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Zootopia: a movie review

Zootopia, Disney's latest animated offering, takes place in a world where animals have evolved beyond the confines of predator and prey to live in relative harmony with one another. The story centers on Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit who grows up on a rural carrot farm. However, rather than join her parents (and her 225 brothers and sisters) in the family business, she longs to be the first of her species to become a cop. But even after succeeding and graduating first in her class, she is overlooked by her fellow officers. Despite an important investigation into the mysterious disappearance of fourteen local residents, Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to traffic duty instead of letting her take part in the case.

While on traffic duty, Hopps meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist fox whom she eventually persuades to help her find the missing locals. If all of that sounds relatively contrived, it's because the basic "whodunit" plot is something you've probably seen several times before. What really sets Zootopia apart though, and what makes it one of Disney's best films in quite some time, is the way that plot is delivered.

Zootopia combines likeable and well-voiced characters, witty, fast-paced dialogue, and an interesting, thoroughly-developed world to create a movie that was genuinely entertaining from start to finish. Those elements also allow the film to offer an important commentary on some of the root causes of the social and racial tension that so often permeate our culture, news, and politics today. However, that commentary is delivered in a subtle, unbiased manner through the natural progress of the plot and never becomes so overt that it dominates the movie.

Rather than becoming a story of blame, the film invites the audience to look in the mirror first to understand the natural bent towards prejudice and fear of the "other" that exists within each of our fallen natures. No one group is more at fault than another because it is a problem inherent to all people and one that will never be solved by looking to the sins of others before recognizing our own.

Moreover, the film gives an honest depiction of what that struggle is like. Hopps wants to look past the understandable fears of teaming up with her natural predator but carries around a can of fox-repellent throughout the film just in case. Wilde wants to be more than the mischievous, con artist that other species expect from a fox but fails to see the point in trying when he believes that's all people will ever see in him.

Zootopia reminds us of the inherent price that comes from unrecognized prejudice while simultaneously calling us not to use that prejudice as an excuse for giving in to the negative expectations others might have for us. This delicate balance brings the conversation back to the fact that we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, no matter what others may think or do. If we want to see lasting change in the social and racial tensions around us, we must begin by examining our own prejudices. If we want to see stereotypes change then we can't reinforce them by the way we act.

That approach does not excuse the faults of others but rather calls us to recognize our own imperfections and address them first. This very biblical concept is far too rare in society at large, but it is also lacking in our churches (Matthew 7:1–5). Prejudice of any kind has no place in a kingdom where all are equal (Galatians 3:28). So take some time today to ask God to help you identify any prejudicial tendencies in your life and then to help you address them according to his will. You might be surprised by what he shows you.

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