My family has always been major cinephiles, from a very young age going to the movie theater with my parents and siblings has been a common occurrence. Prior to this past Friday that tradition had not been passed down to my own children as we had just never gotten around to taking the kids out to the theater. This past weekend my parents were visiting from Illinois and they treated the four of us to our first family movie. Before choosing to take my young children to a movie I thoroughly researched the films in theaters in order that I best help my children form a worldview. We ended up going to see the new Disney animated film Zootopia up in Gettysburg. Zootopia was fantastic and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, but what impressed me most about Zootopia was its thoughtful and convicting message. Zootopia may not be a “Christian movie”, however it demonstrates a prominent element of the Gospel perhaps greater than any “Christian movie” I have ever seen.
Before exploring the profoundly positive lessons of Zootopia I would like to note there are a small handful of ways that Zootopia conflicts with our Christian worldview and note a few warnings for parents of young children. Zootopia is rated PG for a reason as several scenes imply violence and a few of the more dramatic scenes could frighten very young children. One of the basic premises of Zootopia is that animals had evolved so much so that every animal species now has virtually every major human characteristic, so evolution is mentioned frequently in the film. Evangelical Christians generally do not believe evolution is consistent with Biblical creation, therefore most reject it. Parents should seek to correct the film in this area but also one should humbly realize the film’s creators simply have assumed the truthfulness of Darwinian evolution and our children will be forced to interact with countless other that have the same assumption. A few of the characters in Zootopia regularly wear immodest clothing that Evangelicals would contend idolizes sexuality, though these characters are all animals and thus Zootopia contains no truly sexualized material. Lastly, Zootopia has a consistently humanistic approach to moral improvement. I believe only the final observation is a major concern that parents must address with their children.
Zootopia is one of the preachiest movies I have ever seen. Though the trailer bills Zootopia as a run of the mill Disney film about courage and following your dreams, in the actual film those only exist as a McGuffin to introduce the far most substantial themes of tolerance and diversity. Once Zootopia begins to consider the problem of racism in modern societies, it lays it on thick and about half of the film is essentially a brilliant allegory. Children’s films have a tendency to over simply good versus evil but that is not even remotely the case in Zootopia. In Zootopia racism is explored even in its most subtle forms and even the films greatest heroes are at times guilty of heinous prejudice. Zootopia essentially echoes the song from a far more vulgar play, “Everybody’s a Little Racist.” Zootopia shows us how hurtful even subtle stereotypes can be and it inspires viewers to be introspective and try to be part of the solution. All the while Zootopia is constantly hopeful that even the very worst of us can change while it demonstrates how mixed motivations are involved in all of our moral decisions.
The aspirations of Zootopia will never be fully seen in human society and to a significant extent Zootopia even admits that fact. There is hope that the makers of Zootopia may not be aware of themselves. The dream of reconciliation and tolerance will be fully seen in Christ’s church in the new heavens and new earth. Christ’s kingdom makes no value distinctions between genders, races, languages, economic classes, or cultures. All come to the table through Christ’s bloodshed in their place alone. Because of Christ’s death people of all forms and backgrounds become one family as the white upper class American male becomes more family with an impoverished African woman than he is with his own flesh and blood if they only trust in Christ. God sees skin color as no more significant than eye color and so ought His church. Though we do make moral claims, we should be the most diverse and tolerant of all people because God himself makes no distinctions in His family. God has adopted all Christians into His family and now people of any worldly distinctions can call each other brother and sister. The church can be and in a sense already is the utopia that Zootopia dreams of but we sometimes forget that too quickly as we find our identity more in our physical characteristics or background than in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The theme of following your dreams is still very much a part of Zootopia like virtually every other major children’s film of the past few years. Virtually every film with this premise effectively promotes an unhealthy individualism and encourages children to both have unrealistic expectations and build an unhealthy disdain for normalcy. These criticism do apply to Zootopia but even through its dreamy premise, Zootopia is more realistic as the underdog characters succeed through compensation for their weaknesses rather than absurdly overcoming them. Zootopia more or less does tell children they can achieve what they set their minds on but it emphasizes that success is only achieved through cunningness and hard work. If children embrace a Disney anthem it is far better they belt out the hard-nosed, “try everything,” than the narcissistic, “let it go.”
Zootopia was a brilliant and inspirational film. While Zootopia never claims to be a “Christian movie” nor does it even mention Christ at all, it is far better at instilling a Christian worldview than many films targeted at the Christian community recently. I highly encourage every parent seeking to raise children to serve the Lord to take your whole family to Zootopia and take time to discuss how we see Jesus in its dream of a tolerant world.