The popular Disney kid-flick Zootopia does something unusual for Hollywood: it takes a swipe at government.
The cartoon film is set in a city where all animals, the minority predators and the majority herbivores, seemingly live in peace and harmony. But a string of disappearances leads a rookie bunny cop to enlist the help of a hustler fox to help her solve the mystery.
The heroes must act fast and need to run a license plate. They rush into the Department of Motor Vehicles only to see it is staffed by sloths, an entire room full of them, sitting behind their desks, moving very, very, very slowly. The fast-talking bunny, quick as a rabbit, gives a clerk, ironically named Flash, the plate number. She watches in frustration as seconds pass and the sloth’s finger slowly rises, stops, and then slowly, oh-so-slowly, descends to the keyboard. One. Painful. Letter. At. A. Time.
When I saw the film with my five-year-olds, the adults in the theater howled with laugher. They’ve all been through it before. Perhaps some of the elders in the audience with their grandkids remembered the old Bob and Ray “Slow Talkers of America” routine.
Let’s hope the scene is a consciousness-raising experience for adults. Visits to the DMV often result in long lines, long waits, and red-tape messes. But wait! We pay these people with our tax dollars. They’re supposed to be our servants. Commercial businesses that offer such poor service lose customers and go broke. Not so, the government agencies that regulate us.
I know when I’m in line at a DMV—I’m fighting these agencies in two jurisdictions right now—I commit my own little acts of micro-defiance. As I stand in sloth-slow lines, watching my fellow citizens fidgeting impatiently, I’ll loudly declare “Wait ‘til they control the whole health care system!” or something of the sort. Give it a try!
But what of the kids in the theater watching Zootopia? They laughed too at the silly, slow-moving sloths. Perhaps they received a not-so-subliminal education about what to expect from bureaucrats. Perhaps like me, parents will explain to their kids, “This is what it feels like when daddy/mommy have to go register the car with the government.” Perhaps as they explain, parents will think to themselves “… or deal with the Postal Service or the IRS.” And perhaps they’ll also think, “I really don’t want my kids to live in a world in which they’re at the mercy of government bureaucrats.”
Okay, I know it’s just a movie. But memes like the sloths at the DMV are the sort of things that can add up to citizens starting to act like, well, citizens rather than subjects. And they can prepare our kids to stand up their liberty as well!
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.