This year’s San Diego Comic Con had the distinction of being less controversial than the other two conventions that bracketed it on the calendar, but it wasn’t without its divisive moments. But between the movie trailers, television shows panels and cosplay contests, one thing that prompted a lot of debate was the announcement that the Tower of Terror in Disney California Adventure would be transformed into a ride based on Guardians of the Galaxy.
Let me start off by saying I have no real opinion on the changes to the Tower. Guardians is easily in my top two or three films from Marvel Studios, and the queue and ride details shown look amazing. That Joe Rohde made the announcement, which suggests he might play a part in the retheming, has to excite anyone who knows about Disney Imagineering. It’s a smart franchise to start the Marvel integration in a number of ways.
But I’m also a huge fan of The Twilight Zone. The original show was amazing, with some of the best story telling in the history of television. “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” remains one of my all time favorite episodes, though you can’t go wrong with almost anything. Even though I was young, I also enjoyed the revival in the 1980s. For my money, you can’t go wrong with theming an attraction after either of those.
No, I have no dog in this fight because you have a better chance of getting butterbeer in the Magic Kingdom than you do to get me on the Tower of Terror. While my last trip to Walt Disney World saw me getting a little adventurous with my ride choices, the Tower is right up there with Space Mountain and The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as rides that I doubt I’ll ever experience. I don’t need to know just how loud and at how high a pitch I can scream, thank you very much.
But while the Tower of Terror makeover has been rumored for a little while now, the announcement is a pretty major one for the Disney Parks, and it probably gives us a little insight into what the future might hold on both coasts. Here are five things I think we learned, or can at least speculate on, from that big announcement.
1. Imagineering isn’t resting on its laurels. With the recent opening of Shanghai Disneyland, the Star Wars expansions in both Disneyland and Hollywood Studios(as well as Toy Story Land), the upcoming Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom, Imagineering has had no shortage of major projects. With the recent opening of Frozen Ever After in Epcot and now Guardians of the Galaxy in California Adventure, it’s clear that Disney isn’t going to slow down updating its parks any time soon.
And it won’t stop there either. Height test balloons, which Imagineering uses to see how the sight lines of a new building will affect surrounding areas of the part, were seen recently near the Universe of Energy in Epcot. As I mentioned last week, rumors have swirled that the Energy Pavilion will give way to a new Guardians attraction on the east coast. While it’s not entirely clear if the contract with Universal will allow for that, it seems that Imagineering has plans to change up Future World, perhaps sooner rather than later. There have also been some unsubstantiated rumors popping up that the Tron Lightcycle attraction from Shanghai Disneyland might find a home in Future World1.
Either way, Disney seems to be taking the increase attendance at Universal Studios very seriously.
2.California Adventure might be seeing a lot more Marvel in the near future. Lost amid the outcry over the Tower of Terror retheming was Joe Rohde’s comment that the new Guardians attraction would be the “first in what is going to become a whole new universe in Disney California Adventure.” There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that, is there? It sounds like Marvel will be finding a new home in DCA.
There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered, primary among them where in the park this new Marvel area might take over. Hollywood Land feels like a natural choice, but that would include the popular Hyperion Theater. Could the remaining attractions in “a bug’s land” be removed or rethemed? I’ll admit I’m a loss here, since I’ve yet to set foot in DCA, so that might be a better question for people familiar with the park. But with the success of Cars Land and the increased presence of Star Wars, it only seems natural to find a place for the incredibly popular Marvel characters as well.
It’s also possible that, by putting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU versions of popular characters in Disneyland, it could put pressure on Universal with the east coast rights. Amid the garble of legalese that allows Disney to use any Marvel character they choose west of the Mississippi is that Disney doesn’t have to allow Universal the rights to use those same versions of the character.
If you’ve spent any time in Marvel Super Hero Island, you know that regardless of how great the attractions, theming and character interactions are, they’re hopelessly locked in the 90s version of Marvel, which predates the current movies. But there are some interpretations of the contract that suggest Universal can’t update the theming or even produce a new attraction without Disney’s approval. If Imagineering puts together some spectacular attractions in DCA, it could force Universal to make tough choices.
The bottom line is this: Lawyers ruin everything2.
3. Disney isn’t being shy about integrating new IPs into the parks. Disney released The Little Mermaid in 1989, which led off the animated film renaissance. Beauty and the Beast followed in 1991, and earned an Academy Award nomination. While the Voyage of the Little Mermaid live show debuted in Hollywood Studios in 1992, an actual dark ride for the film didn’t open until 2011. The Be Our Guest restaurant opened in 2012. Needless to say, that’s a bit of a gap.
Disney’s responded much faster in recent years, with Jack Sparrow’s addition to Pirates of the Caribbean and the additions of The Seas with Nemo and Friends and now Frozen Ever After in the Norway Pavilion in Epcot. It’s clear that Disney wants to satisfy fans who come to the parks looking for the newer characters and films, and isn’t afraid to either retheme underperforming attractions or build entirely new ones as needed.
While this hasn’t always been a popular strategy with a lot of fans, it’s essential with Universal Studios updating with newer IP like Harry Potter, Transformers and Despicable Me. This strategy might also help pinpoint what series might be coming to the parks in the near future. For example, with a recently announced sequel, it’s not unreasonable to think Imagineering might be tossing around ideas for a Wreck It Ralph attraction.
It’s also worth mentioned that, with the exception of Avatar, all of these properties are ones that Disney owns outright. It’s not surprising given the Marvel and Lucasfilm acquisitions, but it’s a move that keeps more profits in house. That might also explain the change from the Viacom owned Twilight Zone to Guardians in the DCA Tower of Terror.
4. There seems to be a renewed interest in creating different experienced in Disneyland and Disney World. This is a trend that started with the closure of the Country Bears Jamboree in Disneyland and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Walt Disney World, but the decision to change the west coast Tower of Terror into a different ride while keeping the Hollywood Studios version intact suggest this strategy might be in play again.
The strategy has a number of benefits, the most obvious being that it drives people close to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, including annual passholders, to visit the other parks, and encourages guests planning their vacation to consider both parks. Simply put, requiring guests to visit both resorts makes good business sense.
While I think certain rides are untouchable(it wouldn’t be an American Disney park without Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion or It’s a Small World, to name a few), I wouldn’t be shocked if rides that drew less attendance in one park compared to another became candidates for replacement.
Even if it doesn’t go to that extreme, we could still see slight changes. Think of the Nightmare Before Christmas layover on Haunted Mansion or Hyperspace Mountain. Even the two Trader Sam’s bars have different themes and unique cocktails. Down the line, could we see, for example, a return of Soarin’ Over California to DCA? Could there be differences in Star Tours in the two resorts? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on3.
5. New technology is probably on its way to the United States. If you’ve taken any time to watch ride through videos of attractions in the overseas Disney parks, you know they’ve done some amazing things in recent years. Not long ago I shared a few of those videos from Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the technology they’ve been showing off has been amazing. It stands to reason that, with their phenomenal success, those ride systems will be looked at for any future development at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
It feels inevitable that a trackless ride system will find its way into Walt Disney World in the not too distant future following its American debut with Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. Epcot might be a possible destination. As a big Journey into Imagination fan, I can’t tell you how much I’d love to see the tech integrated into a new ride in that pavilion. Could that be what’s headed for the spot where Universe of Energy currently stands? Or could it be something similar to Battle for the Sunken Treasure in Shanghai(which would be a fitting ride system for an all new Guardians attraction)?
Of course, the most exciting possibility is the unknown. With the remarkable innovations we’ve already seen, it’s possible that a new attraction in either resort would use technology we’re not even aware of yet. It’s hard to deny that Universal has changed the game with some of their recent ride systems, so the gauntlet’s been thrown down. Imagineering might well have something up their sleeves that will blow us all away. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what they have planned.
I know that, for die hard fans of the Tower of Terror who can’t make it to Walt Disney World, the decision to change the attraction is a bitter pill to swallow. However, there should be some solace in the fact that, like Maelstrom in Epcot before it, the transformation of the Tower will herald exciting new changes in both resorts. I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.
Not So Hidden Mickeys, AKA Footnotes
1 – This rumor does appear to be a “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. ” variety, so a whole canister of salt might be in order here. Still, I doubt Disney isn’t aware that people in the U.S. have shown a lot of interest in that attraction.
2 – The natural choice would be for Universal to forge another pact with Warner Bros and bring the DC heroes to the park. After all, Marvel Super Hero Island was originally going to be Gotham. However, Six Flags has an ironclad contract for those characters, which only goes to further support my point.
3 – My personal pick? I’d love to see one version of Pirates of the Caribbean go back to the original version of the attraction, and make Captain Jack and Barbossa exclusive to the other park. And I’m saying this as a big fan of the movies. Well, the first movie in particular. Just, whatever they do, keep Eddie Murphy out of the Haunted Mansion.