Disney is bringing Marvel's 'Guardians of the Galaxy' to Disney World... wait, can it do that?
Published: June 9, 2014 at 2:27 PM
"Wait a minute," you say as a sharp-eyed Theme Park Insider. "I thought Disney didn't have the rights to use Marvel characters inside its Florida parks, since Universal Orlando owns the east-coast theme park rights to Marvel characters."
You are correct, but as with all things legal, the story lies in the details of the contract. So let's take a look at the Marvel/Universal deal, conveniently filed for all to read on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's website. Keep in mind that at the time of the deal, Universal's owner was MCA, Inc., so that's why it is listed as the other party in the contract.
Let's take a look at Section IV.B.1.a.1:
exclusivity shall be limited as follows:
i. East of The Mississippi - any other theme park is limited to using characters not currently being used by MCA at the time such other license is granted. [For purpose of this subsection and subsection iv, a character is “being used by MCA” if (x) it or another character of the same “family” (e.g., any member of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, THE AVENGERS or villains associated with a hero being used) is more than an incidental element of an attraction, is presented as a costumed character, or is more than an incidental element of the theming of a retail store or food facility; and, (y) in addition, if such character or another character from the same “family” is an element in any MCA marketing during the previous year. Any character who is only used as a costume character will not be considered to be “being used by MCA” unless it appears as more than an incidental element in MCA’s marketing.]
The TL;DR? As long as "Guardians of the Galaxy" and all of its characters do not include any character used at Universal Orlando, or any character in the same Marvel character family as any character used at Universal Orlando, Disney's okay to use them at Walt Disney World. But that doesn't mean Disney's completely clear. Skip to (iii), a few lines down:
permitted uses shall be limited to the use of specific Marvel characters and Marvel may not permit a licensee to use the name “Marvel” as part of the attraction name or marketing.
You'll notice that Disney's blog post announcing the preview never uses the word "Marvel." (It says, "From the studio that brought you “The Avengers”...") There's why.
Finally, the blog post mentioned that the preview will include special in-theater 4D effects at Disneyland, but there's no mention of such effects in the theater at DHS in Florida. Skip to IV.B.4.a.iii:
Within the ADI market of the city containing a Universal Theme Park (even to the extent such ADI exceeds a 60 mile radius) there shall not be a Marvel themed simulator ride.
That means no moving seats in the Orlando metro area.
Now, what's potentially interesting here is that the previous lines mentioned a Universal theme park with a Marvel land, but this section does not, mentioning only a "Universal theme park." Since there is a "Universal theme park" in the Los Angeles market (even though it doesn't have Marvel characters), might this section be eligible to be invoked to prohibit a Marvel "simulator" ride at Disneyland? I am not a lawyer, so, of course, I will defer to others' judgment here.
Anyway, theme park geeks are invited to read the whole contract and enjoy a better understanding of the Marvel/Universal theme park deal.