Semiotics Analysis on Zootopia – Spoiler warning
Zootopeo is a stagnant film that combines a highly intellectual story with the cartoonish aesthetic making it a very fulfilling and wholesome family film. The movie featuring Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) reached an 8.1 Star rating on IMDb. In this blog, I will discuss semiology and how the signs are visible in the Movie Zootopia. These signs will clearly outline how Zootopia mimics our real world issues and subliminally exploits them in a way that betters the younger generation.
Before we delve any further we need to understand what a sign is. A sign can be broken up into two concepts; The signifier and the signified. The signified is the concept or object whereas the signifier is the sound or image. To help us understand better (Wren, 2017) has included a segment which explains signifier and signified through the example of a hot air balloon. The words hot air balloon or a drawing of how an air balloon is a signifier. However the signified is what the balloon represents ideologically. This can be broken up even further between three groups of signs;
Icon: This sign depicts the signifier representing the signified. For example a picture of a hot air balloon
Index: an index is an inherent relationship between the signifier and the signified. This often varies depending on social backgrounds
Symbol: A symbol is a closed interpretive view of signifier and signified designed to mean something depicted by the creators’ views.
To further this we also have an order of signification the accompanies these signs. They are as followed;
Denotative: This is a primary representation of the sign, for example, the male and female icons
Connotative: The second in the order is the expressive values that the sign emits.
Myth/Ideology: This is the third level that reflects on the cultural perspective, using the same example as before the notion of the sign being male and female is under the assumption that there is two genders
During this blog we will see how Zootopia includes many of their symbols to create their ideological viewpoint through their many signifiers.
The first sign that I’d like to talk about is the racial indifferences that are depicted during the duress of this film. This is probably their most obvious form of symbolism, from the very beginning of this film we were presented with a brief background telling us about their divide between “Preditor” and “Prey”. Realistically the animals would have a complex food chain where predators would also be prey however in this movie they create a social tie. This racial profiling then plays out throughout the duress of the film. This is shown through the actions and words of nearly every major role in the movie. As seen in the clip above they coin modern phrases and put them into a cartoon. Doing this helps to soften down the real world conditions that would normally be too touchy to talk about and uses this to help send messages to its audience. The topic of racial acceptance is still something that needs to be represented, an example of this can be seen in a video posted by Joey Salads. He uploaded a video that was borderline propaganda making the bold statement “A lot of black people don’t like Trump”. He did what he refers to as a social experiment and parked a car in a “black neighborhood” with Trump support stickers. Several minutes later he shows footage where several men of darker colored skin smashed the car. Since this was uploaded during the Trump and Hilary electoral period tensions across the nation were already high seeing to it that a video like this could easily raise controversy. This picture would have painted a violent image for watches and encourage racial profiling if it weren’t for an onlooker exposing them. It turned out that these men were all together when the shot happened, however, Joey had them hide behind the camera. Because of large hate groups Joey was forced to take down his video however you can still find reuploads across the internet.
In the interview with voice actress for Judy, she explains her character to great extent. What is interesting about this is how she depicts Judy’s ideological views. In particular, she mentions that her character goes into Zootopia with a preconceived notion that she thinks that she sees all animals as equals, however after seeing Nick Wilde the fox her natural instincts tell her that he is not to be trusted. This statement alone challenges the way we think about how we perceive race and challenges our ideology. Not only is this an issue that relates to racist profiling it also has to do with upbringing which will be investigated further in this blog.
The story shows of ambition and with the notion that “any mammal can be anything” the fact that our lead role is a female is huge. Although the rise in females is on its way up it still undermines statistics. In fact, most movies don’t even have women speak for more than 40 percent of the dialogue. Although Nick Wilde assumes a very high role in the film he is still not considered the hero of the story. Judy our rookie ambitious cop is our lead role, guiding us through our ideologically controversial story and rising through her ambitions and dreams. This is important as we are marching into an era of equality, not only is it important from a society standpoint but it is also important for the creative industry.
As a study by the ((New York Film Academy, “Gender Inequality in Film”)) shows the percentages are all disproportionate. Showing it in a children’s film done several things. For one the film’s narration encourages audience members to climb towards their ambitions. Secondly, the film shows of acceptance which seems to be the industries largest issue in regards to many things such as race and gender. Thirdly and finally being a well refined animated film means younger generation may be inspired to pursue creative professionalism.
Age is another form of symbolism. It is a clear representation of knowledge and education. However, in this movie it serves as a betrayal of this ideology of sorts. The introductory scene shows the family has a fear of predatory Animals. It was interesting to find out that one line in particular given to Judy from her mother was almost phrased perfectly in Judy’s speech to the public. The subliminal racial parenting ended up throwing the whole city into a discourse. This reflects on how our world is developing with new and intuitive ideologies. In a Ted talk involving the computer AI, Maurice Conti explains that our Eras are advancing more rapidly. With this so too does our ideology. As humans, we are needing to become more open with our ideological beliefs. This open minded is something that will need to be taught to future generations.
Although we have talked about some really gray areas the movie delves into some really dark areas. It’s not revealed at first but the movie refers to “Night Howlers” a lot. It turns out that these are plants that send animals back to a primitive and violent state. As this is a prop in a movie according to (Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, 2016) this counts as a sign. However, it may shock you that this plant is made to symbolize crack cocaine. Both crack and the night howlers revert from its basic form of what appears to be a harmless plant. However, crack needs to go through a chemical procedure in order to turn the plants into the drug sold on streets. You also see that the “Night Howler serum” also needs a complex string of chemical treatment. Not only that but the symptoms of crack are also mimicked in the movies, even taking into the account of how fast the drug takes its effects. As well as this they even depict this in the movie with a breaking bad parody scene. Although a touchy subject the movie mimics the minority group that this drug is targeted to the most. In the movie, predators are at a 10 percent ratio which is strangely similar to the statistic of the African American population in America. All of this hints at the group that was hit hardest by drugs as depicted in (O’Hear, Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-On-Crime Era). This subject normally would be too controversial to speak freely about however putting it into this kind of textual delivery makes it very subtle and watered down for its viewers.
Media empowerment is portrayed in this movie with absolute dominance over social ties. After Judy Hop’s makes a poorly iterated and bold statement the media interprets it in a way the falsifies her understanding of racial indifference. The representation is so close to the way we portray media they even include a token celebrity that talks about matters she barely
knows anything about. As humans, we seem to lean more on celebrities that have fame and fortunes and assume they are also knowledgeable whenever they speak of subjects. More so the movie also shows us how we assume everything in the media is held at an unbiased standpoint. People often forget that some news anchors are even controlled by government officials and can be made to bend the arm of the general public to be persuaded to their side. In the show this is shown through the political corruption the movie displays during the hostile media take over of the character Bellwether uses the media to assume the position as mayor. As a consequence of this, the community is also divided once more between their racial differences.
Zootopia has tackled some very real world problems and portrayed them in a family friendly text. The overall message of social acceptance pushes the younger generation to be more forgiving. It feeds these messages through its signs given via clean signifieds and creates signifiers that help us as a society question and betters our ideological standpoint.