Zootopia Script Teardown - Featured

Disney is well known for its charming, witty and emotional animated stories, and the Zootopia script is no different. Writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston provide a thought-provoking screenplay that is, in fact, a thinly veiled commentary on prejudice and stereotypes. As we break down the script and provide a Zootopia summary, we will show why this story is even more relevant now than it was in 2016.

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Zootopia Script Teardown - Jared Bush Headshot
Zootopia Script Teardown - Phil Johnston Headshot

WHO WROTE zootopia SCRIPT?

Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston

Jared Bush is an American screenwriter born in Maryland. His most famous works include Zootopia (2016) and Moana (2016). He also worked on Zootopia as both a co-director and a voice actor.

Phil Johnston is an American screenwriter born in Minnesota. He wrote both Zootopia and Wreck it Ralph (2012). He also wrote and directed Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018). Phil provided voice acting for all three films.

STORY BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF Zootopia SCREENPLAY

Here is the story structure for Zootopia screenplay:

Prologue

The script opens with a school play where Judy establishes the rules of this world; predator and prey live in harmony. Afterwards, Judy’s parents “encourage” her to give up on her dreams of becoming a cop. Instead, she helps a sheep who was being bullied by foxes and realizes that she must become a cop.

Exposition

Judy trains hard at the police academy and graduates. Just before she boards a train heading to Zootopia, Judy’s parents remind her of how dangerous foxes are. When she arrives at Zootopia, Judy is amazed by the lavish city. She arrives at her apartment, only to discover that it is a dump.

Inciting Incident

Judy arrives at the police department and discovers that there is a major investigation going on. Several mammals have gone missing throughout the city, including an otter. Unfortunately, due the fact that she is a bunny, Judy is relegated to meter maid duty.

Plot Point One

After issuing parking tickets, Judy sees Nick walk into a store. Suspicious because he is a fox, Judy follows him. She discovers that he is just trying to buy a popsicle for his son. She helps them out and buys them a jumbo pop.

Plot Point Two

Judy bumps into Nick and his “son” again and discovers that they are, in fact, hustlers. They melt down the jumbo pop and re-sell it for profit. She confronts Nick, a heated argument ensues about ethics, stereotyping and crushed dreams. Judy goes home, defeated.

Rising Action One

After issuing a few more parking tickets, Judy is informed that there has been a robbery. Eager to prove herself, Judy chases a weasel across Zootopia. She catches him and saves the life of a shrew named Fru Fru.

Rising Action Two

Judy’s boss, Chief Bogo, reprimands her for abandoning her post. Suddenly, Mrs. Otterton walks in, begging for help in finding her husband. Judy volunteers her services. Judy is on the verge of being fired, but Assistant Mayor Bellwether barges in, saving Judy’s job.

Plot Point Three

Judy realizes that Nick is connected to the missing Otter. She blackmails him into helping with the investigation by recording their conversation about his tax evasion. Cornered, Nick reluctantly agrees to help Judy.

Plot Point Four

Judy and Nick begin their investigation. They acquire a license plate number from a yak, which leads them to the DMV. After running the plate, they discover that the plate belongs to a limo.

Midpoint

Upon investigating the limo, Judy and Nick discover claw marks inside the vehicle. They also realize that the limo belongs to Mr. Big, a crime boss. Before he can kill them, Fru Fru, the shrew Judy saved, saves them. Grateful, Mr. Big reveals that Mr. Otterton went feral.

Rising Action One

Judy and Mick meet with Manchas, the jaguar driver that was attacked by Mr. Otterton. He recalls the incident mentions something about “night howlers.” Shortly after, Manchas goes feral and attacks Judy and Nick. They barely manage to escape.

Plot Point One

Judy tries to explain what happened to Chief Bogo, but he doesn’t believe her. Nick stands up for Judy, protecting her job. They have ten hours to find Mr. Otterton before Judy is fired. While tracking their next lead, Nick recalls how, as a child, he was bullied for being a fox/predator.

Plot Point Two

Judy and Nick recruit Ms. Bellwether so they can hack into the city’s security cameras. The footage they find reveals wolves may be behind everything.

Rising Action Two

Judy and Nick infiltrate and asylum. There they find all of the missing animals that went feral, including Mr. Otterton. They also discover that Mayor Lionheart has been keeping this a secret from the police. They escape the wolves and inform Chief Bogo.

Plot Point Three

Mayor Lionheart is arrested. During a press conference, Judy infers that all of the feral animals were predators. This creates concern in public as well as fractures the relationship between Judy and Nick. 

Build Up

Animals are being hospitalized, predators are being arrested and protesters are in the streets. Full of guilt, Judy relinquishes her badge and leaves the force. Back at the carrot farm, Judy discovers that “night howlers” are actually flowers that can make animals go crazy. Judy returns to Nick and apologizes for everything she did.

Climax

Judy and Nick conduct an investigation where they discover that ‘night howlers’ are being farmed in the city. A chase ensues, which leads them to the museum. Ms. Bellwether reveals herself as the true Zootopia antagonist, asking for the imprisonment of all predators. Her confession is recorded and she is arrested.

Finale

Predators and prey are working together. An antidote is created that cures the madness caused by the night howlers. Judy is working side-by-side with her new police partner, Nick.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #1

Zootopia and its take on prejudice

When writing the Zootopia script, Bush and Johnston took a clear stance against prejudice and stereotypes. A recurring theme throughout Zootopia’s plot is how predators and prey view each other and why those misconceptions do more harm than good. Zootopia’s characters are constantly having to reassess how they perceive each other.

After seemingly solving the case of the missing animals, Judy is asked to speak at a press conference. Despite her good intentions, her commentary had disastrous results. We added the Zootopia script to the StudioBinder screenwriting software so we could examine this scene. 

Zootopia Press Conference  •  Read Full Scene

Judy was simply stating the facts. She did not consider how harmful her words could be, both to her friend Nick and the city of Zootopia. Her actions would lead to unlawful arrests, protests and fear mongering. Judy is not a bad person, but even she had prejudices that she was not fully aware of.

This scene is also the beginning of Judy’s darkest hour. In storytelling, this is the moment when the protagonist is seemingly defeated. They come to a crossroads that will ultimately determine the outcome. 

After this scene, Judy quits the force and returns to the farm, giving up on her dreams. She eventually discovers the truth and takes a stand for her friend, for Zootopia, and for herself.

Zootopia Press Conference

The Zootopia script is not a perfect allegory for contemporary human relations and issues. However, the message it is delivering is important: we all have our prejudices that affect how we view and treat others.

Zootopia’s characters learn to love and live in harmony with one another, and so should we. Diversity is what makes us humanity so great. We should cherish what makes us unique.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #2

Zootopia’s characters have arcs

A common mistake in scripts these days to make things too simple for the protagonist. Easy wins and minimal struggles not only undermine any dramatic tension, but make the victory feel cheap and unearned. The Zootopia script doesn’t do this. Judy Hopps is a dynamic character that constantly has to fight for what she wants. 

Even when she wins, she still loses. For example, Judy finally realizes her dream of becoming a police officer in the city of Zootopia. Unfortunately, her first day doesn’t go as planned.

Zootopia ZPD Bullpen  •  Read Full Script

It would be too easy for Judy to get a case to solve on her first day. Police Chief Bogo and the other officers view her as a “token bunny.” The fact is, they do not trust her to handle big cases because she is so small. A prejudice Judy has been dealing with her whole life. Despite everything she has accomplished, she still has to earn the respect of her peers.

Judy has to break the rules in order to get some semblance of recognition. In this scene, Judy undermines Chief Bogo so she can do the right thing and help Mrs. Otterton.

Judy’s Insubordination

Judy also grows as a character. She knows she has her own prejudices. She has to learn from her mistakes and deal with the consequences. This comes together in her apology to Nick.

Judy Apology  •  Read Full Scene

A story is only as good as its protagonist, and the Zootopia script has a strong one. Characters need to struggle and grow throughout their stories. That is what makes them likable, relatable and memorable.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #3

Inspirational Zootopia quotes

Great characters often have important things to say. Judy is an advocate for change and personal growth. She did a lot of growing herself. In Zootopia’s ending, she says: “Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us.”

Judy Monologue  •  Read Full Scene

Judy is emphasizing the importance of personal change. She sought out to change others, when she herself needed to grow as a person. The hypocrisy of telling others what’s wrong with them while not addressing your own flaws is a timeless lesson for us all.

Another great Zootopia quote comes from Nick. It happens rather quickly, but there is an important lesson to be learned when he says: “Never let ‘em see that they get to you.”

Nick's Line  •  Read Full Scene

This was a pivotal moment for Nick, as this is the point in the story when he actually started liking Judy. It’s also an important lesson in obtaining self-confidence.

Judy is constantly being mistreated because she is a bunny. Nick wants to encourage her to be who she is and not let others define her. Here are some other memorable lines from Zootopia:

  • But just 211 miles away stands the great city of Zootopia! Where our ancestors first joined together in peace, and declared that anyone can be anything! Thank you and good night!
  • I’ve got three items on the docket. First... we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Francine, happy birthday.
  • Sir, I’m not just some “token” bunny.
  • It’s called a hustle, sweetheart. And I’m not the liar, he is.
  • Actually, it’s your word against yours. And if you want this pen, you’re going to help me find this poor missing otter or the only place you’ll be selling popsicles is the prison cafeteria. It’s called a hustle, sweetheart.
  • What? Are you saying that because he’s a sloth, he can’t be fast? I thought in Zootopia anyone could be anything.
  • I uh, I may have sold him a very expensive wool rug... that was made from the fur of a... skunk’s butt.

Zootopia Script Takeaway #4

How humor softens tone in Zootopia

It would not be a Disney story unless it had charming and humorous characters, and the Zootopia script is no exception. Judy, Nick, and the others use humor in clever ways to help make adult themes a bit easier to understand for kids.

Criminals, corruption, the Mafia — ideal subjects for any children's movie, right? Those topics are certainly beyond the purview on animated movies aimed at kids. But that doesn't mean they must be avoided either. What the Zootopia script does really well is make "adult themes" accessible and appropriate for the younger demographic.

For example, in this scene, Nick is pulling a hustle that Judy interrupts. This introduces her to the criminal element of the city, without making Zootopia’s plot too dark and not family-friendly. Like any protagonist bound by a strong moral compass, Judy confronts him in this scene.

Nick’s Hustle  •  Read Full Scene

The uses of jumbo popsicles and cute costumes ironically pairs up well with the hustle. Rather than coming off as a complete jerk, Nick is portrayed as cunning and charming.

Nick’s Hustle

Later on, Judy and Nick have to deal with the Zootopia equivalent of the Mafia. In reality, this should be a terrifying experience, but any fear of the polar bear bodyguards is undercut by a shrew named Mr. Big.

Mafia Parody  •  Read Full Scene

Zootopia’s clever writing and humor makes the characters fun, memorable and likable. Even the more unscrupulous characters have positive attributes to them. A story with great characters makes for a much more entertaining read.

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Zootopia is a great addition to Disney’s long list of great and memorable screenplays and movies. If you want to read more, we have other great titles, such as Coco, Frozen and The Lion King in our screenplay databaseBrowse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.

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