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Rising Voices

Zootopia: An Empowering, Feminist Tail

From bringing in new and empowering female characters like Moana and Merida, to imparting moral lessons about equality and the dangers of xenophobia, Disney has changed quite a bit in the last few years. The earliest Disney princess movies had unsettling and misogynistic themes that measured a woman’s success by her marital status and physical appearance. Since then, Frozen and other newer films have shattered the traditional fairytale mold. But Zootopia goes even further. While the modernized princesses reinvent what it means to be a princess, Zootopia actively addresses the struggles associated with being a woman in a modern, though patriarchal, society. Let’s just say, this isn’t your grandmother’s Disney movie (but maybe she would like it).

The movie follows an undoubtedly feminist bunny rabbit, Judy Hopps, who longs to be a police officer. Judy must work twice as hard to prove she’s just as good as the other cops because she’s the very first bunny police officer, a scenario many working women can relate to.  Officer Hopps is underestimated at first and told repeatedly to “get back on the carrot farm where she belongs!,” a phrase that is all too similar to, “get back in the kitchen!” People called her names like “cottontail.” They belittled her and only focused on her physical appearance; nevertheless she persisted. Though these instances only hint at the real adversity women face, one of the final scenes seals the deal. Judy is driving her police car and her partner asks, “Do all bunnies drive like that?”– a clear connection to the stereotype about women being bad drivers. I walked out of the movie knowing the Judy Hopps’ story represented the very real struggles of working women.

Movies like these are invaluable in raising strong and self-confident young women.

Of course, the older you are, the more you’re able to appreciate the social commentaries, but, even a six-year-old can come away with the feeling that even a bunny rabbit can be a cop, or perhaps, even a woman can be president. Even better, this movie is effective for all genders and hits home for other oppressed groups as well. Though gender is certainly a core aspect of the movie, in having the protagonist be an animal and not belong to any recognizable contemporary group, the film allows for everyone to find a version of themselves in Judy Hopps. Additionally, this film was wholly separate from any romantic plotline. Judy Hopps had a goal, and that goal was not to find love from a handsome prince or learn to love herself via meeting a prince. Her goal was to be a force for good in the world, and to become a police officer. And that’s exactly what she accomplished.

After watching Zootopia the first time, I was slightly disappointed that the writers chose, at the end of the movie, to make Judy’s police partner a male fox. I thought it defeated the purpose. You had this perfect feminist role model paving her own way and then all of a sudden she needs a male partner? Upon further reflection, I realized that this partnership was, in fact, necessary to the feminist undertone of the movie. Judy’s partner is only a sidekick. He often defers to her and she’s the one who drives the cop car. In showing her obvious power over a man, the movie flips the script on traditional gender norms.

While modernizing the usual “happily ever after” is vital, it’s not enough when movies like this are so rare. Zootopia is able to address pervasive issues at play in our society, such as xenophobia and sexism, yet it remains a fun kids’ movie. We need more empowering movies like this with young target audiences. Otherwise, how will anyone grow up knowing that a bunny can be a cop? 

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Disney's Zootopia
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Logo for the Disney movie Zootopia.

How to cite this page

Fisher, Abigail. "Zootopia: An Empowering, Feminist Tail ." 14 March 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/zootopia-empowering-feminist-tail>.

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8 hr
in 1910, this political trailblazer won the fight to regulate New York City's dance halls. https://t.co/S3AkJrJ5P3
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This documentary looks pretty amazing, we must say. https://t.co/u3FDcInjTG