Scott! First time posting, but I’m a huge fan — I love everything you post here.
I did a breakdown of Zootopia a few weeks ago for my own learning purposes. I think the reason the audience isn’t noticing how long it takes for Nick and Judy to team up is because the action is already happening in the pages beforehand.
I like to do breakdowns in 7–8 sequences and see if each sequence can be described as a mini movie that answers a question, tied to the larger question of the movie. Right at the beginning, Judy as a child declares that “she wants to make a difference.” So, as an audience, that is what we’re tracking throughout the story: Can Judy make a difference in the world?
Sequence 1 (12 minutes): She’s on her way. She pickpockets the tickets from Gideon Grey and successfully joins the Academy. (Mini question: Will Judy become a police officer?)
Sequence 2 (12 minutes): She fails. Her first day is terrible and she’s on parking duty — definitely not making a difference. She finds out about Nick’s hustle but can’t arrest him. (Mini question: Will Judy become a real cop?)
Sequence 3 (12 minutes): She succeeds. She catches a thief, saves the mouse’s life, and promises to find Emmet Otterton. But that has consequences that we’ll see unfold for the rest of the film. (Mini question: Will Judy become a real cop?)
So, I would argue that Act 1 actually ends where it usually is supposed to end, around minute 36 when the Chief of Police gives Judy an ultimatum: find Emmett Otterton or you’re fired. That is when she’s locked into her mission.
The movie doesn’t drag because we’re not looking to see whether Judy will team up with Nick. We’re watching to see if Judy can “make a difference,” which she is actively trying to do throughout the film. And because those mini questions are all tied into the main question of the movie. Teaming up with Nick at page 42 works because it’s simply part of the overall theme of the film: Anyone, whether you’re a bunny or a fox, can make a difference — you don’t have to be limited by your background or the stereotypes placed on you.
Let me know what you think!