Is Thor going to Disney World? (*Updated)
Published: March 9, 2014 at 10:28 PM
Thor at Disneyland in California. Photo courtesy Disney
At Disney's Hollywood Studios. That's right. In Florida.
[*Update: Now others are saying that while the audition was posted for DHS, the actual location of the character would be on the cruise line, where Disney does have the rights to use Marvel characters. Potentially interesting discussion and analysis follows, regardless.]
If you've been following Theme Park Insider for awhile, you might remember that Universal Orlando holds a perpetual license to the Florida theme park rights for the Marvel characters it features at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Universal made this deal with Marvel years before Disney bought the comic book company, and Disney's coveted those theme park rights ever since making that deal.
The Universal Orlando deal is why Disney's "Avengerail" monorail skin promoting the Avengers movie could not run on the Epcot line at the Walt Disney World Resort. That graphic included characters for which Universal holds the exclusive regional theme park rights, so it couldn't be shown inside any non-Universal theme park in the area. Since the Epcot line of the Disney monorail goes into that park, the Avengers graphic had to stay on the Seven Seas Lagoon monorail lines, instead.
So why would Disney be posting an audition notice to bring Thor to Disney's Hollywood Studios?
Disney's already featured Thor in a meet-and-greet in the Innoventions pavilion at Disneyland (see photo above), where Disney's also been promoting other Marvel characters. Universal let its deal for the Southern California theme park rights to Marvel characters expire before Disney bought the company, so Disney's clear to use the Marvel characters in its parks in Anaheim.
Maybe the Florida notice is just a mistake. Or, if not, here's a theory. It's been well-established that Universal retains the theme park rights to the Marvel characters it has been featuring in Islands of Adventure. However, Universal cannot add additional Marvel characters to that land without permission from Marvel — which means permission from Disney, which, one can reasonably presume, is not forthcoming.
That leaves the Marvel characters not featured in Islands of Adventure, including Thor, in a bit of limbo. Does Universal's contract prohibit their inclusion in any other area theme park? Or can Disney go ahead and use those characters at Walt Disney World without infringing Universal's deal? We haven't heard a straight answer from sources inside both Disney and Universal about that.
Perhaps that question remains in dispute. If Disney wanted to push that issue, a character meet-and-greet would be the least costly way to do that. Let's play game theory and look at the possible outcomes.
If Disney brings Thor to Hollywood Studios and Universal does not object, Disney's presumably free to bring other non-Universal Marvel characters to Disney World. If Universal does object, and the matter ends up in court, Disney could be liable for a financial judgment in Universal's favor, but that would be the only expense. Disney wouldn't also lose the expenses of developing and building a theme park attraction. The cost of duping a Disneyland Thor costume and paying a few cast members in entertainment to portray him are next to nothing on Disney's bottom line. But if a judge or jury rules in Disney's favor, again, it's free and clear to start bringing those non-Universal Marvel characters to Disney World.
Maybe Disney's decided to take that risk. Maybe Disney and Universal have an understanding on which company owns which theme park rights. Or maybe the whole thing's a mistake that soon will disappear. But we've heard that the audition notice was posted. And that would suggest that things are about to become quite interesting regarding the Marvel characters in Florida theme parks.