Zootopia

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Generally speaking, Zootopia is a really nice Disney film. As Joanne and I were walking out of the theater and talking about how much we both liked it, she turned to me and said, “There was only one thing about it that bothered me, and I am guessing you know what it is.” Sure enough, I did, as the same problem had caught my eye as well.

The main reason I like the film is because it teaches some wonderful lessons about having the courage to be different, break down barriers, and acknowledge and overcome prejudice. However, the writers missed an opportunity to apply these same themes to body size and instead reinforced widely-held stereotypes about larger individuals.

Although the film does feature characters of various shapes and sizes, both protagonists are stick thin while the rounder characters are generally presented in a more negative light, such as the main character’s portly father, who in his first scene explains how he was too afraid to go after what he really wanted in life and settled for one spent as a carrot farmer.

The most glaring example is Officer Clawhauser, a large, dopey, and disorganized character often shown with food or in the act of eating. An early scene in the film portrays him as so messy and oblivious that he is unaware that he has a donut lodged in his collar.

How ironic, and unfortunate, that in a film that is largely about breaking down stereotypes, Disney glaringly reinforces one. The writers probably never even considered there might be an issue with this because the sad truth is that in a society in which we generally reject stereotypes based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, we inexplicably tolerate those based on body size that are no more accurate than the others, yet are just as abhorrent.

If you bring your children to see Zootopia, consider using the occasion to talk about body size and its associated prejudice. The film does a solid job of teaching that not all prey animals are cowardly, predators need not be savage, and the symbolism contained therein about the human race, but it misses an opportunity to shut down the stereotypes that heroes must be thin and larger individuals are glutinous, lazy, or unkept. This is where you, the parents, can come in and complete the lesson.

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