In a world populated by anthropomorphic mammals, Judy Hopps from rural Bunnyburrow fulfills her childhood dream of becoming a police officer in urban Zootopia. Despite being the police academy valedictorian, Judy is relegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo who doubts her potential because she is a rabbit. On her first day, she is hustled by a con artist fox duo, Nick Wilde and Finnick.
The next day, Judy abandons parking duty to arrest Duke Weaselton, a thief who stole a package of plant bulbs known as Midnicampum holicithias. Bogo reprimands her, but Mrs. Otterton enters Bogo’s office pleading for someone to find her husband Emmitt, one of fourteen predators who have gone missing. When Judy volunteers and Assistant Mayor Dawn Bellwether praises the assignment, Bogo reluctantly gives her 48 hours to find Otterton on the condition that she resign if she fails.
After determining that Nick was a suspect seen in Otterton’s last known sighting, Judy blackmails him into assisting her by covertly recording his confession to tax evasion. They track Otterton to a limousine owned by crime boss Mr. Big, who reveals that his florist Otterton went “savage” – reverted to a feral state – and attacked his chauffeur Manchas. At his home, Manchas mentions that Otterton had been mentioning “night howlers” after the attack. Moments later, Manchas himself turns savage and chases the pair. Judy saves Nick by trapping Manchas and calls the ZPD for help. When Bogo and other police arrive, however, Manchas has vanished. Bogo demands Judy’s resignation, but Nick courageously reminds Bogo she still has 10 hours to solve the case. On the gondola, Nick reveals to Judy that, as a child, when he tried to join a local scout troop to find some kind of acceptance, he was instead beaten and muzzled by the scouts and ever since that day, he resolve to live out the “sly fox” stereotype since no one saw him as anything else.
At City Hall, Bellwether gives Judy and Nick access to the city’s traffic camera system. They discover that Manchas was captured by wolves, which Judy surmises are the “night howlers”. They find Otterton and the other missing predators imprisoned at Cliffside Asylum, where Mayor Leodore Lionheart is keeping them hidden from the public while a scientist tries to determine the cause of their strange behavior. Lionheart and those involved are arrested and Bellwether becomes the new mayor.