Disney Hatches Plans to Sneak Marvel Super Heroes into its Walt Disney World Parks

-From Theme Park Tourist..

Image: Disney / Marvel

Even before it was officially announced, we knew thatMarvel Land was coming to Disney California Adventure. And due to the contract in place with Universal Orlando Resort, we figured that pretty much all of the super-powered characters and places that will be a part of this eventual land would be exclusive to the west coast.

However, it looks like Disney is increasingly testing the boundaries of its contract with its Orlando neighbor in some very interesting ways that imply that Disney is looking to bring the world of Marvel to Walt Disney World in a much bigger way than we originally anticipated, which is especially surprising considering the meager origin of Marvel characters at Walt Disney World…

It all started with a limited time character appearance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Image: Ricky Brigante, Flickr (license)

Back in 2014, when Guardians of the Galaxy was still a brand-new hit, Disney quietly introduced a one-night only character experience that allowed guests to meet Star Lord (AKA Peter Quill) as well as Gamora during the (now cancelled) hard-ticketed Villains Unleashed event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Touted as a character “encounter” rather than a traditional meet and greet, these characters weren’t able to sign autographs or pose for pictures during this event, instead simply talking to guests and getting up on stage occasionally.

However, even though these characters only appeared once (and in a very limited capacity), this event marked the very first time that Marvel characters were seen inside a Walt Disney World theme park, and paved the way for pretty much everything that came next.

The merchandise creep

Image: Disney

Though Disney hasn’t hosted a Guardians of the Galaxy character experience since the aforementioned one night only event in 2014, in the aftermath of this successful event, merchandise from the various Marvel properties, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man and more started appearing around Walt Disney World, not only at Disney Springs (which got a new Super Hero-themed shop in 2015) but also inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, possibly in violation of the current Universal contract.

Though it was rare to see Marvel merchandise previously at Disney parks, now guests can grab apparel, toys, hats and more featuring characters like Captain America, Loki and more pretty much anywhere around the resort.

The strange appearance of Doctor Strange

 Image: Marvel

Continuing to test the limits of the Marvel licensing agreement with Universal Orlando Resort, Disney has recently announced that a 10 minute sneak-peek of Marvel’s new Doctor Strange film will begin on October 7, 2016 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the One Man’s Dream attraction, ahead of the movie’s November 4 opening in theaters.

In addition, Stitch Kingdom recently uncovered a casting notice that implies that a Doctor Strange character experience will be debuting sometime in the near future at Walt Disney World. While the call says this will be a “limited engagement” (and doesn’t specify a park), it does suggest that Disney will be trying out another character experience similar to the Star Lord and Gamora experience mentioned above. And while Doctor Strange isn’t technically a member of the Avengers, he did become a member of the New Avengers in the early 2000s, which again, could put Walt Disney World in breach of contract depending on how Universal defines the Avengers “family” referenced in the legal documentation drawn up in the late 1990s.

Guardians of the Galaxy is still on the horizon for Epcot

Image: Disney

This summer it was reported that Disney executives were considering a plan to gut the current Universe of Energy building in Future World and build a new attraction featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy (possibly an indoor roller coaster, according to some) in this space. While nothing has been confirmed quite yet, insiders are saying this plan is almost ready for the green light, and the recent presence of height balloons (which are commonly used to test sight lines throughout the park while plans for new attractions are being drawn up and finalized) seem to confirm this.

While we might be months (or perhaps even longer) away from an official announcement confirming a Guardians of the Galaxy ride for Epcot, we would be surprised if a closing date for Ellen’s Energy Adventure isn’t announced in the very near future as the park gets ready to move on what would be the resort’s very first Marvel-themed ride. But will this be the last?

Looking towards the future

Image: Disney 

Even with Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange being cleared for use inside Walt Disney World, would this pair of heroes be enough for Walt Disney World to truly capitalize on Marvel the way this blockbuster property deserves inside its theme parks? Without the ability to use the word “Marvel” inside its parks or in any advertising, it would be very difficult for Disney to brand and/or market any further attractions from the Marvel library. Furthermore, beyond the Guardians of the Galaxy (and apparently Doctor Strange as well), there really aren’t that many more super heroes that Walt Disney World can use inside their parks without a renegotiation with Universal, who still retains the exclusive rights to characters like Iron Man, The Hulk, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. While such a renegotiation is always possible, Universal has no real incentive to come to the table, which makes this a highly unlikely (though not technically impossible) situation for Disney.

Right now it seems like Walt Disney World is trying as hard as possible to get characters from the billion-dollar Marvel franchise into their parks, but without headlining characters, this effort seems like a bit of a half-measure. Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy are certainly popular in their own right, but these characters certainly don’t have Avengers-level popularity, and its hard not to feel like Disney is scraping the bottom of the barrel here to try and get whatever Marvel characters they legally can under the current arrangement into their east coast parks.

Image: Disney

How do you feel about Disney’s recent efforts to get Marvel characters into Walt Disney World? Do you think this is a good idea, or would you rather Disney focus their efforts on Disney California Adventure, which doesn’t have as many restrictions?

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Don Korta
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