Episode 401: Stop Shaming the Bunny

On the Overthinking It Podcast, the Overthinkers and special guest Arjun Gupta tackle Disney’s new animated film “Zootopia.”

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee and Matthew Wrather are joined by guest Arjun Gupta to overthink Zootopia, Disney’s new animated film about animal racism.

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Our Guest

Arjun GuptaOur guest Arjun Gupta calls himself a “Storyteller and a Service Member.” As an actor, he currently appears on the SyFy show Magicians, and you may have seen him on How to Get Away with Murder and Nurse Jackie. His own podcast, American Desis, which Arjun hosts alongside comedian Akaash Singh, is geared to discovering what it means to be a South Asian in this country today.

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5 Comments on “Episode 401: Stop Shaming the Bunny”

  1. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    Can we talk about the world-building for a bit? I have some questions:

    1) Do the carnivores eat meat? In this world, it appears that only mammals are sentient. I’m also pretty sure I saw a fish market in the background, so maybe the carnivores eat non-sentient fish, reptiles, etc.?

    2) Related question: what sort of justification could there be that mammals achieved sentience, but not other forms of animals?

    3) Related question: were there any primates in the movie?

    4) Is inter-species romance possible? I thought for a second the movie was going to go there when the rabbit put her hand on the fox’s arm after he told his sad childhood story, but obviously that did not play out in the movie. I wonder if the sequel (which the ending seemed to suggest was coming) will explore this.


  2. lemur #

    Speaking of a word that scares you–thanks, you guys, thanks so fraking much. Since I first started seeing posters and ads and so on for this movie, I had somehow managed to avoid hearing the name spoken out loud–until now. Because from the first time I saw it, I realized there was essentially no chance it would be pronounced “ZOH oh toh pee uh,” and I really really wanted it to be. I am pedantic enough that I would consider “zöotopia” to be a word (“living place”? something like that), but “zoo TOH pee uh” to be a crazy abomination of mixed English and Greek. But such is life, and perhaps after all I am better off in some way, now that I no longer have the option of living in denial.

    Still probably won’t go see the movie though. Am I the only one here who finds the title irrationally irksome?


    • a human person #

      Aren’t both roots Greek? I thought it means “animal place.”


      • lemur #

        “Zoo” is an English word that rhymes with “blue.” It is of course derived from an abbreviation of “zoological park.” But you don’t pronounce that phrase as “zu-logical.” The Greek root “zoo-” has two syllables and refers to “life, living things, especially animals.” (And it rhymes with… um… former Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo, I guess.) That is what I was complaining about. I was worried – correctly, it turns out – that the movie would fail to respect consistently the scientific community’s pronunciation of Greek terminology when coining a word that looks like it’s composed of two parts that are both Greek. What they have done instead is to combine one Greek part pronounced as such (“-topia”) and one English word whose derivation is Greek but whose pronunciation distinguishes it from its Greek homograph. I mean, I would have been fine with a one-syllable “zoo-” to rhyme with “blue” if the movie had been “Zootown” or “Zooland.” Why did they feel a need to use “Zootopia”? Probably because it rhymes (iff you use their tragically non-Classical pronunciation) with “utopia,” right? That’s why I was sure they would disappoint me, and so why I had tried to avoid hearing the title pronounced.


        • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

          I think the upshot is the name picks up more of the connotation of how “Zoo” is used in English than how it is used in Greek – as in the “Zootopia” is a place where people are held in cages, or a place that is chaotic, another meaning of “Zoo” in English that isn’t in the Greek. I definitely didn’t get the feel from the title that it was “The perfect place with animals.”

          There are some things that are fundamentally wrong with Zootopia even though the hegemonic discourse seems to insist that Zootopia is the crowning jewel of a great project. And a charitable reading of it is the clash of etymologies and weird way the word seems at war with itself fits the way the city is also at war with the idea of what it should be.

          But yeah, you’re right to pick up on that. 100%.


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