My treat of the week was going to see Zootopia in the local second-run movie theatre ($3 tickets, woot woot!).
It was great. Going to the movies is always a good escape and Zootopia was the perfect mix (for me) of escaping into a fantastic and cleverly built world, while still gently addressing important issues (prejudice, stereotyping) in a thoughtful way.
I’ve kept thinking about the movie, and some of those thoughts (weirdly enough) have been related to seeing the movie poster, which says Zootopia is by the folks who did Frozen and Big Hero 6. I know this is a standard animation studio practice (listing your most recent films), but the juxtaposition of those titles (and the knowledge that this branch of Disney animation also did Wreck-It Ralph) has made me think about what those movies have in common.
Big Hero 6 is the oddball of the bunch; in the other three, I see a pattern of identity conflict. In all three movies, the resolution to the story involves one or more main characters coming to terms with their identity, both internally and in relation to their world.
- Zootopia: While the action of Zootopia is all about solving a crime, additional conflict comes from the culture’s assumptions about particular species. For main characters Nick and Judy, coming to terms with their identities involves challenging cultural and individual assumptions about who they “are” or “should be”. Is Judy just a “token bunny” cop? Can Nick, as a fox, be anything besides a hustler? Those questions go hand in hand with the crime that the two are solving - the story resolves when they’ve both solved the crime and answered those questions about who they are.
- Frozen: To the people in her world, Elsa is not the person she seems. The conflict of the story is literally an identity conflict - Elsa runs away because her magical ability and her role as the crown princess are at odds. That struggle is only resolved when Elsa is able to take one piece of her identity (magic) and use it in tandem with her other identities (sister, princess). 
- Wreck-It Ralph: Both protagonists of Wreck-It Ralph - Ralph and Venellope - are dissatisfied with their current identities and, relatedly, their status in their worlds. Both are outcasts - Vanellope as a “glitch” in her game and Ralph as the villain in his. Ralph’s pursuit of a new identity (as the hero) drives most of the story, at points dove-tailing (and at others conflicting with) Vanellope’s pursuit of what she believes to be her identity (a racer). Again, the resolution of the story comes when the identity conflicts are resolved: Vanellope’s rightful identity is restored and Ralph can accept his role as “bad guy” because there’s more to his life than that role. (Side note: pretty interesting that Vanellope and Ralph both need each other to achieve that resolution - Vanellope needs a champion and Ralph needs someone who loves him.)
- And if you want to go further back, Tangled was the first effort by this particular Disney animation cohort, and you see the same theme of main characters pursuing their identity: Flynn Rider goes from a VERY deliberately constructed identity of dashing bandit to his real self (Eugene) and has a shift of values (which impacts Rapunzel, as his actions result in a change of her identity as someone with magical powers).
I know that most (good) storytelling is built around character growth, where the protaganist changes by the end of the story, so this pattern might be much more prevelant in movies generally and I’ve just noticed it in this collection. But it feels like these films are slightly different - that the conflict of the story is driven by underlying issues of identity and where the character’s growth is specifically around who they are and their relationship to others instead of fixing some internal flaw or changing their mind about something.
As a post-script: I have appreciated the clinically/socially accurate depictions of identity in these movies (the problems of repression in Frozen, the excellent language around bias and stereotype in Zootopia, the co-opting of 12 step program ideas in Wreck-It Ralph, and, to include a Pixar movie of the same general vintage, Inside Out and its literal depiction of an emotional journey). If this is part of a Disney plot to educate kids, and/or their parents, about what it means to know who you are and how to be in the world, I’d give it a thumbs up so far!
 My grumpy “get off my lawn” self has always lamented that “Let It Go” exploded into such popularity, not for any musical reasons, but simply because the song represents only a piece of the movie’s message and taken on its own, is a unhelpful way to think about forming your identity.