Why Zootopia Could Give Walt Disney Animation Its First Big Franchise

By  · Published on March 7th, 2016

With record-breaking box office and an unprecedented level of acclaim (by aggregate standards), Disney’s new animated feature, Zootopia, is sure to generate sequel talk this week. And that’s more exciting than it might seem to anyone skeptical about sequels in general. Not only is Zootopia 2 a good idea, as is Zootopia 3 and 4 and so on, but it’s an uncommon idea for its studio.

Unlike Pixar, where almost every catalog title is receiving a follow-up on the big screen now, Walt Disney Animation Studios has never been much of a franchise factory on the theatrical level. Many classics have received sequels, but they’ve been direct-to-video efforts. The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000 are the only examples put out by the studio in cinemas, neither to great success.

There’s been talk of Disney revisiting the worlds of Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and, obviously, Frozen, but little has come of those interests so far (Frozen 2 is scheduled for release in 2018 at least). The problem is that new stories for those properties aren’t easily generated. Zootopia, on the other hand, has franchise potential because its world is so densely constructed that there are as many narratives to be set there as in any fictional universe.

Here are just a handful of ways the studio could go with the next and further installments of a Zootopia film series:

Other Cases

Naturally, the simplest and likely most popular way to go with Zootopia 2 is a direct sequel focused on the same characters. And unlike many other Disney animated features, it wouldn’t be an issue to follow the same protagonist because Zootopia isn’t just the story of Judy Hopps or even of her and Nick Wilde together as a duo. Well, it is, but the plot is more centered on the case of the missing mammals they’re out to solve.

So, the next movie can just be about another police case or mystery in need of cracking. If Zootopia is basically Police Academy for kids (not that kids didn’t watch Police Academy), then next we’d just get Zootopia 2: Nick’s First Assignment, and maybe Bobcat Goldthwait could even voice the villain, a punk who is also an actual bobcat. And then of course Zootopia 3 has him joining the force. Eventually they all go to Moscow, which is a city filled with communist cows. See how easily this world just writes itself?

Other Characters

In addition to the literal bobcat Bobcat Goldthwait, there are so many great characters in need of discovery in Zootopia. And not all have to be puns or references to other movie characters, Disney’s own, a la the brilliant “Duke Weaselton” idea, or otherwise. Sure, fans are going to want more of Judy and Nick and probably Flash, but there’s no reason any of them has to be the protagonist of the next story. They can move to the sidelines.

As stated above, Zootopia is about a place more than any specific characters who live there. So far what we’ve seen indicates it’s a world that mostly works in service to Judy’s story, yes, but it also can be the other way around. The concept of the movie actually began with the world first and wasn’t initially focused on Judy anyway. The idea of a bunny and fox was there, but that’s it. Now how about an elephant and a mouse? Okay, that’s been done by Disney before, but you get the idea.Other Genres

It’s no secret that Zootopia started out as a spy movie (you can read about that and a lot more regarding the conception and discarded ideas for the Zootopia world in an interview at /Film). Instead, it became a buddy cop movie that follows a film noir type detective story. It’s a perfect genre for a city-centered movie, but it’s not the only genre that can be lent to this place.

Of course, not all movie genres work for an animated feature aimed at families. They can’t do anything in the war, disaster or horror genres (there was plenty of scary bits in the first movie). What’s left? Why not go ahead and do the spy movie next, for starters? And then a rom-com, a musical and possibly a historical prequel showing why the predators actually gave up their carnivorous ways. Also, after enough Zootopia installments are made, a documentary titled “Zootopia Plays Itself” would be great.

Other Locations

When Zootopia was a spy movie, most of it was apparently not even set in Zootopia. It took place on an island somewhere. That’s a reminder that Zootopia is just one major metropolis on a much bigger planet or whatever. And the only other place we’ve seen is Judy’s hometown of Bunnyburrow. What else is out there? Are there other cities? What’s going on in the real deserts, tundras, rain forests, etc. in this universe?

Of course, there are also plenty stories to tell just in different sections of Zootopia. In the interview with /Film, the Zootopia writers acknowledge that they could set a whole movie in any one of the city’s ecosystem districts. I’d like one set just in the rain forest, with its zeppelins. Preferably something that tells me how expensive or complicated it is channeling all that water into there to keep it so wet (or making the snow for tundra town, etc.).

NEXT: Zootopia Review: An Immersive and Timely Toon Noir About Systemic Racism

Other Species

As far as I understand, it’s only mammals who’ve evolved in the world of Zootopia. Does that include aquatic mammals? Are there anthropomorphic whales and dolphins in that sea between the city and the aforementioned island? Would setting a movie in their world just be another Finding Nemo sequel? Or because they’re anthropomorphic would they be able to emigrate to land and be a part of a city like Zootopia?

Is it possible there are other places in this world or universe where birds or reptiles are also anthropomorphized and have their own societies? Consider that Disney’s Robin Hood, which was a huge inspiration for Zootopia, has mostly mammalian characters but also a snake, hen, rooster, vultures, crocodiles and a turtle. Right now, there’s a fan out there somewhere trying to make a theory video claiming that Zootopia and Robin Hood are actually set in the same world, just in different centuries, but he can’t get it to work without wider animal inclusion. For him at least, we need Zootopia 2: Aviaryland.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.