There's an obvious equation here we have to acknowledge.
A billion-dollar-earning film filled with animals, plus a "half-day" theme park called Animal Kingdom, minus the costs saved by piggybacking on Shanghai's research and development of a land that can be copied-and-pasted... Let's not play coy here. The question of the century is, should Zootopia come to Disney's Animal Kingdom? Obviously, there's a whole lot to consider before you cast your vote... So let's get to considering.
Arguments for Zootopia at Animal Kingdom
1. ANIMAL KINGDOM NEEDS MORE TO DO.
Hopefully it's not breaking news to anyone. Actually, all three of Disney World's non-Castle parks need more to do, but Animal Kingdom is in the most need and – given the cycle of development Disney uses to rotate through parks-of-focus – Animal Kingdom is also the next to bat. Even just getting a trackless dark ride would be a sizable plus for the park's incredibly small ride count, but pairing it with one or two family flat rides (a la Cars Land) would be a huge pick-me-up.
2. A GOOD PHYSICAL LOCATION EXISTS.
Zootopia famously begins with Judy riding a sleek monorail into the city to the tune of Shakira's – er, um, Gazelle's – hit song "Try Everything."
Weirdly, that seems like an all-too-simple overlay of Animal Kingdom's tepid "Rafiki's Planet Watch" – a sort of mini, '90s nature center accessible only by train. The offerings at Planet Watch today are basically a petting zoo and a hastily-added Animation Academy – not worth the train ride to get there, and not really worth being open at all.
Obviously, limiting access to your new land by forcing guests to ride a train to get there isn't operationally feasible... but if Zootopia has to come to Animal Kingdom, there does seem to be a smartness about physically and narratively keeping it removed from the park proper, so that neon skyline doesn't shine out over Africa and Asia. Of course, that's apparently not where Disney is thinking of putting Zootopia anyway...
3. IT'S CLEARLY ON DISNEY'S SHORTLIST OF POSSIBILITIES.
Disney Parks fans are still recovering from the 2022 D23 Expo's Park Panel. During a 90 minute presentation, Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro unthinkably managed to announce zero new rides (a D23 Expo first). Even worse, the panel's crescendo was an incredibly odd segment wherein he was joined by Disney Animation CCO Jennifer Lee (bad news for those who wish for a little more original Imagineering...) to show some hastily-assembled not-quite-concept-art of projects Disney might be interested in maybe exploring at some undetermined time in the future... maybe.
Among the "Blue Sky," just-for-fun, not-quite-concepts explicitly discussed was replacing Animal Kingdom's Dinoland with two incongruous mini-lands – one themed to Moana and the other appearing to contain just the E-Ticket Zootopia ride, ostensibly replacing Dinosaur. (Whether or not that would entail a demolition of Dinosaur and a from-scratch build, or just a new Zootopia overlay to the existing EMV dark ride we don't know. And frankly, neither did they. Remember, these are not official plans or even necessarily the start of them.)
Don't misunderstand – fans are ready to see something new replace Dinoland... But the fact that Disney openly acknowledged that they, too, are actively exploring getting rid of the land and that either Moana, Zootopia, or both were in the running was weirdly candid, and yet entirely unhelpful.
Arguments Against Zootopia at Animal Kingdom
Though Animal Kingdom could certainly use more rides, more capacity, and more for families, and though "beggars can't be choosers," there are definitely some pretty strong arguments against bringing Zootopia to Walt Disney World by way of Animal Kingdom...
1. JOE ROHDE ALREADY SAID NO.
Fans are quick to bemoan changes to Disneyland by crying out, "What would Walt do?!" Of course, conveniently, we don't know since he isn't around to tell us. And while – like all Disney Parks projects – Animal Kingdom was made possible by countless skilled designers, storytellers, and artisans, there's no doubt that its ethos takes physical form in Joe Rohde – one of the most forward-facing and fan-favorited Imagineers of all time.
Thanks to Rohde, Animal Kingdom has a thematic purity almost no other Disney Park can match. It is about the intrinsic, supreme, and untradeable value of nature. Through stories of conflict (Africa), cohabitation and commodification (Asia), eco-tourism and connection (Pandora), and even pop culture (Dinoland), it explores the nuanced relationships that we as humans have developed with the natural world. So even though Rohde retired from Imagineering in 2021, we can ask, "What would Joe do?" Which is interesting because as we learned from Joe...
2. ZOOTOPIA HAS ANIMALS, BUT IS NOT ABOUT ANIMALS
For his part, Rohde already responded to fans' debates about Zootopia way back when Shanghai's version of the land was announced. His answer (above) is simple. Basically, Zootopia might have animals, but it is not about animals. It is a story about uniquely human problems (like prejudice, stereotypes, and following your ambition) that merely uses animals as "proxies." It is a fable whose characters could just as easily be human (except that doing so would make the underlying message too obvious). In short, he says, "we try to enforce the 'no pants' rule."
For many fans, that right there is enough. Rohde's point is made loud and clear, and he's right. Just like Chicken Little doesn't belong in Animal Kingdom just because its characters are designed as animals, Zootopia isn't about the untradeable value of nature at all. And frankly, buying "pawpcicles" and collectible "fox ears" feels incredibly inauthentic for Animal Kingdom.
3. ZOOTOPIA IS MORE MODERN, DIVISIVE, AND POLITICAL THAN MOST DISNEY FARE.
It seems wild to say that the United States was less politically divided in 2016 than it is today, but frankly, Zootopia the movie would probably look different if born into today's world. Its themes about prejudice, racism, sexism, and stereotypes would no doubt be declared "woke" if certain political movements dared look beyond the animal characters meant to soften its message.
Likewise, many others would find distasteful the film's focus on policing – an occupation that (in the film) only hires "predators," some of whom start to go "savage" and attack citizens – and the villain's ultimate reveal of a "prey-supremacy theory" meant to change the balance of power in society. Say what you will about Disney's politics or lack thereof, but hopping aboard a police car for a wild chase through a city to tackle "savage" predators doesn't seem like something a U.S. Disney Park should be very interested in getting involved with, lest they earn the anger of "both sides."
4. ZOOTOPIA HASN'T PROVEN ITS STAYING POWER... SO FAR...
In the '90s, animation was reborn in the "Disney Renaissance" – a decade-long streak of mega blockbusters from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan. After a relatively bleak drop-off in the 2000s, Disney returned to form with 2009's Princess and the Frog and nearly 15 years later, the "Disney Revival" shows no signs of slowing down. The difference this time is that Disney is a company with its sights set higher than blockbusters. We're talking franchises with wide reach across Disney Parks, Disney Consumer Products; licensing, merchandising, sequels, spin-offs, and streaming... The sky's the limit.
And by the numbers, Zootopia ranks among the highlights of the "Revival" period. But culturally, it's hard to argue that the film has displayed the staying power of Frozen, Moana, Tangled, or even Wreck-it Ralph. Sure, the "Zootopia+" did quietly drop on Disney+ in November 2022, and Bob Iger confirmed just this February that a full-fledged sequel is in development – again, no doubt because of the first film's strength in the lucrative Chinese market.
So yes, it totally makes sense for the land to come to life in Shanghai where it was a record-breaking hit... But you have to wonder, do most people know Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde by name? Is this a franchise that's so top-of-mind and timeless, it's worth potentially betraying Animal Kingdom's theme and aesthetic for? For that matter, are Americans really clamoring to visit Zootopia? Is this a world we can't wait to step into? Has it earned a permanent presence in a U.S. Disney Park?
So what do you think? Should a Zootopia land come to Walt Disney World? What about Animal Kingdom? Or has this film "earned" a place at Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, or even EPCOT? What are your thoughts about a Zootopia land? Let us know in the comments below!