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Friday, July 20, 2018

On Foxes and Forgiveness - An Editorial

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Hello everyone, Bummer here! You may know me from any number of stories I should be updating.

I recently had the pleasure of reading WildeCard’s fantastic article that delves into the ethics and morality of our favorite fox Nick Wilde. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this and give it a read - I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Now if you’re like me, you were surprised to see that Nick’s moral character was ever in doubt! As the article even points out, who doesn’t like the snarky, charismatic fox? But WildeCard’s article raises a number of very thought provoking questions for us to consider about Nick’s background, motivations and actions throughout the film. Questions that really got me thinking.

I learned a lot while grappling with the problem of Nick’s morality, and I’ve done my best to gather my thoughts on the topic and put them down here to serve as a kind of companion piece. Hopefully, dear reader, something in the ramblings below will inspire you to add to the discussion as much as WildeCard’s piece inspired me.

See you after the break!


“You Lied to Me You … Liar!”

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But before I dive into the meat of things, I want to take a quick moment to point out that determining the morality of a lie is a complicated business - it's a question that philosophers have been debating for a very long time. Without getting into a detailed discussion of Deontology vs Consequentialism, the essential debate centers on whether lying is in it of itself morally wrong, or if there are circumstances where lying is morally correct. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant would argue that lying under any circumstance is wrong, where others like John Stuart Mill would say that a lie is only permissible if it does more good than harm.

For the purposes of this article, I will take a consequential approach to determining the morality of a lie - that is to say, I will look at the effect the lie had on those to whom it was told, and consider that along with the intent and context in which the lie was told to come to a conclusion about the lie’s morality.

This consideration extends as well to lies of omission or to any attempt made to deceive someone.

The Pawpsicle Hustle

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At last we get to the start of it all: the Pawpsicle Hustle, our first introduction to Nick, and a crowning example of the hustler’s art! After nearly being run over (by Doug no less!), Nick darts over to the front of Jumbeaux’s Cafe and manages to attract the attention of a certain suspicious rookie cop, unknowingly setting into motion a chain of events that will forever change Zootopia.

But how moral was the hustle, really?

Starting with the deception at the heart of the scheme - Nick and Finnick pretending to be a father and son respectively - let’s consider the intention of the parties involved and the effect their actions had.

For the majority of patrons in Jumbeaux’s Cafe, the deception had little impact on them except to serve perhaps as a momentary source of annoyance, interest or amusement. Everyone except for the two foxes and Judy almost certainly went on with their day without any real change. This includes Jerry himself - despite his abrasive, downright demeaning treatment of Nick, he ended up selling $15 of merchandise for $20 of recompense. Thanks to Judy, he got a $5 tip for essentially being a jerk.

Now, Nick and Finnick clearly benefited from the deception, netting a free Jumbo Pop.Their intent was clearly selfish - the whole operation they would embark on was predicated on obtaining a Jumbo Pop, and they gained a substantial amount of money as a result of deceiving Judy.

By far the biggest impact felt by the deception was on Judy’s part. She spent $20 dollars on a giant popsicle for what she thought was a caring father and son. Now discounting the financial impact (I sincerely hope that officers of the ZPD are paid enough that $20 is not a significant expenditure), Judy was duped into thinking she’d done something altruistic.

This is something very important to note: up until the point that Judy discovers the true nature of Nick and Finnick, she thought she had done something selfless. Indeed, if Nick and Finnick had been father and son, would not Judy’s actions have been noble?

It is telling that in the shot immediately following Nick and Finnick’s departure, we see Judy taking to the hot and miserable work of ticketing cars in Sahara Square with aplomb. The rabbit elated in having ‘made a difference’, however small. But once she sees the hustle for the deception it is, she is enraged - her pride in herself for having made a difference is shattered.

You might be asking then, if Judy had never discovered the truth about the hustle, would that diminish the immorality of the deception?

I argue that it would not - Nick and Finnick’s intent was anything but altruistic, and ultimately Judy discovering the nature of the hustle had no real impact on the outcome of the hustle itself.

As Judy stalks the two foxes, we see the later stages of the hustle: having melted down the Jumbo Pop, Nick turns a handy profit selling the melted down and refrozen pawpsicles at $2 a pop. This is not really an immoral act per se - aside from some legitimate questions about food sanitation, this is more a clever act of entrepreneurship than anything else.

On the other hand, misrepresenting the collected pawpsicle sticks as ‘red wood’ (space in the middle) to the rodent construction crew is definitely morally wrong. But - and this is perhaps me being generous - it seems that the building practices in Little Rodentia leave a lot to be desired, especially considering how readily Judy and Weasleton were able to knock apartments loose from their foundations (or lack thereof). Also, I don’t think that the type of the wood in the pawpsicle sticks makes much of an impact at the scale of construction used in rodent buildings, but if there are any architects or materials engineers that can speak to this, I’d love to know more!

All in all, I still think the greatest injury caused by this hustle was to Judy’s pride - a side effect that only occurred by accident. The hustle was designed to prey upon someone altruistic, and leave them with a sense of pride for having done something ostensibly noble for a father and his son.

One could argue that designing the hustle like this was just practical - the best cons are the ones in which the victim believes they are the hustler, after all. But I do think it’s worth noting that when executed correctly, this hustle causes almost no injury to anyone.

This is speculative on my part, but I think this is reflective of Nick’s character - to design a hustle that gets him what he needs without substantially injuring anyone … even making the ‘victim’ feel good about an imagined act of kindness.

Nick’s actions here are not morally “right” in any sense - he employs lies and deceit to trick unwitting victims into buying the Jumbo Pop for him under false pretense. This is objectively wrong.

But one must consider the context under which Nick operates - Jerry and the elephants are actively hostile to his presence in the cafe. I don’t think that there was any other way Nick could have come into possession of a Jumbo Pop, even if he had tried to pay for it himself. The societal bias against foxes (let alone predators) is blatant and pervasive - hence the need for some kind of trick.

Does this somehow excuse the hustle? No, not entirely … but it does temper my judgement of the act.

Naïveté vs Cynicism

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There is a concept in philosophy that you’ve probably heard of: thesis and antithesis. For every proposition (the thesis) there is a negation of that proposition (the antithesis) that arises by virtue of the thesis being proposed.

Throughout the movie, we’ve seen the world through Judy’s optimistic point of view. Her assertion in the opening play that “anyone can be anything” forms the thesis. One that Nick restates even as he mocks Judy for holding it, “Everyone comes to Zootopia thinking they can be anything they want. Well you can’t. You can only be what you are.”

This is the antithesis to Judy’s naive optimism, its natural negation. Nick and Judy’s worldviews at this point are fundamentally contradictory, and from this clash of perspectives conflict inevitably arises.

In the aftermath of the hustle, Judy confronts Nick about his deception and tries to arrest the fox. While he skillfully dodges the attempt, Nick shows no signs of remorse for his actions, going so far as to mock Judy for her naivete. Disagreeing with and arguing against another person’s viewpoint is not immoral, but the manner in which Nick mocks Judy is anything but kind - he’s clearly trying to get under the rabbit’s skin.

His intent here could be purely practical. By making Judy agitated, it makes it easier for him to control the situation. This even seems to work; Judy is so flustered that she completely overlooks a blink-and-you-miss-it act of petty theft when Nick pockets a handful (pawful?) of blueberries from a produce stand.

Further, I definitely think Nick is deriving some satisfaction from having tricked Judy - or perhaps more aptly, having tricked an officer sworn to uphold the very law he’s flaunting. This is clearly a selfish pleasure, gained at Judy’s expense.

I also wonder how much of Nick’s tirade is motivated by jealousy and anger - as we later learn, Nick had aspirations of being “brave, loyal, helpful, and trustworthy” before they were shattered by the cold bite of a steel muzzle. So why should Judy succeed in her dreams when he was so cruelly barred from his? How is that fair?

But lastly, I posit here another motivation - this one a bit more charitable. Granted, this is much more speculative, but I think Nick was also trying to warn Judy. In his diatribe, Nick makes a dire prediction about Judy’s future, “And soon enough those dreams die and our bunny sinks into emotional and literal squalor living in a box under a bridge.” This is an oddly specific thing to say. Though we may at first think nothing of it, after the press conference we see a very dejected Nick sitting by a stone bridge next to an upturned box.

On its face, Nick’s tirade seems to be directed at Judy. But the specifics of it, the predictions he makes are feasibly drawn from Nick’s own experience. He’s lost his idealism, and suffered for it.

Again, this is speculative - but would it not be gentler for Judy’s worldview to be broken by one “shifty, untrustworthy fox” than have it come crashing down on her head in a chorus of mocking laughter? It’s my contention that Nick is - at least in part - trying to disabuse Judy of this dangerous naivete before she suffers the same kind of trauma he did. So what if she hates him for it? As far as Nick believes, nobody loves a fox anyway.

Ultimately, I think Nick’s motivations were a combination of all of the above. His conduct was anything but nice, but I have hard time condemning it as being devoid of some small glimmer of charitable intent.

Malicious Compliance

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Judy bounces back with a vengeance - after recovering from the brief existential crisis Nick’s verbal takedown threw her into, she throws herself into the case to find Emmitt Otterton. And to ensure Nick’s cooperation, she pulls one heck of a hustle.

Pulling Nick’s tax records and playing on his smugness to surreptitiously record a confession was a brilliant move - Nick digs his own metaphorical grave. Using the threat of charging Nick with tax evasion to blackmail him into cooperation is not only perfectly legal, it’s in keeping with tactics used by law enforcement in the real world.

In the face of this, Nick has every right to be annoyed. Nobody likes to be press ganged into unwitting service, especially if they don’t exactly have a high opinion of the person impressing them. But turnabout is fair play, and we can scarcely say Nick doesn’t deserve the inconvenience.

But I think Nick is motivated by more here than just a desire to keep himself out of jail, or solely to sabotage Judy’s investigation. Nick turns it into something of a game, a way to gauge the mettle of this rabbit.

At Mystic Springs, for example, Nick tests Judy’s resolve in the face of the ‘naturalist lifestyle.’ Offering her an out he says, “There’s no shame in callin’ it quits.” When Judy presses on regardless Nick seems almost impressed.

When Judy continues to hold the threat of the pen over his head, he leads Judy to the DMV. And there he tests her patience by waiting for the key moment to tell Flash that joke.

Finally, things come to a head in front of the gates of the Tundratown Limo Service. Judy rightly accuses Nick of wasting the day on purpose. When Judy pointedly asks Nick, “Does seeing me fail somehow make you feel better about your own sad, miserable life?” the fox answers rather disingenuously that it does.

And largely, I think he does find enjoyment in frustrating Judy. In some sense, it means he’s the ultimate victor in this battle of wits.

But I don’t think his enjoyment is born out of pure malice - it’s clear that Nick doesn’t grasp, or at least doesn’t appreciate the stakes of the case. He hasn’t been taking Judy or the case seriously, and dismisses her appeal to help find Otterton offhand. Up until this moment, Nick has largely been causing more harm than good in this case.

But in the very next scene inside the limo, Nick is forced to confront the stark reality of the case. You can see the sudden realization on Nick’s face as he looks into the torn up back seat of the limo. And immediately, Nick stops any resistance to Judy and begins to actively help the investigation.

So why does understanding the stakes make a difference here? If Nick were only motivated by a desire to avoid personal inconvenience or harm, the stakes of the case would be completely irrelevant. It doesn’t affect him at all. But Nick is visibly shaken by what he sees, and begins to actively cooperate. Why the change?

It could be fear brought on by the dawning realization of exactly how much trouble Nick’s gotten himself into - blackmail was bad enough, but the potential to be hurt is quite another!

That said, I think that Nick never intended to really impede a serious investigation where a mammal’s life and well-being clearly hung in the balance. But when the “pretend investigation” suddenly becomes real, Nick is forced to consider that more was riding on this case than just his own interests.

I think this is telling. Nick doesn’t want to hurt people - annoy them, yes. Trick and deceive them? Sure - so long as he didn’t really injure them. But as he and Judy glanced around the back of the limo, Nick realized any further impeding had the potential to do actual harm. As soon as resistance or malicious compliance had the potential to affect more than just Judy, he couldn’t justify it morally.

Guilt by Association

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This brings us at last to Nick and Judy’s encounter with Mr. Big - a character whose morality deserves a lengthy discussion unto itself. But in short - he’s not a good mammal. He’s the kind of guy who needs to kill mammals frequently enough that he had a death pit built into the floor of his office. I know the character was meant to be a fun spoof of Don Corleone, but the implications of such a crime boss in Zootopia are both fascinating and very dark.

In his article, WildeCard notes that Nick’s association with Mr. Big casts some doubt on the ethics of his previous interactions. And while I agree that Nick’s association is quite dubious, I don’t think that it is in it of itself an indictment of his moral character.

At the risk of engaging in whataboutism, I feel compelled to bring up Emmitt Otterton. A florist and father of two children - is he not at the same risk of guilt by association for being Mr. Big’s florist? Does Fru-Fru run the same risk?

The only thing we can really consider with regards to Nick’s interactions with Big is the Skunk Butt Rug incident. Nick admits to selling Mr. Big a “wool” rug made from skunk butt fur, and Big was (quite rightly) annoyed - especially since he buried Gram-mama in the rug. But aside from the deceit implicit in the false advertising, we don’t have enough information to really speculate on what was involved in this.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Big seemed more disappointed in Nick than angry. He scolds Nick for tricking him after they’d “broke bread together” and after Gram-mama had “made [him] a cannoli”, implying a relationship that was more than strictly business. If The Godfather is any indication, it might simply be the Big’s modus operandi to blur the lines between business and family as a way of instilling personal loyalty. Judging from Nick’s crestfallen look while being so scolded, it must have worked to some degree.

But we can’t forget that the mob’s business is criminal - much more likely to be immoral than not. We can speculate about to what degree Nick was involved in things. But in absence of definitive information we must presume Nick to be innocent until proven guilty. We do not know what Nick did or didn’t do in connection with the mob.

While it is certainly possible that Nick was involved in the truly dark parts of the mob (murder, drug dealing, etc) I sincerely doubt it. Especially considering how much effort Nick goes to to avoid severely injuring anyone in the pawpsicle hustle.

"None of You Guys Were Going to Help Her!"

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After Big points them to Manchas, we get our first big example of Nick actively aiding in the investigation as he smooth talks the jaguar into opening the door. Judy is visibly pleased at this, but they don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it thanks to a shot from a Night Howler dart.

Things are very tense while the two flee from the feral Manchas. In stressful life-or-death situations, you don’t have time to consider the long term ramifications of your actions or do much else other than operate on instinct.

Nick’s instinct in the moment he reached the sky tram was to make sure Judy got aboard first. Without thinking, he opened the door and turned to help Judy in. Failing to find her immediately he calls out to her. Judy tells him to go, but by then it's too late.

This I think is very indicative of Nick’s moral character. The personal stakes couldn’t be higher: he’s literally a few feet short of being mauled to death by an angry jaguar but his immediate impulse is not to ensure his own personal safety but to look to ensure Judy’s.

After Judy and Nick escape from Manchas a la Tarzan and are found by the ZPD, we reach yet another scene critical in an understanding of Nick’s moral character. Manchas is nowhere to be found and Judy is left trying to explain what happened. Disinterested, Bogo demands Judy’s badge.

In that moment Nick sees that all of the time he wasted, all of the aggravations he caused Judy had a real and profound impact. He saw that she is about to suffer the very same shattering of her dreams that Nick suffered. And in that moment, he decides to intervene.

I’m sure Nick felt guilty, and I’m certain that played into his decision to step forward. But I also think Nick was genuinely offended by how Bogo was treating Judy. So he put his wit to work, found a loophole, called out the chief on his bullcrap (buffalo crap?), and committed himself to helping Judy solve the case.

But why?

If his intent, his purpose was to simply avoid getting arrested he had every reason to keep his mouth shut. Judy would have been sent packing in shame, and Nick could have walked away scott-free. Nick gained absolutely nothing by speaking up.

In fact, he risks a great deal - he’s potentially offended the chief of police, never a good thing to do in his line of work. And considering the near-death experience Nick just escaped, he must realize that continuing to help Judy puts him at risk of bodily harm.

But he does so anyway, and moreover he drops the mask of cynicism and snark to share the defining moment of childhood trauma that made him who he is.

The Sublime Power of Forgiveness

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I don’t have too much to say about the press conference with regards to how it relates to the moral character of Nick. But man, it’s a rough moment to say the least - and one that I keenly remember watching with stunned amazement as it unfolded in the theater.

Nick continues to help Judy, reassuring her and coaching her in how to answer a question by answering a talking point. And then Judy gives Nick an application and the pen she’d been blackmailing him with, asking him to be her partner.

If Nick sharing the story of his childhood trauma with Judy was indicative of cracks in his cynical worldview, this shatters it. For the first time in the movie, Nick is literally speechless. And the warm smile that he gives Judy in response is the first genuine smile we’ve seen on his face.

In this moment, Judy has shown that the hardline cynical attitude Nick had protected himself with for years wasn’t necessary.

And then Judy opens her mouth.

You couldn’t have picked a moment where Nick would be more vulnerable. He had literally just taken the first step towards becoming something better by filling out the application. And then Judy reveals that underneath it all she suffered from the same fundamental bias that led the scouts to torment Nick.

He confronts Judy, and when she reaches for the pepper spray all of Nick’s fears are confirmed. In Nick’s view, Judy tricked him into believing she genuinely cared about him. Got him to lower his defenses, and used him. The ultimate hustle.

It’s easy to sympathize with Nick here, and anyone who’s had their trust betrayed knows how angry and bitter it can make someone. And Nick has every right to storm off and sulk under a bridge.

In time Judy finds him there, and bares her soul through choked sobs of sorrow. The apology she gives is painfully heart-felt as she begs Nick to help.

And it is there, under that cobblestone bridge that what I think is the single greatest moral act in the entire movie happens.

Nick forgives Judy.

It is such a quiet moment. But such is the power of forgiveness that Judy’s heart-wrenching tears of sorrow turn into tears of joy with only a warm smile and a bad joke.

Nick has every right to be bitter, and angry, to nurse his injury. But Nick refuses to let Judy suffer, and in forgiving Judy lifts the burden of his own injury off himself. In one small act, two moral injuries are made right.

I firmly believe that the capacity for true forgiveness is one of the greatest hallmarks of a morally good person. Whatever doubts I may have about Nick being a good person are set to rest in this moment.

Now you may have noticed that I left out a major concept when discussing above about how Judy and Nick’s worldviews served as thesis and antithesis to one another. The third pillar of this concept is what happens when the thesis and antithesis are reconciled to form something new, a synthesis.

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.”

That’s exactly what Nick and Judy are able to do. Together, they come to a synthesis of worldview - something neither too cynical nor too naive.

Judy states it best at the end of the movie, “Turns out, real life is a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means―hey, glass half full!―we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try.”

And together, Nick and Judy risk life and limb to stop Bellwether and save Zootopia. Nick joins the force, and the movie ends with a new beginning for Nick as Judy pins a badge to his chest. 
I want to once again thank WildeCard for prompting me to write this, however indirectly! I hope you found it interesting, and I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Bummer out! 

20 comments:

  1. Gotta say, I am LOVING this high-quality philosophical discourse about my favourite talking animal movie

    I've always subscribed to the perhaps optimistic idea that Nick's hustles were purposefully designed to do as little harm as possible. He could easily be pulling nastier jobs, presumably for more money. But for him, hustling is about survival rather than profit. If the rest of his cons are similar to the Jumbo Pop Hustle, they balance being lucrative with being (relatively) harmless.

    Fantastic article, and a great overall point regarding Nick's act of forgiveness. Loved it!

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    1. You're in for a treat then: WildeCard's got more amazing ethics analysis on the way!

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    2. Indeed. My next installment goes up on August 3rd. I hope the next post will generate as much interest as what I had to say about Nick.

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    3. Fantastic! I look forward to it

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  2. A couple of things that I would like to add.

    One, the hustle-I don't believe that the goal was to hustle somebody into paying for the jumbo pop. I think that the show was to drum up sympathy since Nick knew that Jerry would be reluctant to sell the jumbo pop. The plan would be contradictory anyway. They would rely on everybody being bigoted, but at least one person not being? That doesn't sound like something Nick would bet on. Judy coming in was lucky. Bringing me to point two-letting Judy pay for the jumbo pop. Nick later notes that he noticed the fox repellant the first time he met Judy. Does not make set to let a bigot(Judy) pay for a bigot's(Jerry's) crime? This, admittedly combined with the desire to save a buck, is what led Nick to allow Judy to pay. Otherwise, I believe Nick walked into the shop fully intending to pay for the jumbo pop. This I think is the most immoral thing in the movie, and even it can be justified. Finally, the red wood. I don't think this is immoral- as long as the pawpsicle sticks are still structurally sound, no harm is done. Both parties benefit. As for Nick's speech-as already mentioned, I think it's merciful more than anything for Nick to shatter Judy's worldview over twenty dollars than over something more serious. Was Nick being unnecessarily aggressive? Perhaps. However, keep in mind, Nick could probably guess why Judy entered the shop in the first place, let alone the repellant. Knowing Judy isn't exactly innocent, I think deserves some catharsis.

    Two, impeding the investigation-Again, as mentioned before, Nick was under the impression that the investigation was leading nowhere, and he shaped up as soon as he realized that it did. Furthermore, I disagree that Nick had it coming. Like I said, I feel that he was justified in what he did, but even if he wasn't, it certainly doesn't out way blackmail.

    Three, association with Mr. Big- Considering Nick's value of life (as shown when he waits for Judy) I can't imagine he would be involved in anything too shady, such as murder. He was most-likely logistics, or an even more innocent possibility, just a friend. Nick has connections, obviously. Would it be that much of a stretch to think that, through mutual connections, Nick was just a family friend? Nick wasn't an employee, but a friendly associate and business partner of the Bits. Whether a friend or an employee, I can't see Nick doing anything too bad. Innocent until proven guilty.

    Four, Nick had to survive-Nick was pushed down very early in life. As long as nothing clearly black and white immoral was committed, which we have no evidence of, I can forgive a few moral Grey's.

    Five, being generally good- I'm not going to highlight every example, but there are multiple times where Nick is just generally a good person. Waiting for Judy at the tram, calling for Judy in the water at Cliffside, waiting for Judy at the museum...you get the idea. Everyone who we've ever seen Nick slight-Judy, Jerry, and Mr. Big-none of them are exactly perfect. They've all done something beforehand incriminating of moral impurity. We've never seen him con an innocent.

    That's about it. I have some other thoughts on Nick, but these were the big ones that haven't been mentioned yet. I personally think the writers did great job of making Nick seem like a surface-level conman, but giving him justification in everything he did. Obviously, nobody is perfect, but I feel like Nick is as morally pure as Judy-circumstance just put him in an awkward position. You can't lose morals. You can suppress them, and maybe Nick felt Zootopia wasn't worth him trying to be his best, but if he stood up for a scout's morals as a kid, than his moral compass is true. It's at his core. And you can't change that.

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    1. Nice catch with the hustle, I didn't notice Finnick's reaction. I just figured that he saw a chance and took it. However, I would like to point out that melting a Popsicle on a rooftop, funneling the melted result down a rain gutter, before using a cast that is literally a snow bank that you stepped on to make them into pawpsicles is not hygienic in the slightest. Whoever eats it is probably going to get sick.

      If I can add my two cents, I do not believe that Nick can be considered a truly moral character. I do not think that Nick sincerely stood up for the scout's code. In fact, I think that reason he wanted to join the Scouts and his way of thinking is hinted at in a sentence from the younger Nick 'I was gonna be part of a pack.'. Nick yearns for a place to belong and as such values his friends(members of his pack) above anyone else.

      In the first part of the movie, Nick clearly held some enmity for Judy due to her blackmailing him/attempting to arrest him/carrying around fox repellent. I would argue that Nick's turning point was not during the limo scene as you and Bummer have stated. He wasn't invested in the case during the Limo scene. Rather, once he realized whose car they were in, he immediately told Judy that they had to go rather than investigate the scene further.

      Furthermore, after they were captured by Mr Big, Nick was far more interested in getting out alive as opposed to finding out more about the case(in clear contrast to Judy who flat out demands answers from the crime boss). I believe that when Nick finds himself spared due to Judy's actions, their relationship dynamic starts to change as Judy has helped Nick. I think it is at this moment that he stops seeing her as an adversary and becomes willing to help her.

      Their relationship is further strengthened during the chase scene with Manchas in which both of them save each other. The end result? Nick is willing to stand up to the Chief of Police for his new friend.

      This aspect of Nick is once again shown when Judy and Nick reconcile. Initially, when Judy approaches him telling him about the case once again, Nick displays disinterest as gets up and walks off(despite the implications of this situation posing a far larger threat to the general public). It is only after Judy shifted the focus to their relationship(by begging for forgiveness) that Nick stops and listens. In fact, Judy's speech as Nick walks away makes the case take a backseat(only the line 'but predators shouldn't suffer for my mistakes' has any direct reference to the case). The rest of it being a tearful acknowledgment that she was wrong and that she needed him.

      Another instance where Nick puts his friends above the 'Greater Good' is when he refused to leave Judy at the museum. All they needed to do to unravel Dawn's plot was to get the Nighthowler Serum to Bogo(even if they were unable to link the serum to Dawn, knowing that the serum existed would cause the public to calm down.). However, Nick's priority was Judy and although they did have a plan, it was still a far riskier path to take. If they had failed and Dawn had chosen to do away with them any other way(not using Nighthowlers, not calling the police etc), Dawn would have won. The ZPD would never have known about the Nighthowler Serum and Zootopia would probably never recover.

      In short, I think that we cannot say that Nick is morally good as he seems to put the needs of those he cares about above that of those he doesn't. Despite that though, I love the way he is written and his actions come across as natural and reasonable. After all, if one were to grow up in a society that rejects you, wouldn't you prioritize those that accepted you?

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    2. Thanks for the thought out reply, you do raise some good points. Allow me to make my own reply.

      For hygiene, I have two things. One-Ianimals can naturally survive much worse, they don't exactly clean their food. However, you could argue that with the unloved trunk thing, they have weaker immune systems than their primitive counter-parts. However, this doesn't explain two-Nick was eating one in two separate scenes(immediately after the hustle and at the end.) Clearly, he doesn't feel that there is an issue with cleanliness. Maybe it's immune systems doing their job, maybe it's Disney copping-out. Either way, hygiene isn't an issue. You could say that the ones he ate aren't made the same way, but how else would they be made? If they had a mold, why didn't they use it? Finnick probably had a hustle on his own and let Nick have a pop. That's what I think.

      For the Limo scene, yeah, he doesn't want to die. But even before he recognizes the car, his first moment of seriousness comes after he sees the claw marks, undeniable evidence that the investigation has merit.

      When Nick wants to get out alive as opposed to Judy demanding answers, I'd say Nick is in the right. If it wasn't for Fru-Fru ex Machina, Judy's way was about to get them killed. Nick was just being smart.

      And I don't think the dynamic change was here. Judy didn't save Nick's life, she put it in danger. Judy accidentally indirectly set motion a chain of events that ended up saving Nick's life. She didn't plan for it. Even if she did, I wouldn't count that as saving his life. If I shoot you, but then call paramedics, I wouldn't consider my deed good for saving your life.

      For the Manchas scene, are you saying that Nick's act of endangering his own life to save Judy's is invalidated because he cared for her? I wouldn't even say they were friends at this point- Nick was just being less antagonistic.

      With Bogo, again, I don't see how his caring for Judy invalidates his act.

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    3. Reconciliation scene. Nick is allowed to be pissed. Judy said some very not ok stuff, and if she needed to ask Finnick where to find Nick, then she presumably spent months in Zootopia without seeking him out. And Nick does forgive Judy. He doesn't completely blow her off. He forgives her immediately after she apologizes. What if your close friend says terrible stuff about your race, doesn't reach out to you for months, only to contact you out of the blue just to ask for your help with no apology. You probably wouldn't be immediately chipper. I think that is says something for him that he doesn't hold a grudge. Anyway, even if he flat out refused to help, ok it's not like he was vital. Judy was seeking him as a friend, not as a necessity.

      With the scouts, there is no evidence that he didn't stand for the code. He looked legitimately happy, there was no game there. Of course he'll be excited. That doesn't take away from the code. Besides, if he was truly at odds with the scout oath, then there were surely other organizations to join if his only goal was to fit in.

      Finally, when he "immorally" save Judy. Even if he got out with the serum, he couldn't prove the assistant mayor's connection. It's not like Nick lost his head- he came up with a plan to both incriminate the assistant mayor and save Judy. If he left Judy, not only would he still be unable to outrun a ram, she could be used as a hostage. Finally, lots of people would have done the same thing. There have been numerous studies, including the famous train scenario, which shows that people may sacrifice the sometimes vague "greater good" for someone or something with greater emotional value or a more immediate presence. Are we to deem all of them morally impure based purely on that? And really, under any scenario, could it be immoral to try your best to save someone's life?

      I like to debate, and I like to use negative arguments. And even if I haven't explained my thoughts well, no counterpoint brought against Nick has solid ground. However, I always try to remain open-minded, and I'd love to continue the discussion. Thank you!

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    4. *No counerpoint has solid ground in my view

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  3. I have really enjoyed Bummer's editorial about Nick's moral character and wanted to comment on a few of his observations.

    "The Pawpsicle Hustle".
    Many people make the presumption that the way we see it unfold is the way it always plays out. Particularly that Nick expects a stranger to pay for Jumbopop.

    I believe the plan was simply to use the father/elephant-loving son role-play to deal with Jerry's reluctance to sell to a fox and was fully prepared to pay for the Jumbopop. I believe that Judy's unexpected appearance caused Nick to alter his game plan on the fly.

    I feel this is supported because a) No one in the ice cream store was showing any sympathy toward the pair, in fact, their role-play was beginning to annoy the customers for "holding up the line". b) Watching Finnick from the moment Nick says he doesn't have his wallet, we see that his eyes are frequently darting to Nick and he's pulling at his leg as if trying to stay in character but at the same time confused at Nick going "off-script".

    Judy's arrival was unforeseen and during her "snot and mucus" speech, Nick is staring at her, taking her in. This is when he notices her fox repellent, learns that she's not a meter maid but a full officer and that she's a naive, prejudiced rookie that he can hustle and afterwards would feel his decision to do was justified by her prejudiced "articulate" comment.

    Regarding Nick's lumber delivery misrepresentation, I always saw the "redwood" comment as deflecting a grumpy foreman, not an attempt to actively deceive. After all we are told that Nick had a legal receipt of declared commerce which would have listed the exact nature of his lumber delivery.

    Also, given Nick's intention to keep his hustle within the "letter of the law", I believe that he actually purchased industrial grade lumber. He just used them for another purpose prior to delivery to increase his profit margin.

    So let's explore why Nick decided to alter his plans to hustle Judy....

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  4. "Naivete vs Cynicism".
    Much has been said about the harshness of Nick's talk with Judy after she discovers his hustle. However, it's worth pointing out that Nick did not launch immediately into a harsh speech. It was actually a series of escalations in their conversation and Nick ends each segment trying to simply walk away but Judy keeps pursuing him.

    Judy begins with "you lied to me" to which Nick distracts with "I'm not the liar, he is" and walks away. Judy catches sight of him and pursues.

    Judy now tries to arrest him but Nick deflects each charge with either proper paperwork or "exact words" logic wrapping up the conversation with "can't touch me, Carrots. I've been doing this since I was born" and starts to walk away. Judy again pursues to take offense at the term "Carrots".

    Nick sees that Judy is flustered given her literal interpretation of "Podunk" which leads into the "whoopsie" portion of his speech. At the end of which, he again tries to walk away, leaving her stunned in the alleyway. But Judy again pursues to take offense at his summation and gets personal by calling him a jerk who never had the guts to try to be anything more than a popsicle hustler.

    It's here that Nick gets the most harsh with her, with his you can "only be what you are" comment and leaves her in the cement with the taunt that she'll never be a real cop.

    However, why engage with her so long? In this case, Bummer is spot on with his speculation that Nick is pushing back on Judy's idealism and naiveté and it *IS* coming from his own experience with being a naive, idealistic fox kit who saw no problem with trying to join an all-prey scout troop.

    If you look at the "whoopsie" portion of his speech, while directed at Judy, the wording also speaks of his own painful experience with idealism and Zootopia. Particularly whoopsie #1 where he says "... move to Zootopia where predator and prey live in harmony and sing 'Kumbaya'. Only to find, whoopsie, we don't all get along."

    I always found the mention of "Kumbaya" interesting and my research reveals that it is a traditional campfire song for the Boy Scouts and included in their official Campfire Songbook. This to me signals that the growing emotional bite in Nick's speech is coming from his own past hurts and it was his intention to rain on Judy's idealism because he knows that charging naively into Zootopia with this attitude will result in the same heartbreak he experienced.

    "Malicious Compliance".
    Bummer is correct in pointing out that Judy blackmailing Nick causes him to treat the situation as a game in which he is evaluating the mettle of Judy. The official script even supports this with a line that occurs just after Judy tricks Nick into climbing over the fence into the limo parking lot: "Hopps cheerfully heads off. Nick watches her, not quite smiling, but he’s starting to respect his opponent."

    And I agree fully that this is where Nick's desire to help Judy starts to shift. After all, once Judy gets the Manchas lead, there's no reason that Nick has to continue tagging along. It would have been an ideal time for Nick to press to be released from the blackmail threat by pointing out that Judy almost got them killed by revealing herself as a police officer to Mr. Big, that she now has a solid lead to follow and that he wants out.

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  5. "Guilt by Association".
    I agree with Bummer's observation that simply being associated with Mr. Big does not necessarily imply an indictment of moral character because it would also impugn Mr. Otterton who was described by Mr. Big as "part of the family". We simply don't know the details of Nick's relationship with Mr. Big and he should be considered innocent until revealed as guilty.

    We can make one deduction about the Skunk Butt Rug incident. It is almost certain that Nick did not intend to deliberately scam Mr. Big. Given what we know of his character it is virtually impossible to consider that he would have let Nick live had he intentionally sold a inferior rug that was used to bury Mr. Big's Grandmama. Given Nick's modus operandi in the Pawpsicle hustle, it is more likely that he cut some corners to deliver the rug and it was later revealed as an inferior product.

    "None of You Guys Were Going to Help Her!"
    Here Bummer points out a revealing aspect of Nick's moral character that I've held to for a long time. Namely, that he intentionally pauses to make sure Judy gets into the skycar before him, an action that leaves him in harm's way.

    "The Sublime Power of Forgiveness"
    This is the coup de grace that solidifies to me that Nick is a moral character at his core.

    Wildecarde has associated Nick with the characters of Han Solo and Jack Sparrow as a lovable rogue whose intense likability causes the audience to overlook "morally questionable behaviors and overstate the importance of their heroic actions."

    But here I agree strongly with Bummer's assessment. Nick had been deeply hurt by the very individual he began to open up to. He had every right to turn Judy away when she tries to reconcile under the bridge.

    That he decides to and openly shows that he forgives her reveals a depth of "goodness" that simply isn't present in the stories of Solo and Sparrow and that by the end of the film, Nick has shown that he has a good moral center.

    There are other details of the film that I feel also support this conclusion, from Nick's decision to keep the Junior Ranger Scout kerchief for over 20 years (it's the red handkerchief he uses to bind Judy's leg at the museum) to certain leitmotifs associated with Nick and Judy that Giacchino has built into the soundtrack, to the fact that after the bridge reconciliation, Nick fulfills each aspect of the Junior Ranger Scout oath (brave, loyal, helpful, trustworthy) as he helps Judy. But those are details for another time as this reply has already grown to excessive lengths.

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  6. There's too much in this post to respond to everything, and I've already had a venue for putting forward my own view. But I do want to make one quick but important point. I'm not sure that Nick's act of forgiving Judy carries as much moral weight as you suggest. Judy did not intend the harm of her remarks at the press conference and was largely unaware of the messages her remarks and actions were sending. She was also genuinely repentant and apologized profusely. She even reaffirms a commitment to uncovering the truth behind what's happening to the predators in the city. Nick's smart enough to know all this, and he had plenty of time to mull over the aftermath of that press conference before she found him at the bridge. Thus, forgiving Judy should be a relatively easy thing to do. You'd have to be a special kind of heartless not to do so under these circumstances, and Nick's not heartless. But the fact that he can show a little compassion to someone else doesn't in itself make him a moral exemplar either. Perhaps if there's an extended forgiveness-themed scene in the sequel involving Dawn Bellwether -- a case where forgiveness would be extremely difficult -- then we can revisit this matter. But as it stands, I just don't see this as a huge threat to my the characterization of Nick that I put forward in Part 1.

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  7. The writers and directors have been on record saying that the press conference was the hardest scene they had to write/direct because they needed to balance having Judy be completely wrong in that scene with regards to her bias about predators vs not coming across as a horrible person who is consciously bigoted.

    They didn't want it to appear that Judy was just overwhelmed by public speaking and didn't know what she was saying. They fully intended her statement to be hurtful to Nick by unintentionally reopening an old wound just moments after Nick had filled out the ZPD application. Thus when Nick forgives her it was intended to be big moment in their friendship and not just "hey I thought it over and we're cool"

    In forgiving Judy, I wasn't intending to say Nick has become some kind of moral exemplar. I was simply trying to refute the position your argument makes that Nick hasn't made a substantial change along his moral scale.

    Ultimately, it's a little frustrating because I feel the gist of your argument is based upon this line of thought: con artists base their careers on lies and deception, lies and deception are morally wrong, Nick has spent 20 years as a con artist and thus spent 20 years being morally wrong. Therefore a few days of decent behavior and heroic action would not significantly reset his moral compass to the point that he's clearly "fighting with the angels" by the end of the story.

    It is hard to refute this from a moral absolutist viewpoint. However, this seems to hold Nick's moral state as being unaffected by all of the narrative conventions used to tell this story and that only the long passage of time will change him.

    But it ignores the positive comments the character designers made about Nick in the book "The Art of Zootopia", it ignores the character development arc the writers laid out for Nick that align him with the "jerk with a heart of gold" character trope, it ignores the thematic musical expressions dealing with "broken dreams" and "triumphant reprises" which appear in the soundtrack that are applied to Nick and Judy, it ignores the parallels between the oath of the Junior Ranger Scouts that Nick wanted to join as child (brave, loyal, helpful, trustworthy) and the motto of the ZPD that he intentionally joins as an adult (bravery, integrity, trust).

    In short it seems to downplay that one of the points of the story is to show that both Nick and Judy's characterization follow a mirror narrative thread. They both had childhood dreams that were against the norms society had of their species, they both were traumatically bullied as children and had their dreams mocked, they both gave up their dreams at some point in the story (Nick early, Judy later), and they both reconnect with their dream by the end.

    In short they are better individuals at the end of the story than when they started due to the adventure they had, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and the friendship they forged.

    If you don't feel it's realistic for such a turnaround to occur with regards to Nick's moral compass or you don't feel Nick robustly shows that such a turnaround has taken place, that's understandable, but from all I've seen in the interviews, "behind the scenes" vignettes, and "making of" documentaries, it is the character arc the writers were intending for Nick in the telling of the story.

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    Replies
    1. My original comment was actually directed more at Bummer's original post than your comments, but in any case, I do want to make clear that I'm not ignoring the many elements that you're mentioning. I simply don't think they are sufficient to establish that Nick was morally good by the end of the film. I'm sure the creators intended something of a redemption arc for him -- this is one of the more satisfying character arcs for audiences to experience, and it's obvious that Nick has made some moral progress by the end of the film. But I believe drawing the conclusion that Nick is morally good is not consistent with how moral progress is made or how one's moral character is determined. The creators' intent to convey a different message doesn't change that in my view.

      There is a brand of film and literary criticism that gives overwhelming weight to authorial intent. In their most extreme forms, these views would entail something like this: "What the author says the story is about" = "what the story is about." But I just think that's too narrow a perspective and that there are too many cases where either reader responses to the narrative or the facts of the narrative itself deviate from what the authors intended. We could easily classify Nick's character arc as one of these instances.

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    2. I want to sincerely apologize. Both for accidentally stepping onto a response not intended for me and for misunderstanding the boundaries of the discussion about Nick's moral character. I did not realize that in your head-canon the creators' intention to tell a redemption arc story for Nick did not carry much weight with regards to his moral progress.

      Had I realized this I would not have spend as much time elaborating on details that would ultimately have little to no impact on your evaluation of Nick's moral state at the end of the movie.

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    3. No need to apologize. I don't think I'd ever stated these background assumptions about film interpretation elsewhere, so it's good to clarify the matter.

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  8. You raise some interesting philosophical points, but I have to disagree with your assessment of Nick's association with Mr. Big. You compare it to Mr. Otterton's connection, but so far as we know Mr. Otterton had no connection - or at least no knowing one - to Mr. Big's criminal activities. Nick, on the other hand, was well aware that the shrew was a cold-blooded killer. One could argue that he kept quiet to save his own skin, but that would be both morally dubious at best and highly incongruous, since he was bold enough to rip the guy off and insult his family behind his back.

    As for Fru-Fru in the same vein... well, she's painted in such a likable light that it's hard to call her out for it, but the plain truth is she seemed less upset about her dad being a murderer than about his timing. All her altruistic acts in the movie are motivated, by all appearances, on a quid pro quo basis, which for my money does not make her hero material.

    Also, I don't see where Nick went out of his way not to hurt anyone with his Pawpsicle scam. Seems more like it just didn't hurt anyone by the nature of what it was - which conveniently also put it below the radar of most authorities. So barring further evidence, the harmlessness was really just a side effect, not a goal.

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