Details revealed about Marvel's future with Disney Theme Parks

Marvel by Jim Napier

During a recent episode of The Magical Definition Podcast the hosts, Nathan M. Rose and Jim Hill reveal some details about the rumored Stark Expo project and other Marvel integration with Disney theme parks. 

Below are the show notes from the show (podcast discussion starts at 12:30-24:49): 

"[I] made a couple of calls about this... There is a skein of truth to this... Disney is looking to find ways to bring the Marvel characters at the Disneyland resort. Problem is they don't entirely fit Tomorrowland which is sort of where the Tony Stark name came up, the Expo thing. Here's the thing: what was initially being looked at was something that would tie to next summer and Joss Whedon'sAvengers movie with the notion that it would be a catch-all movie prop kind of exhibit. Let's be honest here, the thing of Innoventions in its current state is that it's a trade show and kind of a carryover from the [former Disney CEO Michael] Eisner era and [current Disney CEO Bob] Iger would like to do something different there and given that they spent this $4 billion on the Marvel characters, they'd like to get them in the park.

The problem is that it doesn't entirely fit the Tomorrowland theme, strictly the name Tony Stark Expo. They don't want to tie this to just one Marvel character; they want to do multiple Marvel characters. That's the whole point of the Avengers movie. There are more hard practical issues to deal with here: for example the whole spinning building thing. Innoventions has capacity concerns, it's a slow loader. Again, it's the whole notion of you're gonna have to spend money to re-theme the exterior of the building, to sell the Marvel idea. It's kind of problematic. The concern right now is that could they fast track it in time for the movie release next year? There's a bunch of people at Imagineering to the effect of, 'Look, if we started a year ago, we could make it.' You're only gonna have one chance to introduce the Marvel characters into the Disney parks and there's a lot of people who are like, 'We should do it right!' And just rushing something in as a replacement for Innoventions because everyone agrees it's kind of tired and that sort of thing.

Based on what I've been hearing - in fact this is one of those situations where it kind of aggravates the Imagineers - my understanding is that it's a deliberate leak. That it was sort of a trial balloon to see what the reaction is from the fan community so they can go forward and have additional meetings about this with the notion if that there's a strong enough response after Labor Day, the Pavilion would suddenly shut down for 8 to 10 months of very hurried construction and overhauling and then this would open in May when Avengers is coming out. I don't know. Again, don't want to be another Magic 8 ball that says, 'Check back later'.

It just seems like there is a couple of very passionate people within the company you know about how Iger feels about the Marvel characters. I mean, you only have to pick up the summer issue of D23 Magazine to see the big splash in there about Marvel. There's a company-wide initiate now to the effect of, 'We need to get these characters out there. These are ours. We need to get people excited about this.' So, it does make sense that they should be in the park, but the concern is that if you pick that one venue; this problematic venue that's load to load, that has limited capacity, that has two floors so how do you unify these floors and how do you give people the face time they want with the Marvel characters. You can understand why there are people who are really reluctant to hammer on the accelerator. Part of the thing is also if you think about it, Disneyland has just opened 'Star Tours [2.0]' which is on the same side of the park. The worry is that if you put another brand-new attraction into that area of the park that you're now going to create a logistical nightmare in that summer of 2012, how many of your guests are gonna walk into Disneyland  and immediately hang a right at the hub? That's a small tight side of the park."

The conversation then turned to how Disney World can't have Marvel characters because of the close proximity to Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure (which has Marvel Super Hero Island). Here is what they had to say:

"The interesting thing there is that there is supposedly a negotiation - very quietly through backchannels - that's going on with Universal. I'm not hearing that they've made much headway but that there is already a pre-established relationship with Universal actually on the back of the Oswald [The Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney's original creation before Mickey Mouse] deal that Disney and Universal were able to come to terms and make a swap to get the rights of that character. I will say this much, given Universal is spending as much money as they are on ["The Amazing Adventures of"] Spider-Man redo, that to me doesn't say that this is going change out anytime soon. I know they'd like to happen on Disney's side of the fence.

It's more a case of they're offering pretty much the same deal that Disney made for Paramount to the release rights of Iron Man 3[and The Avengers]. They wanted to offer preemptively a large pile of money with the understanding that [Universal] would then foreshorten the deal [they] have with Marvel Entertainment and agree to give up those characters in a theme park setting and which would then allow Disney to bring the Marvel characters... But as of right now, I will tell you from having talked with the guy who proposed it that you know there is an equally large idea about going in the Big Thunder Ranch area... If we're doing a Marvel meet-and-greet, at least initially, or a Marvel stunt show, let's pick an area where we can do [that]. This is kind of the pushback on the Tony Stark thing. What they're talking about is basically sort of an exhibit of the costumes and the sets from the movie and then the opportunity to meet-and-greet with the characters inside of the building. But it's kind of passive. I mean, these are the MARVEL characters, they're SUPERHEROES. Shouldn't it be something a bit more dramatic, a bit more exciting?

And so, one of the ideas being floated was a Marvel stunt show. In fact, the irony is that the area they're talking about doing the stunt show is the exact same area where the "Young Indiana Jones Stunt Show" was initially proposed for the Disney Decade back in 1991, right where Big Thunder Ranch. Again, now you have the problem of... if you drop the stunt show in there no matter how well you did it, it's a complete disconnect from anything that surrounds it. If you think about it, you come out of Fantasyland and you pass Big Thunder Ranch. There's a reason, for example, the Alamedas Slim character and the cows from Home on the Rangeand the Goofy's in his sheriff's outfit in that area. They're looking to transition you out of the Fantasyland character-driven environment. As you continue down Big Thunder Pass, you enter a more realistic take on the West. So Big Thunder Ranch is that kind of area where the cartoony West and the real take of the West can exist side by side. If, on the other hand, you drop a Marvel thing in there... I mean, yeah okay, the Marvel characters are comic book characters but they're not fantasy characters like say Snow White or Pinocchio. So it's kind of a jolting change from one set of characters to the other. And then to immediately go from Fantasyland to this Marvel thing to the Wild West, again, it's a bad transition.

One of the other areas they were looking at, very long-term I might add, is the old motorboat cruise area. Would it be possible to maybe do something Marvel-based there? That's also problematic given that you got Monorail pylons, a lot of the waterways for the park would have to be reconfigured...

To bring this full circle, I can confirm that they are in fact, looking at a Marvel thing for the parks. I can confirm that this [Stark Expo rumor] was deliberately leaked as a trial balloon and see if the fans would get excited to help the project along but beyond that it's one of three spots that they're looking for Marvel. It just depends now whether or not they decide that they really have to go fast and have something open day-and-date with Avengers next year or pick to choose a more graduated approach very slowly and carefully so we'll have to see what happens."

I am excited to see what happens with the theme parks and would love to see both Disneyland and Disney World get some Marvel love! What are your thoughts?

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