Believe it or not, it was less than 15 years ago that the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed the game for theme parks. Since then, a global race to build immersive, plucked-from-the-screen lands has been on, with operators racing to build worlds based on high-earning blockbuster franchises. From Hogsmeade to Batuu, Diagon Alley to Radiator Springs, Super Mario World to Avengers Campus, Pandora to Arendelle, the battle of the "Living Lands" is still in full force.
Now, Disney's next entry in this expanding collection of cinematic theme park lands is readying for its big debut... but for several reasons, fans are divided on whether or not this one should make the jump back to Walt Disney World... What do you think?
For most of us, Shanghai Disneyland is probably the "farthest" of Disney's six global resorts in that most of us probably don't expect to make it there in our lifetimes. Given that, you might not have kept up to date on the goings on there quite as much as the domestic parks. So to update you: Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016 (as explored in our walkthrough here), and has already been subject to several expansion projects including the addition of Toy Story Land in 2018. The next landmark project for the park will give the immersive land treatment to the 2016 Disney Animation Studios film Zootopia.
In case you missed it, Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps – a rabbit who dreams of leaving the woodlands of Bunnyburrow and making it as a police officer in the big city. That big city is Zootopia, a metropolis sub-divided into districts stylized after natural biomes and inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. Naive Judy quickly meets Nick Wilde, a con artist red fox – as the two become embroiled in a "buddy cop" detective mystery exploring why the city's predators are reverting to primitive states and attacking their fellow citizens.
Zootopia was a very successful film, entering the rare club of animated hits that topped $1 billion at the box office. But in the footnotes of the film's revenue, it was particularly successful in China.
There, the film (whose Chinese name translates to "Crazy Animal City") earned $235 million, and along the way scored the largest weekend ever for an animated film (its second weekend, the film made $60 million – an unprecedented 139% increase over its debut weekend). It also became the first animated film in Chinese history to cross $200 million, thus becoming the highest-earning animated film ever in China.
In other words, you can see why Zootopia was a shoe-in for Disney's first mainland China park.
From its announcement in 2019, the City of Zootopia project has been at the forefront of Imagineering's work. For the most part, we know what the land will have in store. Aerial imagery of the under-construction area confirms that its entry will jut off of the park's Fantasyland, where a short streetscape will lead to an interior plaza reigned over by a cityscape of skyscrapers.
The street and plaza of Zootopia are meant to be filled with retail and dining opportunities that will allow guests to feel like they've really stepped into this animal-inhabited city. (We can only imagine the costumes and snacks that are likely in store.) The 2022 D23 Expo also gave us a sneak peek at the animal citizens that will bring the land to life – by way of puppets who will likely converse with each other and guests from the second-story windows of the land.
Ultimately, most guests will eventually want to make their way to the Zootopia Central Station – a riff on New York City's Grand Central Station – for the land's major E-Ticket attraction. While many of the details of this ride are still closely guarded, Disney has revealed the vehicle that guests will ride in...
These ride vehicles suggest that guests will be joining Judy Hopps on a Zootopia Police Department adventure through the city. The vehicles seat 10 riders (in two rows of five). What we can't figure out from the model is exactly what kind of ride it'll be.
Most fans speculate that the attraction will be one of two things... Either a trackless dark ride (which is, of course, Disney's favorite new medium as seen on Rise of the Resistance, Runaway Railway, Ratatouille, and more) or – more of a throwback – an "Enhanced Motion Vehicle" ride (the motion-simulating dark ride technology used on Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure and Animal Kingdom's Dinosaur).
What we do know about the ride is that it's set to include at least one of Disney's most advanced Audio-Animatronics figures, like ZPD dispatcher Sergeant Clawhauser, above. Obviously, that bodes well for the land (even if it might suggest this will continue Disney's recent streak of rides with one exceptional animatronic amid lots of screens).
It's clear that Zootopia will be a very nice project, and a perfect fit for Shanghai Disneyland – a park that's a little less committed to tradition and timelessness and more in tune with what the Chinese audience wants from a modern Disney.
But as recent imagery online showed this quasi-natural "downtown" skyline testing out its neon lighting package, the debate overtook Disney Parks Twitter again – should this land come to Disney World? And if so, where and how? Read on...