Zootopia Land: Skyline Construction, Animatronics & Everything We Know

Disney’s first Zootopia themed-land is currently under construction in Fantasyland behind Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and will feature a major new ride. Here’s everything we know about the blockbuster addition to Shanghai Disneyland, its E-Ticket attraction featuring Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, plus progress, a look at Savanna Central’s skyline, and the likelihood this expansion will come to Walt Disney World. (Updated July 25, 2022.)

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.” As the first-ever themed land of its kind, Zootopia will be unique to Shanghai Disneyland and will feature a new major attraction that seamlessly blends Disney’s storytelling and state-of-the-art technologies in order to bring this fan favorite movie and its characters to life.

The new themed land will also invite guests to fully immerse themselves in the mammalian metropolis of Zootopia, “where anyone can be anything,” and come along on an adventure with Judy and Nick, the lead characters from the hit animated movie. With a brand-new attraction, entertainment, merchandise, and food and beverage offerings, the new land will provide guests with even more to experience and enjoy at Shanghai Disneyland.

Originally, the Zootopia land modeled after Savanna Central was intended to open by the end of last year. Unsurprisingly, it’s been significantly delayed due to China’s strict zero-COVID “strategy,” which has also caused Shanghai Disneyland to close and reopen multiple times in the last two-plus years.

At this point, an opening date for the Zootopia land is unknown, but our expectation is that it’ll debut sometime in 2023 judging by the construction progress and pace of work since last year. Late 2022 remains a possibility, and having it ready for the popular Chinese New Year travel time in early 2023 would likely be ideal.

In any case, here’s a look at the Zootopia land construction progress that Shanghai Disneyland has shared…

Let’s start with a now very outdated look at the Zootopia land site from late 2020. Shortly after this, the site topped out and the show building was fully enclosed. Significant progress has been made on the interior of the attraction since then, too.

This is simply to give you a frame of reference as to where the Zootopia land is being built in Shanghai Disneyland. It’s right behind Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is essentially the outer boundary of Fantasyland. Also visible above is Enchanted Storybook Castle and TRON Lightcycle Power Run on the other side of the park.

Following that, Shanghai Disneyland shared photos of Imagineers working on a large sculpture of Kevin the mafioso polar bear looking at his phone from behind a podium.

In the film, you might recall that Kevin abducts Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde after the latter two sneak into a limousine owned by Mr. Big.

This is notable because the construction walls reference Tundratown Limo-service and feature Kevin the polar bear. Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a wild limo ride while guests are searching for info on a case is the premise of the attraction (and ride vehicles).

Zootopia’s favorite fashionista, Fru Fru, is another character to feature on the construction wall. Shanghai Disney Resort previously announced a partnership with Skechers to bring the brand to the Zootopia land, so perhaps that’ll be part of the fashion shop…or its own standalone store?

More recently during Destination D23, Disney shared a look at one of the animatronics under development for Zootopia Land at Shanghai Disneyland.

The Audio-Animatronics figure is of Yax, a yak who owns the naturalist Mystic Spring Oasis club in Zootopia and helps Judy Hopps by providing information while she’s on a case.

Now, here are photos of the Savanna Central skyline being craned in and attached to the top of the show building for the Zootopia E-Ticket…

These were shared by Shanghai Disney Resort on social media.

Former Imagineer Morgan Lee Richardson re-shared the photos and added: “We spent so much time going over 3D and physical models of different scales to get these site lines perfect. The staging is great and I promise the view will be stunning!”

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…

Our Commentary

When this was first announced over three years ago, I said that “with all of the recent strife with China, I’m not getting myself too excited for this. Who knows where things will stand ~3 years down the road when this opens.”

My expectation in 2019 was that the relationship between the United States and China would deteriorate further given the trajectory at the time. Of course, I could not foresee what 2020 would bring. Suffice to say, even if we wanted to return to Shanghai Disneyland (we do not), who knows when that’ll even be possible. (My guess is sometime after the 20th Congress of the CCP in November 2022, assuming there’s an exit strategy after that.)

I don’t think it’s even remotely controversial to say that China is not a destination that many Americans will be able to visit anytime soon–or should visit once able. As such, previewing the park’s Zootopia land might seem pointless from a practical perspective. However, Disney has already cloned one blockbuster attraction from Shanghai Disneyland, and it’s not outside the realm of possibilities for the same to happen with Zootopia land.

Before turning to the Walt Disney World angle, let’s start with a brief discussion of why Zootopia land makes sense as an addition to Shanghai’s castle park…

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Building Savanna Central in Shanghai Disneyland makes perfect sense. Zootopia is the #1 animated film of all-time at China’s box office, so 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. 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.

After the quick addition of Toy Story Land to provide much needed attraction capacity and round out the ride lineup, we’re optimistic that Shanghai Disneyland will go for something more envelope-pushing with the attraction in Zootopia land. Who knows, though. The static polar bear statue plus the limo ride concept gives us serious Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue vibes. (Or maybe even a modern-day Superstar Limo!)

Shanghai Shendi Group, Disney’s Chinese joint venture partner for Shanghai Disney Resort, is very proud of the park’s success. They’re also undoubtedly very familiar with the recent expansion plans 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 of Asia, 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.

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Ultimately, 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, that actually is most likely Animal Kingdom. That park’s last addition was Pandora, and it’s once again having problems keeping guests for an entire day.

Personally, I do not think this Zootopia land will be cloned at Walt Disney World. At Animal Kingdom, a thrilling replacement for Primeval Whirl seems much more likely to be the next announcement. In that scenario, Zootopia at DHS is a possibility, but we doubt the space exists–or the desire for another big budget family attraction. (That park needs smaller scale stuff to round out the ride roster.) Maybe we’re wrong and Zootopia land will happen, but it seems like one of the less likely additions unless Disney goes big with future expansion plans.

Even if it is announced, don’t get your hopes up that Zootopia land will open at Walt Disney World anytime soon. The last attraction that the company cloned from Shanghai Disneyland is still under construction 5 years later, and it’s essentially just a roller coaster in a dark and empty warehouse. This Zootopia attraction sounds a lot more complex than that. Given that Walt Disney World builds at the pace of Flash Slothmore, you can expect any major addition not to open until 2025 or later at this point. Here’s hoping we find out one way or another whether Zootopia is coming to WDW at the 2022 D23 Expo in September!

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Your Thoughts

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!

47 Responses to “Zootopia Land: Skyline Construction, Animatronics & Everything We Know”
  1. Chason July 28, 2022
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