new friendship doesn’t last long, though. Judy hasn’t connected with Nick’s world as well as she imagines. At a press conference, she makes some ill-considered remarks about the danger posed by the predators in Zootopia.

When Nick challenges her, she tries to defend herself.

Judy: I just stated the facts of the case! I mean, it’s not like a bunny can go savage.
Nick: Right. But a fox could, huh?
Judy: Nick, stop it! You’re not like them.
Nick: Oh, so there’s a them now?

Judy’s connection to Nick’s world was more shallow than she realized. At the crucial moment, she could only see things from her point-of-view.

Staying in my own world and refusing to step into others is a challenge for me as well. A big part of my life, especially because I’m a Christian, is looking out for the poor and lowly. Time and again, Jesus is shown getting to know the marginalized. As His follower, I’m called to do the same. Will I be like Judy, thinking I’ve entered another world when I’ve only scratched the surface? Or will I have the courage to truly embrace the inherent dignity of all people?

Because she was in a Disney film, Judy eventually learns her lesson and fully embraces Nick for who he is. With a little luck and a lot of grace, I hope I can do the same in our world.

Kevin Cummings

Kevin Cummings

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Kevin grew up reading the ABCs—Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Since then he's expanded his fandoms to include films, television, web series and any other geek property he can find.

He has been married to an extraordinarily patient woman for more than three decades and they have two adult sons. Kevin also has entirely too many DVD boxes with the words "Complete Series" on the cover. He enjoys exploring themes of faith through his fandoms.
Kevin Cummings

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