Zootopia+ is the latest shortform series to return to beloved Disney franchises

We’re all drowning in content—so it’s time to highlight the best. In her column, published every Friday, critic Clarisse Loughrey recommends a new show to watch. This week: the shortform Zootopia run-off series Zootopia+.

When Disney+ isn’t shelling out the big bucks on superheroes and Jedis, it’s quietly stocking its shelves with animated shorts spun off from the biggest hits of its recent catalogue. For Toy Story 4 fans, there’s Lamp Life and Forky Asks a Question. For Frozen 2 fans, there’s Once Upon a Snowman and Olaf Presents. Soul spawned 22 vs Earth; Luca led to Cia Alberto. As a corporate exercise, it’s shrewd—these morsels of content functioning as a brand extension gently leading viewers back to the film in question (read: it comes up as a suggestion when the credits roll). It’s also a mighty temptation to parents looking for a streaming service capable of providing a new, but not unfamiliar distraction for their screaming bairns.

The latest of these, Zootopia+ (marketed as Zootropolis+ in the UK), should help reassure us all that these aren’t artless exercises at their core. On paper, these six shorts, all hovering at around seven or eight minutes in length, could essentially be passed off as deleted scenes to 2016’s Oscar-winning Zootopia. Each takes place in, around, before, and after the main narrative, which saw a rookie rabbit cop (Ginnifer Goodwin’s Judy Hopps) form an unlikely partnership with a fox con artist (Jason Bateman’s Nick Wilde) in order to uncover a criminal conspiracy with deep roots in their mammal-populated city.

We see what happens to Judy’s parents (Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt) after they put her on a train to Zootopia, or what shrew mob daughter Fru Fru (Leah Latham) was up to before she was saved by Judy from being crushed by a massive runaway doughnut. We’re given a little more insight into Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) and Chief Bogo’s (Idris Elba) blossoming friendship, nurtured by their mutual adoration of the pop star Gazelle (Shakira). As characters sprint across the screen, you might catch a glimpse of stoner yak Yax (Tommy Chong) and his yoga class, or Nick and his fennec fox crime partner (Tom Lister Jr) making pawpsicles in the snow.

In practice, however, these shorts could more accurately be described as comedic extrapolations. Directors Trent Correy and Josie Trinidad, with their team of writers, have simply pinpointed the film’s best jokes and taken them out for another spin. Why not? You might as well squeeze all you can out of a good punchline. And these shorts work perfectly well. The best, arguably, focuses on the lead-up to Fru Fru’s wedding, specifically the fight to crown her maid of honour—here framed as an episode of the reality TV show The Real Rodents of Little Rodentia. It’s aesthetically on point, complete with crash zooms and watery streaks of mascara. Fru Fru’s privileged pals are introduced with a series of catchphrases: “it’s not entitlement if I deserve it”, “been there, done that, I’m never looking back”, and “… I just got out of prison.”

Another highlight is the series’s final episode, a repeat of the original Zootopia s bit about glacially paced sloths. Flash (Raymond S Persi) and Priscilla (Kristen Bell) are being served at a restaurant by an extremely rattled otter (Charlotte Nicdao’s Sam), who’s desperate to clock off on time to attend the very special Gazelle concert that closes the film. But, again, it’s a more than funny enough joke to do twice, especially with Sam’s frantic thrusting of menus and champagne glasses into clawed hands.

There’s not a single pixel drop in quality here, and Zootopia+ boasts some particularly lovely fur and sequin work in the scenes in which Clawhauser and Chief Bogo audition to be Gazelle’s new backup dancer on her show (named, of course, So You Think You Can Prance?). The entire celebrity voice cast is back, including Elba and Shakira. Alan Tudyk even gets a musical number, co-produced by composer Michael Giacchino, as his character Duke Weaselton sings of all the ways he’s finally going to “make it big”. Why be a small-time thief, when you could be a crooked lawyer, black market surgeon, oil baron, or “weasel of Wall Street”?

The mission of Zootopia was to teach kids about how racist social structures limit individual agency and infect preconceptions. It was noble in intention, but it never quite worked. We can’t be reduced down to the differences between foxes and rabbits, and it doesn’t look all that good to cast a cop as the hero of a story about the evils of prejudice. But Zootopia+ actually benefits from being able to take a step away from these shaky themes. Instead, the emotions are simpler and smaller, and many of the episodes end with an appreciation of family or community. That, in turn, might make those restless kids watching a little more thankful to their parents for sitting them down in front of the TV in the first place.