My daughter alerted me to Disney’s latest film release Zootopia, but it was the positive reviews that compelled me to buy tickets for opening weekend. After finding seats and donning 3D glasses, I prepared to be entertained. I wasn’t disappointed. The film has set box office sales records while delivering a compelling message about the dangers of stereotyping people based on their “biology.” As the mother of a tween girl, I wished Disney had gone a step further with its discussion of gender to tackle reproductive rights.
The protagonist, Judy Hopps, encourages young girls to pursue their dreams. The movie opens on the stage of an elementary school production during which Judy announces her intentions to become a police officer in the nearby City of Zootopia. The next scene flashes forward 15 years to Judy’s first day at the police academy where she is the only bunny facing a grueling physical fitness course. Judy has many obstacles to overcome. Initially, she’s too small and weak to climb the ice wall or knock out an opponent in a boxing ring. Through physical conditioning and clever thinking, Judy uses her agility to compete with and overpower her stronger and larger peers.
As the mother of a tween girl, I wished Disney had gone a step further with its discussion of gender to tackle reproductive rights.
On graduation day, Judy receives her assignment to the Zootopia Police Department (ZPD). Her status as the first bunny police officer has earned her a place on the elite force due to Mayor Lionheart’s initiative to diversify the unit. At the ceremony, Assistant Mayor Bellwether, a seemingly meek female sheep, offers to help Officer Hopps because “[the] little guys have to stick together.”
When she reports for roll call at ZPD, Officer Hopps enters the bullpen and quickly discovers that Chief Bogo doesn’t think much of her presence. After failing to acknowledge her and assigning all missing mammal cases to her peers, Bogo gives her meter maid duty, a very term that assumes a female identity. Determined to exceed her Chief’s expectations, she writes 200 tickets before noon.
Nods to girl power abound throughout the film. During her second day on the job, Officer Hopps apprehends thief Duke Weaselton, but incurs Bogo’s wrath for leaving her post. Mrs. Otterton interrupts the meeting with a plea for Chief Bogo to find her missing husband. Officer Hopps undermines Bogo’s authority by promising to solve the mystery. Initially, her insubordination gets her fired, but Assistant Mayor Bellwether arrives just in time to intercede. Like Hopps, Bellwether plays a subordinate role in a male-dominated culture. Her boss delegates all clerical duties to her, roles traditionally considered “women’s work.” Together the female characters subvert the patriarchal institution by teaming up. When she needs access to ZPD’s database, Hopps looks to Bellwether for help.
I would have left the theater happy with a storyline of women teaming up to rescue missing mammals, but Disney exceeded my expectations by making Assistant Mayor Bellwether the architect of a diabolical scheme to infect predators, thereby stoking fears of prey everywhere. Hopps draws on her early theatrical experience to outsmart the scheming sheep. Two female prey, the lowest members on the food chain, duke it out.
Disney accomplished so much in this movie, yet there was a missed opportunity to accurately portray what it takes for women competing in the work force. In a country wherein employers can refuse to cover birth control for religious reasons, states thwart access to reproductive services, and employers offer little in the way of maternity leave, women face huge barriers to establishing careers and keeping up with their male peers.
As I sat watching an early scene wherein Judy Hopps’ parents try to talk her into abandoning her dream to stay home and becoming a carrot farmer, Judy mentions her 275 siblings. The line garnered chuckles from the adult audience members who recognized the implied saying “breeding like bunnies”; it also offered the perfect entry point for a quick line or exchange about birth control. In my version, Judy Hopps leaves her family behind with fox spray and a small, plastic case containing 28 pills.
It isn’t too late though. With the huge box office success, Disney writers are likely at work on a sequel. On Judy’s next visit home to see her parents, she might bring along her partner Nick Wilde, ZPD’s newest member. The introduction of a love interest would afford Mrs. Hopps the chance to give her daughter something she didn’t have: power over her biology.
Disney accomplished so much in this movie, yet there was a missed opportunity to accurately portray what it takes for women competing in the work force.
While some parents might cringe at a pack of pills in a PG rated film, I’d welcome a scene in which Judy’s mom slips her some contraceptives to help her achieve her dreams. The stakes are pretty high for tweens in the audience. Planned Parenthood estimates two thousand teenaged girls get pregnant in the United States every day. While I am fortunate my daughter attends a public school that provides reliable, age-appropriate information about human sexuality, I know the conversations need to be ongoing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) features a profile of Jane Brown, PhD, an expert the role media plays in influencing teens’ attitudes towards sex, includes the advice: “Advocates and institutions have an opportunity to use new media for the good of adolescents, to disseminate constructive information and positive messages.”
Zootopia 2 could take the lead in this respect. Judy is an adult bunny whose immediate life goals don’t involve dozens of offspring. Pregnancy would likely return her to parking duty stat. Her rented room in Zootopia isn’t viable for raising a young family, so she would need to find other accommodations. Judy’s salary at ZPD isn’t likely to cover the cost of childcare for multiples, so she would need a partner (perhaps Officer Nick Wilde) willing to stay at home with the bunnies.
I don’t advocate turning Zootopia 2 into a commentary on reproductive rights, but I do think a movie that upends stereotypes about biology in regard to sex could propel the discussion further. If Pope Francis can consider allowing contraception to prevent birth defects during an outbreak of Zika virus, Disney can certainly hint that one key to for a woman’s ability to shape her future involves a little tweaking of biology. This tween mom would be grateful to return her eyewear to the bin at the back of the theater in exchange for a conversation opener in the form of a diaphragm, condom, IUD, or magic pills for Judy.
Wendy Besel Hahn’s essays on parenting have appeared on Washington Post’s On Parenting, YouShare, and Club Mid. She has essays published with Redivider (forthcoming), Santa Ana River Review (formerly Crate), So to Speak, and Front Porch Journal. Her quarterly column entitled “Musings from a Mom Around Reston” is featured in Around Reston. Follow her on twitter @WendyBeselHahn or by visiting her author site: www.wendybeselhahn.com .