Wrap Up of “Zootopia”

Thanks to all of you who sent me answers to the discussion questions this week. You’re doing great work and getting a good handle on the classic elements of the hero’s quest. “Zootopia” was a little more challenging than “The Hunger Games,” but you were still able to spot all those steps along the way of Judy’s journey.

When considering the Call to Adventure, some of you saw this in Judy’s youthful confrontation with Gideon the fox in her hometown. This experience convinced our hero to push herself harder to make it through the police academy and become the first bunny on the Zootopia Police Department. Others of you thought the Call to Adventure appears a little later when Judy accepts the Chief’s challenge to find Otterton. You saw her taking this missing persons case as the first step in her journey. So, which is it?

Both! The description of a hero’s quest that we’ve been learning about is more of a tool for seeing why the mythopoeic elements of these stories resonate so deeply with us on a psychological and emotional level. We have a shared unconscious understanding of what makes a hero and what that hero’s quest entails. But another way of looking at movies and books that describe a hero’s quest is in term of plot structure.

Screenwriters and novelists draw from our shared cultural beliefs about hero’s quests, but they mix and match the elements to create a compelling and believable movie or book that hangs together on its own terms. And most of our modern media follows a three-act (some would say five-act) story structure. Following the “formula” of a modern narrative arc means some of the mythic elements become more or less obvious in the story. Creative writers play around with all these elements in their own ways to develop their own new stories that borrow from ancient ideas but always feel interesting and fresh.

So, I think the best way for us to look at “Zootopia” is that it has TWO hero’s journey narratives that overlap. The larger quest for Judy is to make the world a better place by becoming a cop and fighting for justice. The smaller quest for her is the specific case of finding Otterton and solving the mystery of the missing animals that have “gone feral.” As such, both Calls to Adventure that you described in your answers are correct. We can imagine many more individual cases in Judy’s career that will all still be a part of her ongoing larger personal quest. In fact, Disney plans to release “Zootopia 2” next year, so we can watch that movie and see how Judy continues her adventures.

In your answers to the question of Judy’s talisman, most of you suggested her ZPD badge and a few mentioned her “fox repellent.” Again, both answers are right, of course. Judy’s ZPD badge does serve as her talisman. But it works in tandem with that fox repellent from her dad as a part of a pair of talismans. In most cop stories (a detective subset of the hero’s quest narrative), the badge and gun work together to symbolize the cop’s status as an idealized hero.

In fact, you’ll notice that a lot of cop stories dramatize the final stages of the hero’s quest as that segment where the apparently beaten and disgraced cop must turn over the badge and gun. All seems lost, but then the cop finds hidden strength and confidence to resume the battle and win the day. In this way, the cop passes that final test of worthiness and re-earns their badge and gun. Watch for this. You’ll seriously see it again and again in cop stories.

Because the detective genre functions as a special subset of those stories we recognize as hero’s quest narratives. Of course there a few other nuances, but we’ll save those for a later time. Maybe I’ll even host a media studies series that’s all about the detective genre. It’s one of my favorites.

Great work this week! See you next time. Until then, stay well.

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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