December 21, 2023, 7:34 PM ·

Seven years ago, Disney’s Zootopia debuted at theaters around the world. In the United States, it was well-received, but in mainland China it shattered records, climbing to become the highest-grossing animated film at the Chinese box office. Disney this week further capitalized on that success by opening what is perhaps their most colorful and kinetic land to date, Zootopia at Shanghai Disneyland.

Tucked away behind Fantasyland, the land draws guests in with Disney’s first “skyline,” a cluster of brightly colored skyscrapers that form downtown Zootopia, known here in China as “疯狂动物城” (Crazy Animal City). The forced perspective is especially effective in the rare glimpses you catch from other areas in the park, looking very much like some faraway business district on the horizon. The latest iteration of single-IP lands commits fully to immersing you in the world of Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde and the most compelling part of a visit is simply exploring the level of detail put into creating that big-city feeling. “Zootizens” lean out of windows, clatter unseen behind doors, commute to-and-from work, and start new business ventures. In other words, they simply get on with their lives while you get on with yours. Add the blaring music, flashing advertisements and towering skyline, and you have the most engaging “streetmosphere” I’ve ever seen. (Of course, it’s also a convenient bonus that the hordes of other guests contribute to the narrative instead of detracting from it.)
Merging Mammals?A city populated entirely by mammals is a scenario ripe for pun-making, and Imagineering wasted no opportunity to land every one available. Whether you are walking down “Mane Street” or checking out the movie billboard for “Pig Hero 6,” keep your eye out for the dozens of jokes and visual gags that are baked into the land’s design. One especially clever aspect was pulling this humorous vibe off for both English and Mandarin speaking guests.
Know where you are going in ZootopiaFor example, a small upside-down club down Nocturnal Alley has a sign dubbing it “the Hangout” – it is, after all, a nightclub for bats. A silly pun that just doesn’t translate into Mandarin, and so the sign is only in English. Elsewhere, an all-Chinese bench advertisement of smiling lions brandish their brand new sneakers, encouraging you to buy “狮凯奇” – a riff on the Chinese word for “Skechers,” made by replacing the first character with the one for lion. It’s a similarly eyeroll-inducing joke but makes zero sense in English. They’ve managed to pack in enough jokes that guests will leave the land with the same flavor of cringey wordplay, regardless of linguistic background. When night falls is when the land really shines (I can pun, too!) All the neon signs, digital billboards, and residence windows light up, along with that now-glittering skyline. Anyone who has traveled China much will recognize the iridescent flashing lights that cover the skyscrapers, and the city of Zootopia is no exception.
Disney Zootopia Comes AliveAside from the frenetic energy of the space itself, Zootopia includes one ride, a shop, two snack stands, a recurring street “show,” and a meet and greet with Nick and Judy.

Zootopia: Hot PursuitThe landmark, and only, attraction of the land is a trackless dark ride that has you as the latest recruits to the Zootopia police force joining Nick and Judy as you pursue Bellwether following her escape from prison. Your “hot pursuit” takes you careening through the various ecosystem districts of Zootopia, and like the rest of the land, it’s packed with animal-related visual gags for the discerning eye. Scenes are combinations of audio-animatronics, physical sets, wrap-around screens and scrim projections. Overall, the ride is a well-executed, indulgently silly good time and will make a solid addition to Shanghai’s line up, which is pretty light on dark rides for a castle park. While perhaps a little over-reliant on screens for my taste, I’m sure it will be a very popular, nostalgia-tickling attraction for the Chinese audience it targets.A full ride review is to follow.Disney Zootopia Comes AliveThis show that’s not really a show was happens recurrently throughout the day, though you can’t plan around it. Taking place out of the building facades directly opposite Hot Pursuit, various characters from the film materialize in the windows to interact with each other and the crowd, including Flash, Fru Fru, Mr. Big, Stu and Bonnie Hopps, Yax, and Duke Weaselton.
Disney Zootopia Comes AliveThe event doesn’t run on any kind of schedule and has more than 30 different versions, so you’re unlikely to stumble on any repeat iterations when revisiting the land. Additionally, not every show features every Zootizen, so if you stick around long enough you can see different characters interacting with each other in unexpected ways. The one I watched had Yax (the nudist yak) coaching Bonnie (Judy’s Mom) through a meditation session while Stu looks on disapprovingly (he’s perfectly calm already!)The randomness and lack of schedule introduces a level of serendipity that helps to contribute to the atmosphere of the land, making it feel more like we’re just watching organic interactions. It would be weird for the citizens of Zootopia to schedule their conversations around you!Food & MerchandiseThere is no proper restaurant in Zootopia. Personally, I expect getting a restaurant to fit into a Shanghai Zootopia would be a challenging endeavour. Having a restaurant with no meat at all is unlikely to be very well-received my most Chinese consumers and could be a little culturally awkward. Having a restaurant that does serve meat in a world where the entire premise is rooted on that being specifically forbidden is even more awkward.Instead, it seems Disney has settled on two snack stands, both of which place a heavier emphasis on earning the selfie than necessarily satisfying hunger.The first is Jumbeaux’s Cafe, the elephant-run shop from the film, complete with pachyderm-sized barstools. Despite being thematically an ice cream parlor, Jumbeaux’s serves a variety of sweets, as well as the only substantial food in Zootopia, a carrot-shaped frittata sandwich. Other treats include the elephant-sized chocolate marshmallow, which you can get as a “combo” with a mouse-sized chocolate bar (how inclusive!), the “Big Donut,” also featured in the films, and ginger-flavoured soft serve.
Getting that perfect foodie photo at Jumbeaux’s CafeThe other end of the land features Zootopia market, a farmer’s market type arrangement with a few other snacks, the most Instagrammable (or here in China, Little-Red-Bookable) among them is the “Pawpsicle,” the hawking of which was Nick’s original scam in the film. Here in Shanghai, the frozen treats are hawthorn berry flavored, a popular winter treat sold glazed in sugar in the streets of northern China. The Pawpsicle does a good job emulating the flavour, which is quite tart with only a mild sweetness, and the cart had a significant line despite the weather hovering around freezing.Zootopia Market also sells gazelle cotton candy, pawpsicle and carrot shaped lollipops, and in what is perhaps the most meta snack ever created, corn flavored popcorn from the Hopps family farm. The popcorn tastes pretty much as advertised, like a slightly sweeter than expected corn-on-the-cob. It’s another nod to Chinese dessert preferences, where sweet corn is often used as the primary flavor in pies or iced desserts.
Zootopia merchandise inside Fashions by Fru FruThe only shop in Zootopia is Fashions by Fru Fru, which sells a pretty standard assortment of theme park souvenirs, all Zootopia of course. The hot ticket item were the Nick or Judy winter headgear, which weather aside, I struggle to imagine being popular stateside. Each fluffy hat is at least basketball-sized, and seeing those rotund little puffs dot the crowds is very common. Also very popular, there was a long, separate line for the mystery box vending machines inside Fru Fru’s, filled with surprise Zootopia knick-knacks.Outside of Fru Fru’s you can also get a pressed coin minted at the Lemming Brothers Bank ATM, or a collectible medallion at a street-side vending machine.Zootopia makes for a welcome addition to Shanghai Disneyland, now it’s second expansion since Toy Story Land in 2018, and carries on the oft-repeated design philosophy (or if you’re a pessimist, marketing buzzwords) for the resort, “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese.”* * *For tickets to the park, please visit our partner’s Shanghai Disneyland tickets page. And to keep up to date with more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider’s weekly newsletter.

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