Picture Iron Man flying around Tomorrowland or Captain America leading the marching band on Main Street, U.S.A. Marvel characters are slowly entering Disneyland, as the acquisition of the massive comic-themed library of characters becomes realized in the theme park realm. What can we expect in the years to come? More importantly, what do we want to see?
This week’s Disney In Depth analyzes the many ways Marvel can integrate into the Disney parks without interfering with the themes and experiences we have come to appreciate in the Mickey Mouse universe.
Not until one year ago did Marvel characters even have a place in the Disney parks, save for some merchandise. Once the Iron Man Tech exhibit landed in the underutilized Innoventions at Disneyland did Marvel fly into the theme park arena – with full force, no less. Never since the days of Innoventions’ early days did guests see lines stretching out of the rotating Tomorrowland building. For one reason: to see the gadgets behind the Iron Man franchise.
Marvel has since appropriately and significantly shaped the future of this once-doomed pavilion in Tomorrowland. To tie in with the release of Thor: The Dark World, the Asgardian, hammer-wielding god began greeting with his legion of loyal fans. Both the Iron Man Tech and Thor: Treasures of Asgard exhibits, once viewed as temporary features, will remain open indefinitely. Guess who wants to come by Disneyland, and likely Innoventions, now? You know, our buddy Captain America.
The patriotic star of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will finally meet with guests inside a Disney park – in only a matter of weeks. Previously, Cap only made appearances at the D23 Expo and on the Disney Magic ship within Marvel’s Avengers Academy (see video below). Now the red-white-and-blue hero can reside in the company of his fellow avenger. Good deal for park guests. Even better deal for Marvel branding.
With the exception of those aforementioned opportunities, fans cannot currently see much of Marvel in the parks. But why? Several legitimate reasons substantiate why the Marvel integrated has remained limited.
For one, the acquisition is still relatively recent. We are not even five years into this, but in that short time, we have seen Disney taken hold of film distribution efforts, merchandise changes, increased Marvel programming on Disney XD, the creation of the Mission Marvel-themed special for Phineas and Ferb, a Marvel-themed addition to Disney Cruise Line, and even these few characters in the parks. That’s substantial.
Additionally, and unfortunately, the existence of Marvel within Walt Disney World cannot be a reality at this point, due to restrictions on the properties. Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure park, which has hosted an entire area of the park since its inception, owns the rights to several popular characters (within a 250 mile radius of the Florida resort). I’m not kidding. The topic is complicated, especially for the casual theme park visitor who cannot fathom how they can see Spider-Man at Universal Orlando but then catch Thor in Disneyland.
Certain studios own certain characters. That’s why you won’t ever find Wolverine and company walking around Epcot, or Spidey swinging his way around Animal Kingdom. Fox owns X-Men. Sony owns Spider-Man. Disney has control over several thousand characters, including Hulk – who you can find at Universal Orlando – but you cannot find at Walt Disney World. Yes, it’s very complicated.
But let’s get back to the topic at hand. What will be near-future additions of Marvel in the Disney parks, following Captain America’s debut at Disneyland? Well, we know that the new offerings will not be in Walt Disney World. For now. Disney announced several months back that the Iron Man Experience, a simulator-based ride akin to Star Tours, will surface in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in 2016. Likely that will be the first true attraction in the next couple of years. What is in the horizon? As the title of this piece states, there are many Marvel possibilities.
Disney California Adventure Park, revitalized by the opening of Cars Land and the park’s complete theme overhaul, deems the most appropriate place for Marvel characters to call home. Disney could build a Los-Angeles-set section of the park, complete with mini-skyscrapers and downtown touches. Within this fake metropolis could be a handful of attractions, including a clone of the future Hong Kong ride, perhaps a show, and maybe even a mini coaster for the kiddos. Will any of those ideas ever happen? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Imagineers recognize they have multiple tools in their belt. The Marvel brand, and the characters that belong under that banner, beckon Imagineers’ creative juices and muscles. Time and cost are only a few of the challenges in the mix right now, as more of the focus in the coming years will be focused on Disneyland. Unless The Happiest Place on Earth does not see the inevitable Star Wars overlay to Tomorrowland soon, the major Marvel additions likely will not happen in the next three to four years down the pipeline. Will we ever find characters from Guardians of the Galaxy setting shop near Space Mountain, or even Ant-Man replacing It’s Tough to Be a Bug at California Adventure? Never say never, especially now when unexpected overlays and additions are prevalent across theme parks in general.