Recapping the Biggest Disney Rumors for May 2019
The Disney theme park rumor mill is in full motion. Three different theme park attractions have been discussed behind closed doors. At least two of them are Marvel-based, while a third…could be? I know that’s confusing, but it’s that kind of month for Disney rumors. Let’s get you brought up to speed.
Spider-Man Is Coming to Disney California Adventure
Something that amuses me about Disney rumors these days is that even company executives can’t keep up with what’s been leaked and what hasn’t. With literally hundreds of cast members in the know about attractions coming to Disney theme parks, secrets are going to get out. Disney’s CEO, Robert Iger, acknowledged as much during a recent interview.
Iger wasn’t sure whether his company had confirmed something or not. Instead, he redirected the conversation, suggesting that people should do Google searches for additional information. The ride Iger referenced is one that may be (is?) coming to Disney California Adventure. Given the way that he presented the information, it’s safe to say that Imagineers have taken a long look at this one and are in the advanced stages of greenlighting it.
The ride in question is…Spider-Man! Yes, that’s a huge deal for several reasons. Disney doesn’t have the rights to its own Marvel characters east of the Mississippi. They’ve skirted this matter thus far by presenting Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! at Disney California Adventure (DCA), and they have plans for others.
The one thing that Disney has yet to do is build an attraction around a character that Universal Studios has licensed. No matter what you think of Universal Orlando Resort, there’s no denying that they created one of the greatest dark rides ever. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man won a Golden Ticket Award in this category for 12 straight years! The industry’s leading honor is rarely dominated so completely by a single attraction.
Disney isn’t letting the popularity (and excellence) of a competing Spider-Man ride deter them from building one of their own. The company had previously revealed a new interactive experience that they’re calling WEB, which stands for Worldwide Engineering Brigade. It’s a place where Marvel characters will interact with park guests. Spider-Man is confirmed for this encounter, but the Spider-Man attraction is apparently something else, something better.
A tweet from OutsidEars displays the blueprints for something with the codename of Slingshot. This ride will appear first at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris, the least popular of all Disney theme parks. It’s understandable why Disney officials want to give Walt Disney Studios Park such an exciting new attraction. However, rumors persist that DCA will get a nearly identical version of the ride soon afterward. And this rumor bleeds into the next one…
A New Marvel Ride at Hollywood Studios?
One rumor ties into another this month. As Disney trivia buffs know, July 29th marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Last year, rumors flew about the future of the attraction due to its loss of its sponsor. Hanes had paid to attach its name to the ride from 2008 to 2018 but chose not to renew the deal.
Since that happened, speculation has centered on a huge change to this attraction. Aerosmith’s contract is rumored to last 20 years, which may mean that you’ve heard Love in an Elevator at 57 miles per hour and 5 G’s for the last time. Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler famously loves this roller coaster and rides it regularly. So, rumors of its demise may be exaggerated. A contract extension wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
What we do know is that the same thing has happened at Disneyland Paris. At that park, Aerosmith is out while Iron Man and the Avengers are in. A cheeky Wikipedia update points out that Disney theoretically cannot do the same thing at Hollywood Studios. It links to the agreement between Universal and Marvel posted at the SEC.
This contract seems ironclad. However, nothing stops the two parties from coming to a new agreement. To a larger point, a reporter at Attractions Magazine visited Walt Disney Imagineering. One of the cast members there told the author about the upcoming expiration of the Aerosmith agreement.
Change is likely coming to your favorite Hollywood Studios roller coaster. The question is how much Disney is willing to change the ride…and how much they’re willing to push the boundaries of a seemingly inflexible agreement between Marvel and Universal Studios. Not for nothing, Disney did recently hammer out a deal with Comcast, the owners of NBCUniversal (and Universal Studios) involving Hulu. Who knows what else could have been a part of that agreement?
Then again, there’s a genuinely odd yet exciting variation of this rumor. Rather than repurpose Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster into a Marvel attraction, some people speculate that Disney could add a modified version of Radiator Springs Racers here. This idea seems absolutely insane to me…or at least it did right up until Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy opened right beside the roller coaster building.
The Everchanging Dark Ride?
Some rumors are so far out there that I’m not even sure how to approach discussions about them. And this one definitely qualifies. Over the years, Disney’s run into an issue that they just can’t beat. Time is their invincible foe, as some park attractions get dated and can never quite recover.
As an extreme example, consider that Disney once had a ride called Flight to the Moon. It opened in 1967, a modification of a prior ride. This attraction speculated how we could conquer space travel and reach the Moon. That ride was still in operation in 1975, several years after Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. You can imagine how ridiculous that ride seemed by that point.
Longtime Disney fans will have no problem thinking of rides that looked dated. To me, Innoventions became a heartbreaking place to visit by the end. Cynics have derided Future World and Tomorrowland for their seemingly inaccurate names. What could Disney do about this problem? Nobody can beat Father Time, right? Well…
Imagineers have come up with a plan for what they’re calling a Black Box attraction. It’s something that could look one way on a particular day and then get swapped out for something else quickly and easily. It sounds impossible, right?
I mean, you can’t very well turn Space Mountain into a Toy Story ride overnight. The ride building is massive, and the changes required would take a couple of years. It’s the reason why most Disney changes take a significant amount of time. Imagineers didn’t construct attractions for a quick turnaround. To the contrary, they’re intended to be static and sturdy.
Of course, you may have thought of an exception. Disney’s theme park theaters have seamlessly switched between Pixar shorts. They’ve also shown highlights or small snippets of upcoming Disney releases. The transition is easy since it’s just digital film. It’s nowhere near the same as repurposing an attraction building on the fly. At least, it didn’t used to be the case.
Technology has changed the calculus on this subject. Advances in digital technology have already improved presentations like Happily Ever After, allowing Disney to project snippets of recent film releases into the show. Now, they’re attempting a different take on this sort of digital display.
The idea of the Black Box attraction is that Disney could create something based on intellectual property (IP). Once that attraction had run its course, they could move along to the next thing. The upshot of such a concept is easy to grasp.
In 2019 alone, Disney could have started with a Black Box version of Captain Marvel followed by Avengers: Endgame. Right now, they’d have Aladdin entertaining guests, but it wouldn’t last long. Toy Story 4 is right around the corner. Later, they’d alter the attraction to hype The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Frozen 2.
Upcoming IPs aren’t even the only approach Imagineers could take. They could theoretically recreate favorite Disney rides from the past that are no longer in operation like Maelstrom or The Great Movie Ride. The potential here is limitless. The question is whether technology can match Disney’s ambition.
Two versions of this rumor are out there right now. One suggests that Disney is working on a Black Box ride. It would have digital displays covering the walls. Nobody’s quite sure whether the tracks would be adjustable as well, which is why this premise seems shakier.
The more plausible rumor is that the Black Box concept isn’t a ride inasmuch as a theater attraction. Guests would enter an enclosed area and see a series of monitors akin to Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. Then, they would sit down in what is probably a kind of motion simulation seat like Star Tours.
Such technology is already available. In fact, I tried it for the first time this week. Regal Cinemas has 4DX theaters with chairs that shake in combination with the action. You will never appreciate just how often John Wick fires his gun until your chair shakes every time it happens. But I digress.
The point is that a commercial version of this premise is already available in certain markets. And I’ll add that I’m seeing Aladdin this way this weekend; it’s already Disney-ready! Imagineers would modify the concept to fit the voracious appetites of theme park fans. It would allow them to show off some IPs that haven’t had a park presence, either.
Think about the Hannah Montana or High School Musical crazes a decade ago. More recently, The Descendants were huge sellers at Disney Stores everywhere. None of these properties ever got an actual attraction, though. Kim Possible and Phineas and Ferb only had that Epcot game. These five IPs were massive for Disney, and a Black Box attraction of any of them would have proven popular.
This aspect is the final piece of the puzzle for Disney. Something that they love about the quick turnaround of the Black Box premise is that they can add urgency to a park visit. You may not be in a hurry to head to Walt Disney World right now since Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is still a few months away. Would your opinion change if an Avengers: Endgame attraction were available for a limited time?
To marketers, “limited time only” is the magic phrase that pushes customers to act. A permanent Black Box attraction would push that need for swift action all the time. Plus, Disney would have a new merchandising opportunity with every change of attraction IPs.
The idea makes so much sense that it’s a slam dunk as long as Disney can do it. I believe that they can, and I’m led to believe that they’ve picked an eventual location for this attraction. Some of the comments that park officials have made about Epcot’s Play Pavilion line up with what a Black Box theater could do. I expect this rumor to be confirmed quickly, possibly as soon as at D-23.