Disney theme parks are going all in on Marvel, yes, even in Orlando

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IOA's  Marvel Super Hero Island - PHOTO VIA ENTERTAINMENTDESIGNER.COM
  • Photo via EntertainmentDesigner.com
  • IOA's Marvel Super Hero Island
Ever since Disney announced its $4 billion purchase of Marvel back in 2009, there has been a lot of speculation on how Marvel will be used within the parks.

Disney has created one of the most spectacular box office successes ever with the characters over the past 19 years, bringing in over $14 billion in box office sales, including a billion from this year’s Black Panther alone.

There have been small introductions of the Marvel characters within the parks, but until very recently no permanent presence. That changed last year when Disney opened the Iron Man Experience simulator ride at Hong Kong Disneyland. Disney gave its first major indications of the level of Marvel that would soon be in its parks in 2016, when it announced the Guardians of the Galaxy ride for Disney California Adventure and a new Big Hero 6-themed kiddie ride for Tokyo Disneyland.

By early 2017, Disney had confirmed a new dark ride for Hong Kong, a shooter-style ride themed to Ant-Man that would replace the park’s Buzz Lightyear in March, while also announcing a temporary interactive walk-through attraction at the Hong Kong park. Using various portals that took guests through numerous iconic sets from Marvel films guests were able to encounter Dr. Strange, Star-Lord, Thor, and other Marvel characters.
With Ant-Man and Iron Man now calling the park’s Tomorrowland home, not to mention the temporary Marvel presence via the walk-through attraction, rumors of a complete Marvel overhaul of the land were heating up.

Most of the focus returned to the States by May, due to the opening of the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride. By this time, the rumors pointed to not only a new Marvel-themed land slated for Hong Kong but also one for Disney California Adventure. Less than subtle hints by Disney and a large hatch with the Avengers logo on it in the bushes near the Guardians ride fueled speculation regarding this new Marvel land.

Just two months, later Disney confirmed the long-rumored Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster for Epcot and a Marvel overlay to one of the hotels at Disneyland Paris. It was clear that Disney was looking to go all in with the brand, but the hodgepodge of announcements still didn’t add up to any type of significant presence for what are some of the most successful films of all time.

By the fall messages boards were a buzz with rumors of Marvel lands coming to Disney resorts all around the world but still no word from Disney. That changed last month when new Marvel-themed lands were confirmed for both Hong Kong Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. Disney then waited until last week to verify that California would indeed be getting a Marvel land as well.

IMAGE VIA SCOTT GUSTIN | TWITTER
  • Image via Scott Gustin | Twitter
Despite Guardians of the Galaxy slated for Epcot, various Marvel character meet-and-greets and movie previews at Hollywood Studios, Marvel merchandise for sale in Magic Kingdom, and even Black Panther rumored for Disney World no such Marvel land has been announced for here and will likely not happen due to the now infamous Universal Studios contract that pre-dates Disney’s purchase of the brand. That contract gives Universal Studios the theme park rights east of the Mississippi for many Marvel characters including the Avengers, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and dozens of other characters. At Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, Marvel Super Hero Island is major land with three of the parks most recognizable rides.

While neither party has confirmed it their recent behavior some lovely negations between the two companies are on-going which may result in updates or clarifications to the original contract. This could result in certain characters which Universal currently owns the east coast theme park rights to being transferred to Disney, possibly with Black Panther. But for many other characters, it looks like they won’t be moving down I-4 from Universal to Disney World anytime soon, if ever.

Disney confirmed that the California Adventure Marvel land would open its first phase in 2020 with both a Spider-Man and an Avengers attraction slated for the new land which will be replacing the A Bug’s Land area. The Spider-Man ride is strongly rumored to be using a new patented swinging ride vehicle system that will give riders the sensation of swinging through the streets with Spider-Man. Many have pointed out how unusual this choice of character is since one of the most popular rides at Universal Orlando is its Spider-Man ride. That 3D dark ride consistently ranks as one of the best rides in the world despite being 20 years old. Any new E-ticket Spider-Man ride by Disney will immediately be compared to the Universal ride, a bold move for Disney which currently has very few rides to the scale of Universal’s Spider-Man.

Less is known regarding the Avengers ride, but renderings for the Hong Kong Marvel land show a large attraction building that looks themed to the Avengers. It’s believed the same attraction would call be developed in both California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland.

The Hong Kong Disneyland Marvel land was previously confirmed to be part of the massive expansion which will be finished by 2024. That expansion will also include a colossal overhaul their castle, making this the first time Disney has ever dramatically redone one of its castles after the park was open.

In Paris, their version of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will be rethemed to an Iron Man coaster. Two new shows and a Marvel themed dance party are also planned for Paris with all three debuting this year. One of the shows, Marvel: Super Heroes United, is expected to be one of the most technological shows Disney has ever put on. It will feature a 4300 sq. ft. stage with one of the largest LED screens in all of Europe. Projection mapping via 30 projectors, moveable sets, and a cutting-edge lighting system will make this show a must see. It’s rumored that Disney will be using its drone technology in the show, if true it would be the first time Disney has used drones in an indoor show.

Sadly, none of these recently announced attractions and shows will likely ever call Florida home. The Florida version of the Tower of Terror is safe from the Guardians retheme, and many of the other characters are ones that Universal holds the rights to with the sole exception being Ant-Man and The Wasp. It is possible that Disney World could see an Ant-Man ride.

As Toy Story Land readies to open there has been speculation that Disney might want to close Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland. An Ant-Man ride might also fit in better with the new ‘portals’ theme that is rumored to be coming to the Magic Kingdom. Other rumors point to Ant-Man possibly calling Epcot home eventually. Ironically, one of the rumored locations for the Ant-Man attraction is the closed Wonders of Life pavilion. The pavilion’s primary draw was a simulator ride where guests were shrunk down and went on a journey through a human body via the bloodstream.

Interestingly, while not officially announced the poster announcing the new Marvel land for California clearly shows a larger than life soda can in the background, causing many to speculate that Disney is planning for an Ant-Man attraction there eventually as well. Also in that same poster, Black Panther can be easily spotted. That character, or at least his home country, may be headed to Epcot despite a small mural of him on display at Universal.

The Paris renderings also show what looks to be a Marvel themed outdoor show in the stadium currently used for their version of Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. With the stadium from that show long gone here in Orlando, thanks to Star Wars, it’s unlikely we’ll be getting that show even if they get one.

It’s also unlikely that the giant dong seen in the Disneyland Hong Kong poster will be built here in Orlando, though it might feel right at home in a state where our capital building is one, balls included.