Making the difference – The “Zootopia” case

This week I would like to take a look at the new Disney filmZootopia, released in Italy last Thursday under the name of Zootropolis. Not intending to do a review, I am going to use it as an example for this week argument, a.k.a. “how to use your company’s power to make a difference in your audience’s life“.

Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps, a female anthropomorphic rabbit willing to be a police officer in a giant metropolis where all mammals live together despite their differences. Even if everyone tries to persuade Judy of her genetic inadequacy, she does more than her best to prove them wrong.

This theme – an outcast trying to overcome a destiny imposed by society and to find their own path – is so popular in Disney films to have become a true trademark for the American film company. Cinderella wanted to be more than just a housemaid, Aladdin had to prove his value beyond his social and economical condition and Mulan had to save China despite her gender and social expectations dictated differently. Several generations of children grew with the strong message that they should not give up their dreams just because everybody tells them to, but to trust their inner self and fight for happiness.

Channeling such powerful messages through engaging stories and characters was the ultimate way for Disney to conquer their audience’s hearts forever.

Growing up, probably some of those children found difficult to fulfill all the expectations young age and Disney movies contributed to create in their minds, and complained. Disney/Pixar’s Monster University (2013) was probably conceived as an answer to those complaints. Yes, you have to keep dreaming, yes, you don’t have to give up, but also you have to know you, who you are and what you can do, and do your best with it. I think it is a great message. It teaches you not only to dream, but also to ask you the right questions for your dreams to become realistic projects.

That’s why Judy Hopps is a great officer not despite her size and nature but because she knows how to apply them to what she wants to achieve. She is modern, brave, funny, like all the characters of this outstanding film. And yet I have to say why this film si different from any Disney movie ever made.

If Disney messages were always directed to individuals, well exploiting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see below),

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Zootopia is the first Disney film talking to entire societies regarding subjects concerning today’s world: integration, tolerance and xenophobia.

While western world has to face integration with new unknown populations, many political leaders don’t lose a chance to exploit natural human fear of diversity (given by a genetic tendency toward self-preservation) to raise people’s barriers toward these new citizens, creating tension and separation. In Zootopia live two kinds of mammals: preys and predators. Even if animals gave up their bestial instincts thousands years ago, some preys, deep down, are still afraid of predators, still thinking that their striking nature could prevale on their rationality. This irrational fear creates prejudices leading to social conflicts.

I loved how Disney managed to understand that what is at the bottom of today’s intolerance and xenophobia is not the conviction of a population to be better than an other (like happened for black people or jews in the past) but an irrational fear given by the incapability to understand the many changes our society is living, to accept that the world how we used to know it is not going to be the same. It’s just pure, irrational fear of changes.

Disney was capable to see this fear and, being able to reach millions of people of all ages everywhere in the world, took the right chance to communicate this message: given our diversities, we evolved to live together in peace, we have a brain to use not to give in to our worst instincts. If we don’t remember this, we would get back to when world was divided into preys and predators.

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