Disney has announced its first Zootopia themed-land, which will feature a major new attraction that will seamlessly blend Disney storytelling, state-of-the-art technology, and will feature Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, at Shanghai Disneyland.
The Zootopia land will also offer entertainment, shopping, and dining options as guests fully immerse themselves in the mammalian metropolis of Zootopia “where anyone can be anything.” When it opens, the Zootopia-themed area will become the eighth themed land at the world’s newest Disney park, and the first-ever Zootopia-themed land at any Disney park worldwide.
Per Bob Chapek, “the rapid rate of expansion at Shanghai Disney Resort demonstrates our confidence and commitment to the company’s future development in China.” Aside from this scattering of details, the only other thing we know about the Zootopia land is that construction begins later this year. Now, some commentary about how this addition fits at Shanghai Disneyland, and whether we’ll see it down the road at Walt Disney World or Disneyland…
First, this one comes out of left field. Expansion is inevitable at Shanghai Disneyland, as the park has experienced surprisingly few early growing pains in terms of guest attendance and spending. Other credible rumors have floated around in terms of what’s next, but this is the first we’ve heard of a Zootopia land.
Nevertheless, it makes sense. As Zootopia is the #1 animated film of all-time at China’s box office, this addition to Shanghai Disneyland is logical from a guest demand perspective. Other IP choices for the park have connected to what has performed well financially, and this follows suit.
As for the land fitting thematically, Shanghai Disneyland plays by a different set of rules than the other castle parks. If this were coming to Magic Kingdom, we’d be skeptical about it fitting alongside the more open-ended concepts, much like we have been with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland.
However, Shanghai Disneyland eschews much of the normal castle park playbook. The park has always been franchise-driven, almost as if it’s a hybrid castle park and studio park. We take no issue with that approach in Shanghai, as the park was built around that line of thinking (rather than bending the conceptual framework ex post facto).
Beyond that, it’s almost impossible to critique the announcement beyond that because there’s no substance to it. The verbiage “new major attraction” and “state-of-the-art technology” is nice to see, as that suggests we’ll see a flashy new E-Ticket.
Shanghai Shendi Group, Disney’s Chinese joint venture partner for Shanghai Disney Resort, is very proud of the park’s early success (the official press release talks it up in multiple paragraphs). They’re also undoubtedly very familiar with the recent announcements for Tokyo and Hong Kong. Shanghai Shendi Group’s desire to “keep up” with those parks with their own splashy new attractions would not be unsurprising.
This might seem a bit outlandish. While there is some overlap in the guest pool for the three properties, they’re hardly direct competitors. Here, it’s a matter of pride rather than any kind of necessity. Shanghai Shendi Group wants its park to be the crown jewel, with the biggest castle, most square footage, fastest growth, and so on. This group is state-owned, and that is borne out in how it presents the park publicly as another Chinese success story.
As for the future of a Zootopia-themed land in the United States, we haven’t heard anything. It seems incredibly unlikely in the two existing gates at Disneyland, as space is very limited and what land is going to be developed in the near to medium term is already earmarked for specific Marvel and Mickey projects.
Walt Disney World has, of course, the blessing of size, so that’s no issue there. The bigger issues are where and when. Since Zootopia was released and highly successful, there have been “rumors” of a Zootopia land in Animal Kingdom. To the best of our knowledge, these rumors are a mix of “it makes sense!” wishful thinking by fans and the kind of blue sky pitches that are done for literally every film.
However, there also weren’t credible rumors about a Zootopia-themed area for Shanghai Disneyland before it was announced, so the lack of buzz for Walt Disney World isn’t dispositive. It’s entirely possible that this is being co-developed for multiple gates worldwide, which would explain the emphasis on world’s first, which appears 4 times in the press release when describing the Zootopia land at Shanghai Disneyland.
In the past, when Walt Disney Imagineering has developed concepts for the international parks that are either co-owned (Hong Kong and Shanghai) or entirely owned by a third party (Tokyo), there have been periods of exclusivity for new attractions and lands. The best recent example of this is the new Soarin, which was totally finished and ready to open months earlier in Disney California Adventure and Epcot, but contractually had to open first in Shanghai. And it did–by one day.
Other situations have required lengthier periods of territorial exclusivity, which has usually meant a window of years at the Asia parks. Since it appears highly unlikely that either Hong Kong Disneyland or Tokyo Disney Resort will be interested or able to develop this land in the near future given the ongoing projects at those parks, that really just leaves the U.S. parks and Paris.
If such a land were to come to Walt Disney World, the big question is where would it go. Fans seem to think and hope for Animal Kingdom. I’m not so keen on that idea. While the park does celebrate fictional animals, the premise around which everything has been built until this point has been at the intersection of human culture and wildlife. How we impact animals, and vice-a-versa. Even Pandora highlights the discord between human civilization and the natural world.
I don’t think Zootopia could do this, because this is an anthropomorphic world where traditional concepts of civilization and wildlife are one in the same. For me, the best fit is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has become the catch-all park for IP and franchises. That park is so far removed from its original mission statement that it doesn’t really matter, whereas Animal Kingdom is the closest we have to a thematically ‘pure’ park at Walt Disney World.
In reality, if Walt Disney World does build a Zootopia-themed land, it’s likely going to come down to where an addition is needed, not where it fits best. Given the current slate of projects in development for Florida between now and 2023, the green light for such a project will likely come after Bob Chapek (if tenure trends as Chairman of Parks & Resorts hold), meaning it’s someone else’s decision. That is, unless Disney is really bullish on the theme parks, and decides to announce something at this summer’s D23 Expo. We do not expect that, but then again, we didn’t expect this announcement, either.
What do you think of the newly-announced Zootopia land? Do you hope it comes to Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!