Disney’s Zootopia is among the most thematically interesting and visually engaging animated movies I have ever seen, and it will almost certainly be remembered as one of the great films of the year. Just as with much of Pixar’s finest work like Toy Story and Monsters Inc., the movie presents a fascinating culture and spends a lot of the first act doling out information about this society’s rules. Half the joy of a Pixar film comes from that sense of discovery, and Disney captured the same feel here; the studio’s animators pack in gag after gag about how a world built by animals might operate, each one more clever than the last.
But like with all stories where the fictional universe is so different from ours, there are a number of lingering questions about how exactly it functions. None of them are remotely important in terms of our enjoyment – or important in general, really – but the fact is that Zootopia is so damn fun that pondering its intricacies only adds to the experience.
With that said, some of those lingering questions include…
1. Are there any non-mammals in this universe?
All the characters in Zootopia are mammals, which naturally begs the question, are they the only species in existence? Are birds and fish not around?
The bird question in particular interests me because for mammals, traffic laws are basically analogous to ours, so how does this extend to flying beings? Are there lanes and “rules of the road” in the sky? Wouldn’t it be chaotic as hell having thousands of birds flying in a concentrated area willy-nilly, all trying to make their way to work on time?
But whenever there’s a shot of the sky, we never once see a single bird, and so if they don’t exist, have they ever? Did they go extinct?
The fish question is more challenging considering there are no scenes in any body of water, but I think we might have our answer, and it’s fucked up. During the “Try Everything” montage, in which Judy is taking a train into Zootopia, there are glimpses into various environments around the city, one of which is an icy town. A store in this town is called…wait for it…”Fishtown Market.” Oh, shit.
Is the implication that animals in the Zootiopia universe survive on a diet of fish? Has every living creature on Earth been anthropomorphized except for the ones in the ocean, or are we meant to believe fully conscious, lovable talking fish are fucking massacred and sold as food? I knew this movie was dark, but Jesus…
2. What do predators eat?
Speaking of diets, it’s stated that predators and prey live together in harmony, but then what do predators eat now? The only food we see consumed is junk like ice cream and pops, but surely that can’t be enough.
Well, I was actually able to find an answer. In an interview, Byron Howard and Rich Moore stated that most of Zootopia’s predators eat bugs sold at fast food restaurants. So okay, then we are to assume that fish and bugs are the only two living things that did not evolve and develop the ability to speak? Or did the whole planet decide they are the two species that deserve a good ol’ fashion genocide?
3. How do they get their milk?
One last question about food: the fact that ice cream parlors exist in Zootopia obviously suggests that milk exists too, so does this mean that cows are around? We don’t see any, but they must, right? Do they talk too? It’s easy to accept that fish and bugs never evolved, but cows? Why would they be any different than other mammals? Are cows essentially slaves being held against their will for milk? Or do cows profit off of selling milk, sort of like donating sperm?
I guess it could be soy milk they’re using, but that’s not nearly as fun.
4. How do giraffes enter buildings?
The life of a giraffe in Zootopia seems like a pain in the ass. There are a number of visual gags about how tall and out-of-place they are because of their necks, and at one point, we see a juice bar that caters specifically to them by sending drinks up a chute. Yet virtually every door is the size of a regular, Earth-style door, so how are giraffes able to go places? Plenty are out and about on the streets of Zootopia, so it’s not as if they don’t live in the city. Are there special giraffe-sized entrances at the back of all these establishments? Imagine if in our world, every door to every building was so small that only thin people could fit through.
5. Does every species have its own clothing store?
Real-life clothing stores can be absolutely massive and extend for several floors, and that’s keeping in mind that humans are all basically the same size. At least, our differences in height and weight are nothing compared to the disparity between a bunny and an elephant, for example.
So what’s the apparel shopping situation in Zootopia? Every mammal has a distinct shape, and besides, there are also variations in size and weight within the same species. So either their clothing stores are each the size of an entire mall, or there is a separate shop for every species. Either way, half the city’s real estate must just be devoted to clothes alone.
6. Was Judy’s uniform made specifically for her?
This is kind of related to the previous question, but was Judy’s police uniform specifically created for her from scratch? I ask because it’s a big deal that she’s the first bunny to become a police officer, so why would they already have a uniform in that size? No other cop is even remotely as small as her. And did they do the same for Nick later on? Or is there some back room at the station with outfits fitting any possible dimensions just so the city is prepared in case they decide to make a history-altering decision one day?
7. Why all the animal puns?
Zootopia is chock full of amusing animal puns, but on my second viewing, it struck me how bizarre some of them are. They feel like they’re specifically for us, the human audience, but within the context of the film, what is the actual reasoning?
For instance, all of the bands on Judy’s iPod seem to be titled based on an animal related gag, but it’s not like in our world, all of our bands are titled off of human puns. There’s one song on there called Let It Goat, clearly Zootopia’s equivalent of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” But the thing is, their language is the exact same as our English, so why the hell isn’t it just called “Let It Go”? The song Shakira sings, “Try Everything,” isn’t called “Fly Everything” or something, so why are certain titles normal and others are Zootopia-fied?
Speaking of Shakira’s character, her name is Gazelle, a parody of Adele, but that’s also weird because what singer would name themselves after the kind of mammal they are? That would be like if there was an artist in real life just called Human. And then there are all the bootleg movies, but again, wouldn’t the real titles of the films, “Big Hero 6,” “Tangled,” and “Frozen,” make just as much sense within the Zootopia world as they do in ours? Naming literally everything based on an animal pun that doesn’t even really fit just seems like bad marketing.
8. Why is the word zoo even a part of the vernacular?
Perhaps the most disturbing inquiry of all, why is the word “zoo” even a part of the vernacular of Zootopia? For viewers, it’s a catchy movie title that calls to mind a city filled with animals, but Zootopia is also the name of the city within the universe of the film, and that implies these characters have some concept of what a zoo is.
Does this mean that there are zoos in Zootopia where animals considered to be inferior are kept captive? If that sounds implausible and overly sadistic, consider that it was already implied that they eat fish that may or may be evolved, so apparently anything is possible. Or maybe there are humans in this universe, but they’re kept in zoos like that one episode of The Twilight Zone? A third option is that “zoo” has a totally different definition in the Zootopia language, like “busy” or “large,” and it just happens that the word is spelled the same as our word meaning “place where animals are kept.”
9. How do small creatures not get crushed all the time?
There’s a cool action sequence in which Judy chases a criminal through a miniature city that exists inside Zootopia but that is specifically for rodents. The suspense derives from our fear that she will accidentally crush one of the mice, so she has to be extremely careful. That begs the question, are rodents getting stepped on every day? How could they not be?
Earlier, when Judy is giving out parking tickets, we briefly see a mouse walking towards his tiny car, only for it to be blown away by the wind. He’s parked on the main street, implying that he drives on the road with everyone else. So how the hell is the driver of an enormous vehicle, like that tall giraffe one, expected to notice a mouse car? Are there dozens of crushed, bloodied rodent corpses all over the road? There don’t appear to be separate lanes for them or anything.
And back to that rodent town, is it illegal for anyone above a certain size to go in? Apparently not, because Nick strolls on through to deliver his “red wood.” Unless he has a specific permit, basically any drunk idiot could stumble into this town, fall over, and decimate an entire family? What a horrifying place to live where every day is like a Godzilla movie.
10. How is it possible for sloths to drive?
Zootopia’s final gag involves Judy and Nick pursuing a speeding car, only to discover it’s being driven by Flash, Nick’s sloth friend from the DMV. This hilarious joke services the overall theme that you can break out of the roles assigned to you from birth; a sloth doesn’t have to be slow.
But then, it’s not as if Flash doesn’t still behave sluggishly. He takes forever to turn to face Nick and Judy and say hi, just as was the case at the DMV. So how is he able to operate a car at all? Driving requires decisions to be made at a rapid pace – quickly pushing down on the brake, turning to avoid an accident, etc. Earlier, it took Flash about 15 full seconds to simply rip a piece of paper. It must take at least 30 seconds to turn the wheel in one direction, then, so how can he drive while having such delayed reflexes? Maybe the slow thing is all an act so that he can troll the fuck out of people in line all day.
11. Are there bigger tram cars?
About halfway through the film, Judy and Nick travel in a tram car and look down upon the city from up above. They fill up much of the vehicle, so it clearly could not fit anything much larger than a fox. But a solid half of Zootopia is taller than that, so are there more roomy trams, or these things completely off limits to entire species? As with the doors, imagine if in real life, tall or overweight people were excluded from an entire form of transportation.
12. Are there separate bathrooms for each species?
There’s a joke towards the beginning of Zootopia where Judy uses the police academy bathroom, but she falls in the toilet because the seat is too big for her. A hippo sits just fine, though, so it seems that this bathroom is specifically designed for one of the biggest animals there is.
Is that what all bathrooms are like, and rabbits can just never sit perfectly on a toilet seat? What about smaller mammals the those lemming bankers? Or is the idea that the police academy was so ill-prepared for a bunny officer that even the bathroom stalls don’t suit her? How does the restroom situation work elsewhere, then? Are they divided by gender, but then there are separate stalls for animals of varying sizes? Or are there species-specific bathrooms? I can’t wait for this to be answered in the very restroom-heavy sequel.
13. Is there such thing as species reassignment surgery?
When Judy speaks to Nick’s “son,” who wants to be an elephant even though he was born a fox, this can be read just as a general statement about following your dreams, but possibly also as being in support of transgender rights. Judy encourages the kid that he can be whoever he wants to be – yes, including an elephant, even though right now society deems him a fox. That may be what it represents in our world, but within Zootopia, is there species reassignment surgery for creatures with species dysmorphia? If so, that seems like it would be an incredibly complicated procedure.
14. Did Jesus exist in this universe?
And finally, the most crucial of all: When Mr. Big is threatening Nick and Judy, one of his polar bear guards makes the sign of the cross and looks up towards heaven, very blatantly a reference to the religious practice as it exists in our world. So does that mean Zootopia has an equivalent of Jesus Christ? I like to think that the same Bible story played out for them, too, except God sent down his son in the form of a cheetah or some shit.
Oh, and when Judy is saying goodbye to her parents, she says that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Either she came up with this on her own, or she is intentionally quoting FDR, and there is a Zootopia equivalent to FDR. What kind of animal is he? I’m leaning towards panda, but I’m open to feedback.
Although wait, who is FDR to them? There’s no United States for him to have been the president of, and actually, do they even have a president? We only ever see the mayor. Maybe there is an FDR, but he’s just some dude who comes up with good quotes and has never held a position of power. Zootopia 2 with Panda FDR as the main character, anyone? Email me for a treatment, Disney.