What Disney’s Toy Story, Frozen, & Zootopia Sequels Could Be About
Both Walt Disney Animation and Pixar’s early-2020s slates have consisted of original movies, but that’s looking to change as the decade goes on. At last year’s D23 Expo, Pixar announced a follow-up to the 2015 hit film Inside Out, and now Disney CEO Bob Iger has revealed that three more animated sequels are in the works. Pixar will release a fifth installment in its flagship Toy Story franchise, and sequels are also coming for the Zootopia and Frozen franchises (their second and third movies, respectively).
While reactions to the news of three more Disney sequels on the docket have been mixed, pretty much everyone is asking the same question at this point: what are these movies going to be about?
Toy Story 5
Of the three movie announcements from Iger, this is the one that has received the most backlash. Two out of the four Toy Story movies that currently exist are essentially about the franchise ending, so its return for yet another installment is baffling to some. On top of this, fan reception to 2019’s Toy Story 4 was notably weaker than the previous three films, even though it was still positive on the whole.
Going into this installment, Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear the astronaut will likely still be separated, as the former left the latter for a life of adventure with Bo Peep at the end of the last movie, while the latter stayed with Bonnie and the rest of the toys. Given that Tim Allen has tweeted about returning to voice Buzz in the new movie, it can probably be assumed that the focus will be on the characters remaining in Bonnie’s room, including Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, Rex the dinosaur, Hamm the pig, and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, among others.
Still, it wouldn’t feel like a true Toy Story movie without Woody, and even though he got the bulk of the focus in the fourth film and Tom Hanks has yet to publicly acknowledge the new project, it would be surprising if Woody were to not be in the movie at all, even for just a cameo appearance.
Regardless, given the current location of the longtime protagonist as of now, a Buzz- and/or Jessie-centric movie seems probable at this point. Since Woody was always the ringleader of the toys, the gap in leadership may lead to conflict between the remaining characters, and the aforementioned two in particular seem most poised to take over that role in Bonnie’s room. An interesting dimension to a story like this would be that these two characters are currently a romantic couple and a conflict like this could threaten to drive a wedge between them. This, on top of the absence of Woody, who was close to both Buzz and Jessie, could make for some pretty good drama in the new movie.
On a potentially happier note, it’s possible the movie could focus on a reunion between Woody and the other toys. Perhaps one of the aforementioned two romances is tying the knot, with the others learning of this through some sort of toy grapevine and wanting to surprise them by showing up to the party. A road trip-style movie would ensue, with the unexpected guests having to overcome a bunch of obstacles in order to make it to the big event.
Admittedly, these ideas seem perhaps more suited for short films or specials (both of which have been made for the Toy Story franchise in the past). However, given that feature films make more money, it’s not surprising Disney and Pixar are taking that option here.
Frozen is officially going to be a trilogy (and if it’s as successful as Toy Story, maybe more). While this franchise has never had an official “conclusion” (while the aforementioned one has already had two) some fans are a little stuck as to where it can go at this point. Much like Toy Story 4, Frozen 2 ended with the two leads on separate paths, with Elsa going to live in the woods with her new friends as a spirit and Anna taking over from her as Queen of Arendelle.
This split doesn’t come across as being quite as “final” as the one between Woody and Buzz in Toy Story 4 since we know the sisters still see each other often. However, another conflict between the two lands seems likely, and this time Anna and Elsa would definitely be on different sides of it.
Being forced to choose between protecting their respective lands and maintaining their bond as sisters would be dramatic, heart-wrenching, and most importantly, provide the potential for another killer soundtrack of earworms. These two spent most of their lives apart from each other, at least in an emotional sense, due to Elsa’s powers, and the threat of it happening again would make for some huge stakes for the third movie.
Regardless of what happens in this movie, though, viewers will probably get to see a wedding between Anna and Kristoff. Their romance has been the other relationship central to the Frozen franchise thus far, and after all Kristoff went through in order to propose to Anne in the second film, their nuptials are sure to be one for the books. (And even though the sisters will probably be in conflict for much of the movie, it’s a safe bet that Elsa will be there to cheer on the couple when the wedding does happen.)
Of the three recently announced Disney sequels, this is the one that most people seem to be on board with, even if they’re less-than-enthused about the other two. Zootopia was a huge hit back in 2016 (it even joined the billion-dollar club without being a sequel, a rarity for an animated film) but Disney hasn’t done very much to capitalize on its success since then beyond a few smaller projects. Hopefully, this means they’ve been working hard to find the right story and fine-tune it so it’s just right.
It’s hard to predict what a follow-up to Zootopia might look like since the world of the franchise offers so many possibilities. The first movie focused on bunny Judy Hopps and fox Nick Wilde as they solved a case for the police department, but lots of different animals populate the titular city, meaning they could theoretically have new lead characters – either side players from the previous film or brand new ones – with Judy and Nick taking a backseat and playing smaller roles in the movie.
This scenario might be more likely than some may think, because it’s no secret that in the years since Zootopia came out, the institution of the police has become even more hotly debated by the public than it was back then, which is really saying something given that the movie itself is centered on this tension to an extent. Whether or not the film successfully handles the nuances and metaphors it uses to take on this topic is definitely a “your mileage may vary” situation, but Disney may consider the topic too controversial to tackle this time around.
The first film ended with Nick joining Zootopia’s police force, so if the movie does decide to focus on that aspect of the city again, the last, conflict about the practices of the cops – whether from Nick, Judy, or both – is likely to be a part of this plotline. While Disney advocating for abolishing the police is unlikely, some sort of reform to the squad would probably happen here, though how much is debatable.
The other option Disney has with this movie is to shift the focus, to another topic or even other characters. If they stick with Nick and Judy but don’t want to focus on the police aspect of their story, they could go the route of them helping out someone else in town dealing with a crisis of some kind (perhaps a business-related one, as this would help expand the world of the franchise) or, perhaps more controversially, go the romantic route with the two of them. Despite them being of different species, this duo definitely has their shippers, and it could make for an allegory on interracial marriage (or even gay marriage, in a sense, since the conflict would probably be others not accepting their relationship and seeing it as “unnatural”).
It’s hard to say which other animals the filmmakers might go with; Judy’s former bully-turned-farmer might be an interesting one, and it could lead to an exploration of class issues (which would be especially interesting given he currently lives outside of Zootopia itself). However, he’s a bunny and Disney would probably want to choose a species of animal not spotlighted so heavily in the first film. Gazelle, the Shakira-voiced pop star of Zootopia, could be another option, and the movie’s team could use her to tell a story featuring some commentary on the world of celebrity and fame.
Regardless of what Disney does with this movie, there are two key elements the Zootopia sequel should have. The first is that it should expand the world by introducing new characters and new elements of life in Zootopia, and possibly the world outside it. This would not only enrich the story of this movie but help build the franchise and potentially lead to more sequels and spin-offs, something Disney surely wants for the Zootopia brand. On paper, this franchise should have more shelf life than the likes of Toy Story and Frozen, so while this movie’s primary focus shouldn’t just be setting up more content, if Disney plays its cards right it could organically lead to just that.
The other key element is that this Zootopia sequel should include some sort of social commentary. That was a big part of what got the first movie such glowing reviews, and a lot of adults who might not have seen it otherwise to go check it out. While the metaphors in the first movie weren’t perfect, they managed to allow for a story that wouldn’t generally be seen in a film “for kids” to be there, and they did spark conversation among audiences.
Granted, the political climate in 2023 (and probably whatever year this movie winds up coming out) is a lot more volatile than it was back in early 2016. It’s understandable that Disney might want to move away from super-topical content, especially since they’ve been in hot water with both left- and right-leaning people in the past few years, and like it or not, they rely on both for money. However, if they were to just play a story about cops “straight” in the current era, without acknowledging any of the controversy about the subject, the edge the first movie had would be lost.
This is why the best route for this movie is to pick another aspect of the city to focus on and provide some sharp commentary on that. Business, entertainment, education, whatever, but it would be disappointing to follow up what was a whopper of a film at the time with a watered-down story with no “bite” to it. It doesn’t technically have to be “political”, or at least not an obviously political topic like the law and its enforcement, but a Zootopia sequel that plays it safe would be a sad follow-up indeed.