Judy Hopps: Protagonist
Judy is the audience’s proxy in the story. We experience the entire story through her eyes and know only what she knows, learn only what she learns.
She’s also the emotional heart of the story. From the moment she’s clawed by Gideon we’re rooting for her. We want her to succeed at the police academy, we’re right there with her in her showdown with Chief Bogo, and we cringe as her news conference performance goes off the rails. While Nick, the Ottertons, Mr. Manchas and some of the other characters suffer, we’re pretty much in Judy’s camp during the story.
As a character, we get to know her life philosophy early: “Make the world a better place.” She remains true to this as she struggles both to solve the external plot mystery and through the relationship plot to win Nick over to a different life.
Nick Wilde: Trickster, co-protagonist
Nick begins by appearing to be an upstanding citizen, but shortly we learn it’s a ruse. During their first few adventures together, Nick appears to be aiding Judy, but all his efforts really work against her. He seems to delight in watching her squirm at the naturalist club, delaying her at the DMV, and seeing her frustrated at the limousine service lot. In these sequences, he’s true to one of his two espoused philosophies: “You can only be what you are.” In his case, a sly fox.
In each of these cases, when Judy becomes frustrated with him, or when she bests him in a contest of wills, he remains true to his second life philosophy: “Never let them see they get to you.” Even when he’s forced to remain on Judy’s hook, he never loses his cool or becomes flustered.
It’s only after Judy saves his life and he witnesses Judy ready to give up her dream when Chief Bogo demands her badge that he makes the shift to co-protagonist.
Chief Bogo: Contagonist, mentor
Chief Bogo is sort of a minor nemesis. I prefer a term from Dramatica theory: contagonist. A contagonist is not the ultimate antagonist, but is nonetheless someone who stands in the way of the protagonist either by slowing their progress or deflecting them from their desired goal.
Judy wants to be a police officer, and Bogo does everything he can to frustrate that desire. But there is also that moment in Mayor Bellwether’s office when Judy is considering resigning that he offers a more mentor-like observation:
“Don’t give yourself so much credit, Hopps. The world has always been broken. That’s why we need good cops — like you.”
Dawn Bellwether: Trickster, nemesis
Bellwether begins as the unappreciated assistant to Mayor Lionheart and for most of the story seems to be a good guy. It’s only in the climactic scene that we realize she’s the actual behind-the-scenes nemesis Judy’s been trying to discover the entire time. She does appear enough times in a downtrodden role that we can understand why she would be the instigator of this crime.
Benjamin Clawhauser: Clown
Not sure if this designation is anything official, but Clawhauser’s main role is for laughs. But, there is something that the clown character is very good for, and that is eliciting sympathy. We like to laugh, and clowns make us laugh (unless they’re in a horror role). When we have enjoyed someone who makes us laugh, then we see them suffer, our heart goes out to them. This is what makes Clawhauser’s involuntary move from the front desk at police HQ so heart-rending. We don’t want to see him suffer unjustly just because he’s from a predator species when he’s been such a delight to watch.
Mayor Lionheart: Trickster
Mayor Lionheart at first appears to be the upstanding political figure of Zootopia. He lauds Judy’s accomplishment and assigns her to the most prestigious precinct. But, he also appears to be insensitive to Bellwether’s needs, which could have contributed to her inspiration to commit the crime. He becomes more intriguing when we learn he’s behind the missing mammals, but not as a villain. Rather, he’s trying to solve the problem, but he’s doing it on the sly, which proves his undoing. As he said, “It was a classic ‘doing the wrong thing for the right reason’ kind of a deal.”
Mrs. Otterton: Victim
Every mystery needs a victim, and that’s Mrs. Otterton. Her life has been turned upside down by events beyond her control, and it’s this aspect of her life that inspires Judy to risk her position as a newly-minted police officer to find her missing husband.
Duke Weaselton: Nemesis
Little doubt Duke fits the nemesis category. Not so much as a nemesis to Judy, although he is that to a degree, but just because he is one of the evil characters of the cast.
Although Duke is a minor character with only a few moments of screen time, he provides a few essential plot development moments. First, he steals the “moldy onions” which are the basis of the serum that causes predators to go savage. During his chase sequence with Judy through Little Rodentia he causes the moment where Judy saves Fru Fru Shrew, the daughter to Mr. Big. And finally, he provides the final lead for Judy and Nick to enable them to discover the drug lab.
I’m going to add a couple more characters to the list.
Stu and Bonnie Hopps: Contagonists, mentors
Like Chief Bogo, early in the story Stu and Bonnie do everything they can to dissuade Judy from pursuing her goal to become a police officer. They rejoice when they learn Judy is a meter maid and “not a real cop.” Not really antagonist or nemesis, they better fit the contagonist description.
However, when Judy returns to the farm after quitting the police force, they are loving and supportive. And, they admit to having been persuaded by Judy’s beliefs, shown by their partnership with Gideon. In this way, they move to a mentoring role.
Gideon Gray: Trickster
Gideon is a trickster who performs the inverse change: he moves from enemy to ally. As a child, he’s a bully who threatens and harms Judy, but as an adult he’s the character who provides the crime-solving clue, the true nature of “night howlers.”