Zootopia was something of a surprise film for me last year. Sure, it was a Disney animated film, so on some level we knew we’d be getting something worth seeing, but there was no predicting just how heavy the story would be. Not only was Zootopia a great detective flick, but its extra layer of social commentary managed to elevate it from simply a good story to something greater.
However, beneath the glossy, CG layer that is Zootopia is something darker. No, I’m not referring to the aforementioned social commentary. I’ve already discussed that aspect to death in various other articles, but I’m here to talk about something much more sinister — something that the film brushes off as nothing, but when you take a moment to think about, the implications are downright irresponsible.
Before we get into the dirt, it’s important to first discuss our lead character, Judy Hopps. For her entire life, Judy has dreamed of becoming a police officer, and after years and years of hard work, she finally managed to make that dream a reality. What’s more, she managed to be the very first rabbit to join the force. Ever. Needless to say, this is a big deal, and given that she IS the first rabbit, she has all kinds of obstacles to overcome in terms of gaining credibility with both her boss and peers.
With that in mind, it’s understandable why she was so overzealous -- often working outside of her role as a cop to get the job done. At one point in the film, she tosses a recorder pen -- which has damning evidence of Nick Wilde's tax fraud -- on the other side of the fence so that Nick would have to climb the fence to reach it. In doing so, she was able to fudge a rule that gave her probable cause to enter the private property. Not her greatest moment, but we understand why she did it, and at the end of the day, the case would never have been solved if they didn't get into that lot. But none of this really measures up to the biggest offense.
During the course of her investigation of the missing Emmitt Otterton, both her and Nick were captured by Mr. Big, an arctic shrew and feared crime boss in Tundratown. Given Mr. Big’s previous and unsavory run-ins with Nick, he was ready to kill both him and Judy on the spot (or rather, "ice them," as stated in the film. Luckily for Judy and Nick, Judy had inadvertently saved Mr. Big’s daughter, Fru Fru, during an earlier chase scene, and as such, bought Mr. Big’s eternal gratitude. In compensation for her deed, Mr. Big gives Judy another lead regarding her case, and sends her on her way.
This seems all good and well — our heroes escaped death, and lived to fight another day. But it’s always rubbed me the wrong way how Judy Hopps sort of neglects the fact that she had fallen into the hands of an infamous murderer without batting an eye or looking back. As a true member of law enforcement, one would think she’d circle back someday and give Mr. Big what he deserves, yes? After all, Judy Hopps is likely a strict, by-the-book kind of cop.
No such luck. When she needed to get to push a potential witness for information, her first step was to turn to Mr. Big to help intimidate said witness under the thread of murder. By the end of the film, it is revealed that Judy has retained her friendship with Fru Fru and Mr. Big, and is even Fru Fru’s daughter’s designated godmother. That’s right. Judy Hopps -- a cop -- is the godmother to a mob boss’ granddaughter. That seems to be the epitome of conflict of interest with the law.
This bring into question as to what kind of story Zootopia really is. Is it really just a simple story about tolerance, and are we seeing Judy help kickstart a new age of acceptance? As delightful as all that sounds, it’s impossible for me to shake the idea that the real story behind Zootopia is the origins of a dirty cop. We’ve already bore witness to Judy’s willingness to bend the rules of the law to meet her own personal agenda, but add in her connection to the mob, and you have the potential for something dark, devious, and twisted.