When Disney released an explanatory teaser for 2016’s “Zootopia”, one could almost hear the sound of a billion DeviantArt accounts whirring to life. After all, Rule 34 — “if it exists, there is porn of it, no exceptions” — decrees that every Disney project has already titillated the imaginations of the internet’s fan-art collective, but something very special is afoot in “Zootopia”. The film’s teaser alone reads like an explanation of the furry manifesto: that anthropomorphized animals can be sexualized and identified with as easily as humans. Jason Bateman’s characteristically sly voiceover explains anthropomorphization, which furries tend to lovingly call “anthro.” He further illustrates a world where humans “never existed.” There’s even a playful bit about being naked, and a fox forgets to zip his fly.

But what exactly is being played at here? Could it be a coincidence that Disney chose a fox protagonist for its first fully anthro feature, considering foxes are arguably the most popular “fursona” cited by furries? Many furries name the hero of Disney’s animated Robin Hood, also a fox, when recalling their first sexual feelings for anthropomorphized animals.

The truth is, the furry fandom has always been intrinsically linked to the Disney empire. Who could forget Nala’s come-hither look in “The Lion King”, or the repeated presence of Meeko, the raccoon from Disney’s Pocahantas in this Vanity Fair expose on furries? Disney films are treasured in the furry fandom and community for doing what Zootopia will repeat next year: giving human traits (and desires) to animated animals.

Of course, there’s more. Disney recently announced that Shakira would be voicing Gazelle, a pop star in the “Zootopia” world. Her publicity image is already pretty sexy. In fact, as the film’s release date approaches, it’s getting hard to tell which character renderings are being released by Disney, and which are the work of furry fans. Even Disney’s promotional art features shapely animals with gender signifiers like eyelashes and hips.

So popular is “Zootopia” among furries that character fursuits, worn by furries to conventions and in the bedroom, designed after “Zootopia” characters began appearing on Furaffinity.net just days after the first promotional teaser was released online. Later trailers and clips released by Disney only furthered the film’s apparent flirtation with furries. In the clip below, dashing fox Nick Wilde actually tells the following joke, which would go over the head of any child who doesn’t understand the triple entendre:

Nick: What do you call a three-humped camel? Pregnant!

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Redditor crush-n-mush sums up Disney’s anthro history on /r/furry and says Zootopia is special.

“It is Disney’s first full-blown Anthro movie in a long time. They had Winnie the Pooh 4 years back, but that obviously doesn’t count. Before that there was Chicken Little [10 years ago], which is highly stylized [not "ideal" furry qualities] and before that we have Robin Hood which came out 42 years ago.” That user’s enthusiasm is mirrored all over the internet, and even Zootopia’s creator, Byron Howard, has released original fan art featuring the film’s characters.

Some furries are less than enthused about the film’s release. Another redditor, patch_ofurr, writes “don’t ever think a giant corporation doesn’t know EXACTLY what they’re doing. [...] They know exactly what Furry is, with little charts to estimate who is in it, what they buy, how much they spend, [...]. They’re reading this [furry fandom] thread and gauging the responses for how, when, and where they will spread this movie.” Another redditor sees Zootopia as the threat of too much publicity. “I believe this movie is going to raise the stakes for the fandom like we’ve never seen before. [...] There are going to be Fox (heh) News stories about ‘The seedy underbelly of Zootopia’, with moral guardians coming out of the woodwork to denounce all the bestiality and paganism and whatever else they can dream up.” To some furries, being able to enjoy the film’s specific appeal in private sounds more enticing than having to explain the furry niche to mainstream audiences.

Midwest Fur Fest, 2006
Midwest Fur Fest, 2006

Going forward, how can we tell if Disney is aware of its furry fan following? Searching promotional materials, and the film itself, for inside jokes and fur-enthusiast easter eggs will be key. The real identifying factor, many furries have joked, will be any reference to a dragon behaving badly. Bad Dragon, the leading producer of furry sex toys and anthro accessories, is a mainstay in the furry community.

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As Disney announced last month, Zootopia’s mayor, a lion named Leodore Lionheart, repeats a mantra throughout the film: “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything.” This furry-friendly quote, paired with the film’s insistence on sex jokes (the bunny in the trailer, Officer Hops, has 275 brothers and sisters), suggest that Disney is finally paying fan service to one of the its longest-adoring demographics. As Disney says itself, Zootopia will be like nothing we’ve ever seen “befur”.

Photos via Disney, MFF 2006 photo by Laurence 'GreenReaper' Parry (CC-BY-SA 3.0)