As you can see up there, I finally got to check out Zootopia this week, and I’m happy to say it exceeded all my expectations. I’m including the full text of my comparison between the movie and my series below the Read More tag, so check it out at your leisure. Hanami’s theme is also finished, so check it out on the Music page. The usual link to my DA page is below, where also I cover photography problems, Godzilla movies and monsters, and the final Captain America: Civil-War trailer featuring you-know-who.
TASAKERU / ZOOTOPIA COMPARISON
CAUTION: This post will contain spoilers for crucial plot elements in Zootopia
I think my best friend said it most succinctly: Tasakeru could be a fantasy story in Zootopia’s universe.
I can definitely see that. We didn’t see any squirrels in Zootopia, but I can imagine Judy Hopps being thrilled with a series where rabbits were considered overly logical, scientifically-driven, militaristic expansionists and not fluffy, harmless cottontails. She’d probably be thrilled that very few in the world of Tasakeru would consider rabbits to be, gasp, “cute”.
Nick might be a different matter; his character is a bit tougher to get a read on. Would he appreciate Faun, the most visible fox in the series, for being a sly trickster, or would he see her as an unfair stereotype? I can see him falling either way, to be honest.
Let’s summarize for a bit: Tasakeru and Zootopia have some striking similarities, apart from both works being about anthropomorphic mammals. Both feature divided cities: predators vs. prey in Zootopia, and by species in Tasakeru. Both are about bucking the conventions of society, to different extents. Both use their animal characters as allegories to comment on the human condition, specifically racism and stereotyping. And both, I would argue, are not your typical “talking animal” stories.
From there, though, the two diverge. Zootopia is the story of Judy Hopps, the first rabbit to become a cop in the united city of Zootopia, and the struggles she goes through to prove herself once she gets there. In the distant past, we learn, the world was divided into predators and prey, and was replete with “Blood! Blood! And death!” Through unspecified means, the mammals (and only mammals) “evolved” and learned to live together in harmony, building Zootopia as a place for everyone to coexist. It’s only later in the movie that we learn that “coexisting” is a trickier concept than most can grasp. In several telling lines, Judy points out that not all predators are bad guys, and not all prey are good guys: “Some bunnies I know are total jerks!” And another, when after she’s accidentally responsible for a dramatic rise in predator/prey tensions, Judy confides to her police chief, Bogo, that she feels like she “broke the world”, he replies, “The world has always been broken. That’s why we need good cops like you.”
For a Disney movie, this is really insightful stuff. Acknowledging that the world isn’t perfect and most likely never will be, and that your species or whether you’re a predator or prey doesn’t determine who you are… those are the themes that resonate most with me, that seem most like Tasakeru.
Now, by contrast, Tasakeru has a clearly defined origin point for society: the Species War, and the coming of the Three Gods. (Obviously, we’re not going to get religion in a Disney film, though there is one polar bear in priest’s attire, a few cries of “Oh God!”, and one “Hallelujah!”) Religion is central to Tasakeru, in that the Three Gods formed the basis of all the sentient cultures, all of which developed differently, divided, and split apart over the ages. Like Zootopia, its animal world isn’t perfect, and being a rabbit or a fox isn’t inherently better or worse than being any other kind of sentient. I’d argue that I take that concept to a further extreme than the movie does… but of course, that’s only to be expected of the narrative limits of novels versus films.
Tasakeru is the story of Hanami, exiled from her home and her society, who runs away and finds company in another group of rejects. Like Judy, part of Hanami’s story involves finding herself and where she belongs, but in all other respects the two protagonists are very different. Judy is tough, determined, and uncompromising despite her challenges, while Hanami is a naturally timid sort on the surface, with toughness and determination buried underneath. In terms of character development, they’re almost total opposites: Judy starts out hard and turns softer (without losing her edge, thankfully), while Hanami starts soft and grows harder.
So with that discussed, where do they go? Obviously, I can’t spoil what I have in store for Hanami, but I can discuss how Judy ends up. Here’s the point where I’ll go into heavy spoiler territory, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Judy and Nick discover evidence of a conspiracy bigger than either could have imagined, one that threatens not only Judy’s job but the city of Zootopia itself. What initially seems to be a case of predator mammals, and only predator mammals, going “savage” (read: reverting to feral, uncivilized beings, a very neat concept) is actually a deliberate attempt by a small group of prey to drive the predators out entirely. The movie’s villain, a sheep of all things, coldly explains in the climax that she’s preying (heh) both on the instinctual fear of predators and the fact that prey species outnumber them ten to one, in order to get rid of all predators in Zootopia whether they’re innocent or not. Savagery is “in their biology”, she argues, echoing an unfortunate statement Judy made earlier that tore apart her friendship with Nick. Talk about timely and relevant… the similarity to certain candidates for public office has to be a coincidence, given the lead time involved in producing a major animated picture, but I can hardly think of a better way to get the message across to kids (or, hell, to everyone) that that kind of reductive thinking is not okay. The idea that certain species are inherently, invariably good or evil is one of the things that rubbed me the wrong way when I went back to my beloved Redwall books as a teenager, and the desire to subvert that became one of the foundations of Tasakeru.
SPOILERS END HERE.
There’s much to admire about Zootopia, which contributes to the current renaissance of Western animation: it works on levels for both children and adults, it has a surprising level of depth and complexity, it has a story that’s relevant and applicable to the real world, and it’s endlessly pretty and visually inventive. On that last point, one of the absolute joys of the movie for me was seeing just what the animators came up with. Unlike in Tasakeru, all the Zootopia animals are different sizes roughly in scale with their real life counterparts, leading to scenes like Judy chasing a weasel through a tiny mouse/shrew neighborhood as if she stumbled onto one of the miniature city sets from a Godzilla movie, or when Nick walks out of an elephant ice cream parlor with a popsicle three times the size of his body. (That’s something that can be done far better in a visual medium than a written one, which is one of the reasons the sentients in Tasakeru are all roughly within the same size range). Zootopia’s enormous success over the past two weeks leads me to hope that the time is once again right for anthro animal works, including my own, to regain favor in popular culture. More important than that, though, I think Zootopia decisively proves one of the things that drove me to write Tasakeru in the first place: it proves you can tell a story with talking animal characters without being overly simplistic or childish, or only appealing to niche or fetish crowds.
If you haven’t seen Zootopia yet, do yourself a favor and do so. It is without exaggeration one of the best non-Pixar Disney movies I’ve seen in years. If you have already seen it, go see it again, and pay attention to all the subtext and wonderful little details that I simply don’t have space to cover here. And when you’re done, if you’re looking for something sort of similar, but also quite different from the talking animal norm… check out Tasakeru, if you please. I’ll be anxious to hear what you think.