8 min read
It’s human nature to be fearful of those who are different. As Jews, we’ve learned that lesson all too well.
The mantra of Zootopia, the city featured in the new bunny-cop movie by Disney Studios, is “Anyone can be anything.” And also that there’s no limit to the number of puns you can stick into a film about talking animals.
On Purim, we dress up in costumes so people don’t make assumptions based on how we look.
The movie centers around a small-town rabbit named Judy Hopps, who lives in a world where there are no humans, where animals wear pants, and where taller animals, such as giraffes, seem to always be wearing shorts.
Originally, the animals had only two career possibilities: predator or prey. But then sometime, thousands of years ago, everyone evolved, and now they live in a zootopic society where anyone can be anything! For example, a bunny can be a police officer!
With some exceptions.
“No you can’t,” her parents tell her.
As it turns out, there has never been a bunny police officer. Her parents think she should be a carrot farmer, like them and their other 275 kids.
“If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail!” her dad explains.
“Don’t dream too big. That’s why I have a carrot on my hat.”
But Judy’s dream is to be a cop in Zootopia – a huge, sprawling city with skyscrapers and public transportation and 12 different neighborhoods, each with its own distinct climate.
This elevator has all kinds of smells.
Zootopia has basically everything that our big cities have, except zoos: There’s organized crime, weasels selling bootleg DVDs on street corners, the gruff police captain who tells the cop that she gets one more chance to crack any given case or she’s done, and most of the population seems to have a serious smart-phone addiction.
In short, every species lives together in perfect harmony, except that they’re all pretty racist. For example, there’s an elephant ice cream parlor where the guy behind the counter scoops ice cream with his nose (which is a major health-code violation) and reserves the right to refuse service to other animals.
Pictured: At least they’re using spoons.
For the most part, though, most of the racism is a lot more subtle, as the animals have to deal with a lot of the social stigmas that we put up with, like when Nick, a fox, says, “Oh. Rabbits eat blueberries too? I thought you just ate carrots.”
“Is it patronizing when I bend down to talk to you? Yes it is. Yes it is.”
But after years of hard work, Judy finally gets a job as a police officer, and kids everywhere get to find out the heartwarming real-world message: If you work hard and keep at it, eventually you can move to the big city and barely afford a tiny apartment with noisy neighbors and complimentary delousing once a month, and you can work in the same basic industry as your dream job, and no one will care.
Sure, you can be anything, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get taken seriously.
As Judy finds out, there’s a reason there’s never been a police bunny: All of the other police officers are large animals, and she was basically an affirmative-action hire due to some new program by Mayor Lionheart and his assistant mayor, a small sheep that he himself only hired so he could get the sheep vote.
Pictured: The elephant in the room.
As such, at her very first briefing, the police captain, a perpetually-annoyed water buffalo, puts her on meter maid duty, which thrills her parents to no end.
When she complains, he tells her, “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.”
He doesn’t care that she graduated the police academy at the top of her class, he just assumes she can’t handle the job because she’s a bunny.
We Jews are no strangers to profiling either. We’ve survived thousands of years of persecution, ranging from anti-Semitism at its worst, and at its best, mild curiosity about our horns.
“Good evening. I’m Peter Moosebridge, and I can’t wear pullovers.”
So am I saying that Judy represents the Jews? Maybe. She comes from a meek species, she’s short and hairy and has 275 brothers and sisters, and she has parents who worry and try to discourage her from taking dangerous jobs. Also, she’s good at accounting.
“What do you know?” she tells Nick sarcastically after figuring out his back taxes. “I’m a rabbit; I know how to multiply.”
But even open-minded Judy occasionally slips up and makes judgments about other animals. But as she later says, “Real life is messy. We all make mistakes.”
After all, she’s only human. Or something.
For example, when she first meets Nick, she tells him that he’s very articulate (at least compared to another fox who bullied her when she was younger). She means it as a compliment.
Judy finds herself working with Nick because he’s her key witness on a case.
“What is this case?” you ask?
It turns out that several animals are going missing from all over Zootopia. Judy and Nick go on an investigation which takes them to several areas of town, including a wedding hosted by a tiny organized crime boss named “Mr. Big”, a supposedly closed-down mental institution at the edge of a cliff , and a DMV office staffed entirely by sloths.
This is not a photo. It’s a GIF.
When Judy finally cracks the case, she finds out that the missing animals have been reverting to their savage ways, and the mayor has been taking them off the street so as not to cause a panic. And when Judy speculates to the press that all the animals who went savage seem to be natural predators – “Maybe it’s something in their DNA,” she says – she starts a city-wide wave of paranoia and racial profiling.
“Honey, sit closer to me. That man isn’t wearing shoes.”
But as it turned out, in the end, there was a reason that animals were turning savage: They were drugged by a villain who, as it happened, is generally considered “prey.”
The media hasn’t really been a friend to us either lately, with skewed stories and headlines that bury the leads. On some level, they feel that if a random Jew gets stabbed in Israel, that’s okay, because in their view, we’re the oppressors. Never mind that even if they would somehow be right about that, it’s still not ALL Jews who are oppressing people. Unless they’re profiling.
But that’s the easy way out. Judy has preconceived species-ingrained notions about foxes too, but when she gets to know one of them, she realizes that there is no blanket label you can put on a group of people.
No one is evil in their DNA. Some are just drugged with hate and savagery by others, and it devolves them. Fed a constant diet of hate from a young age.
Not everyone has evolved, though. Haman wanted to kill an entire nation because he had a grudge against one of them.
“Well, I hate Mordechai, and he’s a Jew, so let’s kill all the Jews!”
Logic like that can go as big or as small as you want – from “Hey, he’s a human being. Let’s kill all human beings!’ to “Hey, he’s a man named Mordechai. Let’s kill all people named Mordechai!”
Meanwhile, when the Jews stood up and fought back, we specifically fought the people who were demonstrably doing something to us. The letter that Mordechai sent out didn’t say we should fight all Persians. It said we should defend ourselves.
But wait – what if there was no “logic” to Haman’s selection of Jews, specifically? What if it was just a deep-seated hatred of Jews in his DNA? What if others have that? What do we do?
We have to evolve. We don’t have to live in fear just because of years of oppression and anti-Semitism. We have to stand up to that fear and try to evolve past it. If the prey lives in fear, they can never talk to the predators and try to understand each other. Someone has to change – the predators can be rational or the prey can overcome their fear. And as Judy says in the movie, “Change starts with you.”
Jews are taught to overcome what we call our “Yetzer Hara” – our natural, base, savage instinct that has been with us since forever. As the firstborn of God and the light unto the nations, we can be the first to evolve. Change starts with us.
We can’t make blanket statements and assume that all people of a certain type are a certain way. As Zootopia shows, anyone can turn out to be the bad guy, and anyone can turn out to be the victim. Anyone can change past their nature. On Purim, we dress up in costumes so people don’t make assumptions about us based on who we normally are. On Purim, anyone can be a small cop. A lot of kids are. And anyone can be a bad guy.
Purim is about fighting stereotypes and getting to know each other for who we are underneath and who we can be.
Often through giant Mishloach Manot (Purim gift).
Because in Zootopia, anyone can be anything.