Disney has been imparting important life lessons for decades. Cinderella taught us to have courage and be kind. Mulan taught us that girls can be strong, brave, and faster than the boys. Pinocchio taught us honesty, and we learned a carefree life’s as easy as Hakuna Matata in The Lion King. Marry for love and just “bee” yourself like Aladdin. Every lesson came in beautifully animated fairy tales with Oscar-winning scores.

Take a look at the trailer, and Zootopia seems like another Disney movie about an underdog trying to make a difference in Dolby digital. The film pulls you in with its charm in the very first scenes, but quickly transports you back to your everyday life when you may have given a woman in a hijab a second look on the subway, or clutched your bag a little closer when passing a young Black man on the street.

This time around we meet Judy Hopps, voiced by Once Upon A Time‘s own Snow White, Ginnifer Goodwin. Judy is a bunny who defies the odds and her size limitations to graduate first in class in her police academy. She moves to Zootopia, a city where all animals, predator and prey alike, live in harmony. Think New York as a four-legged metropolis. Much like any other Disney classic, she’s on a mission to save the day. But the undertones and effects of profiling and discrimination are honestly examined.

Just substitute the dialogue with everyday conversation, and Zootopia mirrors our life and times seamlessly. Judy explains that it’s only OK for other bunnies to call her cute. Her fox ally Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), can’t resist the urge to touch the assistant D.A.’s wooly sheep hair. And most poignantly, a news conference about wild predators sparked protests after the Zootopia police department suggested the predators were genetically predisposed to act out in violence.

But will the audience pick up on the cues? With Chris Rock‘s racially charged Oscars monologue met by awkward clapping, and the killings of young unarmed Black youth falling on deaf ears at times, it’s hard to say it will. Adults may understand the references, but my money’s on the film’s youngest viewers getting the true message. Besides, they learn it as early as pre-school: Be nice to everyone, no matter the color of their skin.

In a racially charged year, differences are on high level Amber alert. We can’t escape the dialogue. Zootopia sweetly reminds us that we shouldn’t.



Also On Global Grind: