After months and months of vague promos, Zootopia’s arrival in theaters came as a surprise to viewers—not only was the film fun and entertaining, but it was also totally a message movie about the perils of racial profiling. And if you thought about it too hard, the racial allegory quickly began to fall apart: What’s with the discriminated-against predators also being in positions of institutional power? And why, in a movie about shutting down stereotypes, is the fox actually sneaky and the weasel really a cheater? Still, after decades of questionable and/or downright racist on-screen depictions of people of color, Disney’s attempt to address such heavy subject matter in an animated kids’ movie can be considered a valiant effort and a sign of progress.
Which is why it’s probably a good thing that a deleted scene from Zootopia that is now online didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. For starters, the tone of the scene is considerably darker than that of the lighthearted romp the movie eventually became. It depicts a ceremony, soon revealed to be a “taming party,” in which a young bear cub named Morris prepares to become a “big bear.” His father presents his eager, ecstatic son with a collar in front of a room full of equally eager and ecstatic bear cubs: “With this collar, Zootopia accepts me,” the papa bear announces, wistfully, as Morris repeats after him. There’s a tinge of sadness and hesitation as he goes to put it around Morris’ neck, and understandably so—Morris is soon given an electric shock after becoming too excited. The room gasps, and a startled Morris hugs his father tight.
The idea of animals in a kids’ movie suffering a form of ritualized corporeal punishment in order to gain acceptance by others is already pretty heavy—but it’s made even more disturbing when you consider it within the context of the film’s blatant racial allegory. The suggestion that the only way for the predators to coexist in the world of Zootopia is to “tame” them in adolescence would have brought in some icky, very colonial notions about race that such a film probably wouldn’t be able to engage with properly, to say the least. So let’s all be grateful that the top dogs at Disney made a wise decision to let this scene go.