Genre: Whydunit (with elements of Buddy Love)
Opening Image: A school play presents the past reality of how animals used to live: predator vs. prey.
Theme Stated: Animals have evolved to the point where there are no longer any dividing lines; all live in harmony. Anyone can be anything they dream to be. This theme will be tested as the characters search for their role in society.
Set-Up: Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) wants to be the first rabbit police officer in Zootopia, a desire that doesn’t sit well with her farming family. In her thesis world, the rest of the family is still wary of predatory animals, especially foxes, and attempts to dissuade her from following her dreams. In a save the cat! moment, young Judy defends other animals from a local bully, a fox named Gideon Grey. Though he overpowers her physically, he cannot crush her spirit, and she grows up to enroll in the Zootopia Police Academy (ZPD). At first struggling, she works hard to overcome the things that need fixing, ultimately graduating with honors. At the ceremony, she is honored by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) and befriends Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate). Arriving in Zootopia, Judy is excited to begin her first day on the force. She learns at the briefing that 12 mammals have gone missing, but Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) relegates her to meter maid, crushing her hopes and forcing her into a stasis=death existence.
Catalyst: Judy, still believing in her dreams, performs her work with enthusiasm. She soon meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who faces discrimination as he attempts to buy ice cream for his “son.” Judy buys the ice cream for him, knowing she has done a good deed.
Debate: Later in the day, Judy sees Nick and follows him. Discovering that Nick has been using the ice cream in a hustle to sell ice pops and reap the profits, she confronts him. Nick tells her that she can do nothing to him, challenging her status as a “real cop.” Resorting to stereotypes of her being a “cute bunny,” he causes her to begin questioning herself and her idea that anyone can be anything in Zootopia. The next day, she begins her job with less enthusiasm than before and even faces hatred from other citizens as she writes traffic tickets. Clearly, life in Zootopia is not what she had expected it to be. When a weasel rushes out of a local florist’s shop with a duffel bag, Judy abandons her shift and pursues him. Even though she apprehends the suspect, she still feels the burn of stereotypes and is asked to turn in her badge.
Break into Two: When a despondent Mrs. Otterton begs the police to find her missing husband, Judy assumes the role of detective and volunteers to take the case. Before Chief Bogo can reprimand her for her boldness, Assistant Mayor Bellwether shows up to offer Judy her support. Bogo gives her 48 hours (an early appearance for a time clock) to solve the case. As she enters her antithesis world, she must prove herself in her dream job.
B Story: Unfortunately, this will be more difficult that she thinks. The case file doesn’t have anything except a photo of the location in which Otterton was abducted. Examining the photo, she recognizes Nick Wilde. Her relationship with Nick — and the stereotypes both face — will form the B Story.
Fun and Games: To recruit Nick’s help, Judy cons him with a recording pen, gaining his confession about his history of cons and not paying taxes. Nick agrees to help in order to get the pen from Judy. He admits to knowing Otterton’s habits and leads Judy to a “naturalist” colony in which animals relax without clothing. There, an employee gives them the license plate number of the vehicle Otterton left in. Using the DMV, the two discover that plate is registered to Tundra Town Limo Service. Investigating the limo, they find Otterton’s wallet and signs of a struggle. Soon, polar bear thugs capture Nick and Judy and take them to crime boss Mr. Big, a vole, who wished to have the two interlopers “iced.” They are saved at the last moment by Big’s daughter, who recognizes Judy from the weasel pursuit earlier in the day. Big suggests that Judy and Nick speak to the driver who lives in the Rainforest District. The driver, a jaguar, tells them that Otterton had gone savage and attacked him, mentioning “night howlers.” Soon, the driver goes savage as well, attacking Nick and Judy, but they are able to restrain him.
Midpoint: In a false victory, Judy calls the ZPD, but when Bogo arrives, the driver is gone. Bogo is about to fire Judy when Nick steps in to defend her, saying that she still has 10 hours left to solve the case. As the time clock ticks down, Nick confides in Judy and tells her his back story about joining the junior explorers when he was younger. He has been bullied as a predator and misjudged. As a result, he decided to become a criminal to fulfill the stereotype others would always have of him.
Bad Guys Close In: As Nick and Judy face their own internal bad guys, they call on the help of Bellwether, who uses the traffic camera system to learn what happened to the driver. The three discover that he had been taken by timber wolves, the “night howlers” the driver had been afraid of. They follow the abductors to Cliffside Asylum. Nick and Judy sneak in and find the missing mammals, all of which have gone savage, and overhear Mayor Lionheart consult with a doctor there. The doctor suggests the secret that biology could be to blame. Gaining video evidence with her phone, Judy and Nick escape, and Lionheart is arrested. Keeping her end of the bargain, Judy gives Nick the recording pen plus an application to the ZPD. Holding a press conference, Judy mentions the notion of biology coming into play. Nick feels the past stereotypes coming back to haunt him. In the coming days, Zootopia begins to fall apart as predator and prey divide, with predators facing discrimination.
All Is Lost: Bellwether, now the mayor, wants Judy to be face of the ZPD. Judy sees the division she has caused by the press conference and turns in her badge. As her dreams of a life of peace and harmony in Zootopia die, the whiff of death lingers.
Dark Night of the Soul: Back at home with her family, Judy is disheartened but receives hope as she discovers that her parents’ views have changed to where they even work with former bully Gideon Grey. Grey apologizes for his past treatment of Judy and mentions the psychotropic effects of the “night howler” flowers on mammals. Judy realizes that any mammal, even a bunny, can go savage because of them. Taking her family’s truck, including the blueberry produce, she returns to Zootopia to find Nick and apologize. As A and B Stories cross, she enters her synthesis world, her journey through the Transformation Machine nearly complete.
Break into Three: Judy has a new lead on the case and confronts the weasel who stole “night howler” bulbs.
Finale: With information from the weasel, Judy and Nick find a hidden lab run by rams. The two steal the lab car as evidence, but it is all destroyed with the exception of the gun used to fire blue night howler pellets at predators. Nick and Judy encounter Bellwether, who reveals her plans to rid Zootopia of predators by turning society against them, the dark secret in this Whydunit. Bellwether uses the gun on Nick to turn him against Judy, but the plan fails when Judy reveals that the blue pellets were replaced with blueberries, adding that Bellwether’s entire rant was recorded. Bellwether and her cohorts are arrested. Later, Judy speaks at Nick’s ZPD graduation and hands him the diploma, evidence of transformation for both of them.
Final Image: Nick and Judy serve together on the ZPD, not as predator and prey, but as friends.