Theme Park of the Day: Tokyo Disneyland

Marvel, Star Wars and the next steps for Disney's Tomorrowlands

October 8, 2013, 2:02 PM · Remember "The Marvel Experience"?

That was the traveling Marvel-themed attraction announced in August, which promoters said would feature exhibits, meet-and-greets, and a 3D motion-simulator ride starring Marvel superheroes.

Makes last night's news from Hong Kong Disneyland seem a bit like déjà vu, doesn't it? Yesterday, Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs announced that Disney would build "The Iron Man Experience" at the park, with Stark Expo exhibits including the Hall of Armor, an Iron Man meet-and-greet, and what sure sounds like a 3D motion-simulator ride.

No inside information here about a formal design or development connection between the projects, but they sure sound similar, don't they?

Is there any chance Disney and Marvel fans might see a "[Insert Marvel character here] Experience" at another Disney theme park? Staggs announced that the Hong Kong Iron Man ride will take place in that city, which initially might suggest that the ride will be a one-off for that park only. But Disney brought Soarin' Over California to Florida's Epcot, so a Hong Kong setting shouldn't by itself rule out a deployment to another park. So, which one? Look first to Paris' underdeveloped Walt Disney Studios, though by 2016 Shanghai Disneyland should be open, and no one would be surprised to see a Marvel attraction there, perhaps as a way to boost attendance a couple years after the Grand Opening, when attention begins to fade. Remember, Marvel's barred from Walt Disney World and the Tokyo Disney Resort, so the only other option at the moment is California's Disneyland.

Would Disney bring Marvel to Disneyland? Legally, there's nothing stopping it. But space constraints might. For now, the industry buzz has Disney focusing on Star Wars as the next big project in Anaheim, not Marvel.

MiceAge posted a report today detailing leaks from a Disneyland management meeting that previewed plans for a Star Wars overlay in the park's Tomorrowland. [Scroll down past the DAS stuff.] The plans are said to include moving the Astro Orbiter from the hub to the upper plaza in front of Space Mountain. The Millennium Falcon would be parked on the Astro Orbiter's old home atop the former PeopleMover loading station. Tomorrowland Terrace would become the Mos Eisley cantina. And the Innoventions building would become the loading station for a speeder bike ride that would consume the current Autopia track.

Space Mountain plaza
The future home of Disneyland's Astro Orbiter?

Will it happen? Until blueprints are distributed and contractors hired, all theme park plans are blue sky and subject to change. And Imagineers have been known to float ideas into the online fan community to gauge reaction. In addition to ride development, these plans would require rebuilding the current Captain EO theater building to support the Astro Orbiter ride above, gutting and rebuilding Innoventions, and creating a show building around Tomorrowland Terrace, in addition to possibly rerouting the monorail track. That's a lot of coin, even for Disney.

And here's another thought worth considering: Star Wars and Marvel each take Tomorrowland another step away from its original, idealistic vision of a community in the future, replacing it with yet another conflict-driven narrative. At their hearts, both Star Wars and Marvel are dystopian, portraying worlds in which "ordinary" people have no hope, save for the efforts of superheroes (or super-human Jedi) who might come to their rescue. Perhaps there's a dissertation in there, for a student of Disney and popular culture. In the 1950s, Disney's Tomorrowland reflected a society that felt empowered and hopeful about its ability to shape a better future. In the 2010s, the plans for Tomorrowland seem instead to suggest we're living in a time when we're not thinking optimistically about our future as much as we're simply hoping that someone will ride down from space or the sky to save us.

Replies (22)

October 8, 2013 at 2:11 PM · The Starwars concept sounds much better than Stark Tours 3. Iron Man deservers better.

Universal has set a new standard of what a motion simulator ride should be like (Transformers/Spider Man).

I except more of Disney and their Iron Man announcement was disappointing.

October 8, 2013 at 2:31 PM · Robert, I've never heard that Disney was barred from using Marvel in Tokyo. I thought it was only barred from using Marvel in Orlando (and anywhere in the US east of the Mississippi). Disney can use Marvel in California and I thought anywhere else in the world.

Have you ever written an article with the specifics of the legal agreements with Marvel as it applies to what Disney can and can't do? So many people get this info wrong and don't really know what is up.

It would be a huge public service if you ran a really detailed analysis of the Marvel deal with Disney and what all the implications are for every Disney park. Like, maybe you could break it down for each park and say what the deal allows for that park and what is prohibited specifically.

October 8, 2013 at 3:28 PM · Considering that Marvel isn't allowed in Orlando and the new Iron Man ride will be using the Star Tours ride technology, YAWN. I can think of a way to use the same concept in Orlando.

"Incredibles" in the old Food Pavilion in Epcot. Reuse the the Body Wars ride vehicles for an incredible new ride attraction based on the "Incredibles" characters!!!!

The Iron Man poster art reminds me of how easily they can use the red costumes from the Incredibles uniform and the spider robot from the movie. Which leads to the question, where's the Incredibles sequel?


>>"ordinary" people have no hope<<

I beg to differ in the sense that Star Wars Episode 4 is "A New Hope".

Whether or not it is about saving mankind with a superhero, Tomorrowland is about technology saving mankind from druggery. What's the difference? Iron Man uses technology to save society. Star Wars uses midi-chlorians.

October 8, 2013 at 3:07 PM · Annette, Robert actually did write quite a detailed post on the theme park rights to both Marvel and DC back in July, which you can check out here:
October 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM · The easy answer for Disney bringing Marvel or Star Wars into Tomorrowland is Marvel and Star Wars don't change, but the "future" is outdated before the paint dries. I remember going into Innoventions right after going to Comdex (in it's heyday) and Innoventions had the same thing that I just saw at Comdex for sale. Tomorrowland has changed more times (by a HUGE margin) than ANY other land in Disneyland and that gets expensive. By converting it to Marvel or Star Wars land, then they no longer have to update it every few years. That is why they did "Jules Verne's land" in Disneyland Paris.
I my opinion it makes more sense to go with Star Wars then Marvel, since that stays with the future theme, but takes it in a "fantasy" direction. Plus Marvel is so broad that you could put it almost anywhere, but Star Wars only makes sense in Tomorrowland.
October 8, 2013 at 4:03 PM · this country historically isn't deeply rooted theologically in the concept of somebody coming down from the sky to save us all. Only people who over think the meaning of concepts looking to stir the pot, will stop to make any such connections. The vast majority of everybody else will be concentrating on having the FUN that was intended to be had, taking pictures and snapping up merchandise. Build it all, and let all the morose scholars weep for their former haven of an idealistic future.
October 8, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Moving Orbiter good idea for better loading. Speeder ride good but would be limited to space available also an addition for tomorrowland could be a Wall- E dark ride
October 8, 2013 at 4:27 PM · Only one problem...We'd be taking away Walt's optimism for the future. Do we really want to remove that in favor for Marvel and Star Wars?
October 8, 2013 at 4:55 PM · Someone in comments above said something really thought provoking about the "future" changing before the paint dries on Tomorrowland. I think that is true in a sense, but I think a "Tomorrowland" could be built that would never be outdated (at least not for 50 or 100 years). If you really wanted to create a permanent Tomorrowland, have the rides all based on:

* taking a cruise to another planet...since we will not be able to do this in our lifetimes.

* time travel...have a ride where you jump back to several different time periods in the distant past and see the life forms there (could be a neat way to repurpose the current Nemo ride, and have prehistoric fish in there)...because time travel will not exist in our lifetimes

* shrinking...have a ride where you are shrunk and injected into a body, like the "Innerspace" movie....because shrinking will not happen in our lifetimes

* Have all of Tomorrowland be a big space port where ships are arriving and departing to different galactic destinations...and then theme all of the other rides to be like excursions/things to do while you are waiting for your flight to other planets. All the rides could have their facades themed like they are in the concourse of the space port, and that they are like the shops in our airports with interesting things to do, eat, or places to shop while you are waiting for your next space cruise

I personally don't like Buzz LightYear but even he would fit in this "space port" theme if his ride is presented as a toy for children in the future and this is a diversion based on that.

October 8, 2013 at 5:51 PM · Anything is better than the nothing thats been the norm for the last 10, 15, 20 plus years.
October 8, 2013 at 7:03 PM · I think replacing Walt's idea of "the hope for a peaceful, unified world" and turning it into a land of constant warfare is the worst idea possible. I know we're an inherently violent species, but we shouldn't celebrate that at Disneyland.

I really hope it was someone throwing MiceChat a red herring so they could get together around the water cooler and laugh at anyone who took it seriously.

If Disney goes through with it, they had better not call it "Tomorrowland" anymore, because it will have nothing to do with any of the hope for the future which the land was intended to convey.

October 8, 2013 at 7:28 PM · My understanding is that Universal's rights to use Marvel in the Japanese theme park market are time-limited, unlike the Orlando rights, which exist in perpetuity. So, eventually, Disney can bring Marvel to Tokyo. But, frankly, those parks are doing quite well without it right now.
October 8, 2013 at 8:44 PM · I'm all in for Annette's idea for a rebooted Tomorrow Land. I've also thought the same thing, that going very far into the future tech would be the best way to keep the tech feeling cutting edge. Riding the fine line of science fact and fiction really is the way to go, and I've always been a fan of a futuristic space port theme. Most of these ideas have already existed in one form or another however. Space travel, miniaturization, time travel and teleportation have all been explored in ride attractions before. That's not to say that fresh ideas based off of these topics couldn't provide compelling, immersive, story driven attractions for a whole new generation.
October 8, 2013 at 11:45 PM · Yeah, i agree. Disney should stay away from showing us as the violent lifeform that we are. It's not like they have showed things like Pirates battling with swords, burning down towns in drunken binges, fired off cannons or guns, ghost hanging from nooses, animals being shot at, natives raising their spears to you, or a settlers cabin set on fire by indians. Disneyland is a pretty violent place when you stack up everything together!
October 9, 2013 at 1:36 AM · "And here's another thought worth considering: Star Wars and Marvel each take Tomorrowland another step away from its original, idealistic vision of a community in the future, replacing it with yet another conflict-driven narrative."

Really? Don't you think you're reaching?
No one seems to have a problem with the Star Tours ride.

By necessity, the vision for Tomorrowland has had to change. There is nothing wrong with combining science fantasy and science fact.

As long as the good guys always win (that is optimist) what is the problem?

October 9, 2013 at 10:33 AM · A few concerns... I hope they don't turn Space Mountain into a Star Wars attraction. It's fine without it, and would be like changing Big Thunder into a Lone Ranger themed attraction if that movie was a blockbuster. Now I'm not one to say that attractions should stay the way they are, but having non-movie based attractions is a good thing as well as having movie based ones. If they have to do something, then add subtle things like in Soarin (even though I despise Planes and what it stands for -- $$$ w/o creativity)

Hopefully the Speeder Bikes don't become the next Rocket Rods, Indiana Jones, or Expedition Everest where the track is engineered wrong like RR or constant break-downs occur like Indy, or maintenance is near impossible like in EE.

Exciting news, and I hope they become real!

October 9, 2013 at 11:17 AM · I think its a great idea to replace autopia. Ideally I would suggest recreating the attraction in carsland where it'd be a perfect fit! I say replace Luigi's tires and they could also utilize the backstage area behind tower of terror and bugs land if they need it. You could further explore the great landscape of radiator springs. Autopia would be more popular than ever and be a great draw to lessen the wait time for radiator springs racers!
October 9, 2013 at 2:11 PM · This might concern me more if Innoventions wasn't such a dead zone. Is it really worse to have a cool ride (I hope) centered around the Star Wars universe? Removing Captain EO (which I admit that I enjoy) also isn't a huge change in tone. The Autopia doesn't really scream the future either. While I'm not ready to book my tickets to California based on this rumor, it's still a step forward in each example. Plus, Star Tours is already in Tomorrowland, so it isn't like there isn't a precedent.

The bigger hurdle to overcome is Tomorrowland at WDW. That one has been taken over by Pixar in three spots and has no connection between the attractions. Disneyland's TL is a few changes away from being amazing again.

October 9, 2013 at 2:40 PM · A Star Tours ride is one thing, but to completely make Tomorrowland Star Wars is a bad, bad idea. This is coming from the biggest Star Wars nerd on the planet. Want proof? 3263827. That is the door number on the trash compactor. I got more where that came from. Bring on a new Star Wars land or even an entire theme park. I will be there opening day, but to completely rebrand Tomorrowland entirely is terrible. I agree that Tomorrowland should be about the hope for the future and the comments from the other posters. I like the upbeat retro-sci-fi elements that would be gone. Further, people have grown to love this area, and not all of them are Star Wars fans. How about gutting New Orleans square for a permanent Christmas Land? The Haunted Mansion would always be the Nightmare before Christmas and we can replace all the pirates on POTC with elves and Santa Clause. Disneyland is a national treasure, and while modifying and updating rides and areas is one thing, but a Star Wars overlay is akin to the total removal of an entire area. Bad idea. A whole park dedication to nothing but Star Wars? That is an invitation to print money.
October 9, 2013 at 6:07 PM · The current Tomorrowland and Epcot remind me of the Venture Brothers plot. A loser son is living off his Dad's inventions from the space age and fails with his inventions because he is stuck in the past. His inventions are stupid like the Rocket Rods or new imagination ride and create some great epic fails.
October 9, 2013 at 11:18 PM · Do not want. I tend to be a purist and Tomorrowland, even in its most dated forms, still has a charm I love. Some of the ideas already mentioned of bringing in far future concepts seem great. (Of course, if DL had the room for it, a Horizons on the West Coast could spur EPCOT Center--branding intended--enthusiasts to make the trek while staying true to theme.). But it feels like this, much like Epcot's The Seas/Nemo, is taking the chintzy cheater's way out. There are ways to freshen up attractions that don't include every single one of them having a movie tie-in.

If anything, boost DCA attendance and lose some of the more generic bits there for retheming. Classic Disneyland will always have a devoted following. Don't reskin Tomorrowland.

October 11, 2013 at 6:52 AM · I love Star Wars. However, I am not a fanatic so forgive me, but didn't the story take place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..?" I don't see what that has to do with Tomorrowland. Just because there are spaceships and aliens and light sabers, doesn't make it futuristic.

Then again, I'm still trying to figure out why I board a hang glider from an airport terminal to go Soarin' over present-day California in Future World in EPCOT...

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