A tale of bugs, spiders, and lawyers: What's up at Disney California Adventure?

March 21, 2018, 10:36 AM · Disney is about to do something it has done only a handful of times in its history. It's about to eliminate an entire land in one of its theme parks.

By my count, the elimination of "It's a Bug's Land" at Disney California Adventure will be only the fourth theme park land to close in Disney theme park history, following Mickey's Birthdayland (then Starland, Toontown Fair, etc.) at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Camp Minnie Mickey at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Streets of America at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

(Note that I am not counting Epcot's Horizons as an entire land, as that is part of Future World. But if you want to count Epcot pavilions as lands, make it five now.)

Disney has changed the names of other lands, starting with Bear County becoming Critter Country at Disneyland up through the impending split of California Adventure's Paradise Pier into Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens. But it's rare for Disney to bulldoze an entire land and start from scratch.

Mickey's Birthdayland, introduced for Mickey's 60th in 1988, was intended to be a temporary addition to the Magic Kingdom, but the park's ever-swelling attendance meant that the park couldn't afford to take a capacity hit by closing it permanently, so it remained in various forms until it was absorbed into the 2012 New Fantasyland expansion.

In the other three cases, the lands went away in favor of new lands themed to leading movie franchises: Campy Minnie Mickey for Pandora: The World of Avatar, Streets of America for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and now It's a Bug's Land for Marvel.

Except that Disney is carefully avoiding calling the new land that will go in next to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout as "Marvel." As long-time Theme Park Insider readers know, Marvel sold its theme park rights to Universal in 1994, 15 years before Disney bought the comic book studio. Just before the Disney purchase, Universal let its rights west of the Mississippi lapse by not developing a Marvel-themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood. (These were the years Before Harry Potter, when Universal and its theme parks were getting shopped around by the French water company that owned them at the time. Not good times for major investments.)

Universal continues to hold the rights in perpetuity in Orlando, where Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal's Islands of Adventure has been welcoming fans since 1999. But the contract only bars Disney from using characters already being used by Universal Orlando at Walt Disney World, which is why Disney can bring a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster to Epcot and hold Doctor Strange meet and greets at Hollywood Studios. And the lapse on the west coast cleared the way for Disneyland to bring all Marvel characters into the Disneyland Resort after Disney bought Marvel in 2009.

But the contract with Universal doesn't give Disney carte blanche to use the Marvel name in its U.S. theme parks. (See Section IV.B.1.a.1.iii of the contract.) So that's why Disney can promote upcoming "Marvel" lands at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, but only talk about the new "Super Hero" land at California Adventure.

Another point of interest — In Section IV.B.1.a.4.a.iii of the contract, which is contained within several sections detailing a proposed Marvel-themed retail concept, the contract states, "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." Whether that provision remains in effect outside the never-built "Marvel Action Universe" retail concept is up for lawyers to determine, but if it remains in force, Disneyland can't build any Marvel-themed simulator rides in the Los Angeles Area of Dominant Influence market, which would include Disneyland.

If you're interested, Marvel is off the table at Tokyo Disney, as well, due to Universal continuing to hold the Marvel theme park rights for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.

But all these restrictions leave plenty of development opportunities at the Disneyland Resort — much more than Disney enjoyed with a poorly-executed kiddie land based on one of Pixar's weakest franchises, A Bug's Life. That's why Disney is making this switch.

It's a Bug's Land might have the worst collection of ride experiences in a Disney theme park, including a long-time challenger for the worst Disney theme park ride ever (according to Theme Park Insider readers), Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies — a bumper car ride that's so slow the cars barely can nudge one another, much less actually "bump." Francis' Ladybug Boogie is a teacup-style ride where you can't manually control the spinning. The more lopsided the weight distribution in the "bug," the faster it spins. That's not good for kids who get frightened by the spinning and decide to cuddle close to Mom or Dad, which just makes the spinning worse.

Disney thought so much of It's Tough to Be a Bug that it frequently used the theater for previews of upcoming Disney movies, instead. Heimlich's Chew Chew Train offers what would be a great exterior first scene for an extended "Bug's Life" dark ride, but it just ends there. The best experience of the bunch might be Flik's Flyers, and that ride is widely tipped to be redecorated and rethemed for inclusion as the new Inside Out ride on the site of the old Maliboomer in Pixar Pier.

So what might Disney do with its Marvel franchises on this site? It's already promoting Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout as the anchor of the land, so don't expect anything as large or as ambitious as that attraction. But the key art that Disney released for the development prominently features Spider-Man, so it looks like Disney is committing to something featuring Spidey in California.

Spider-Man at Disneyland

And let us pause for a moment to note that Disney appears to be replacing the bugs with a spider. Nice.

A Disney Spider-Man attraction is going to just beg for comparisons among theme park fans with Universal Orlando's existing The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, which consistently rates as one of the world's best theme park attractions. Can Disney afford to bring anything else than its best with Spider-Man in California, to avoid looking second-rate in comparison with archrival Universal? Does Disney have the space in California to match or beat Universal's Spider-Man ride?

These are the arguments that keep theme park fans entertained for the many months while we await the opening of Disney California Adventure's new "Super Hero" land. Disney says that the land will "begin recruiting" in 2020. What are you hoping to see from it then?

Replies (25)

March 21, 2018 at 10:56 AM ·

Good work here, been tricky figuring out the legal issues and what can go where so thanks for making it clear. Very intriguing to think on as I've always wanted to see what the Disney team can do with things like Spider-Man and such and so much potential out there.

March 21, 2018 at 11:16 AM ·

So what becomes of Hollywoodland, now? That was widely speculated to be the future location of a Marvel-themed land, right?

March 21, 2018 at 12:02 PM ·

Great job and thanks for info! Technically, spiders are not bugs. In fact, they eat bugs! So this seems apropos. Ha

So it would seem that the SpiderMan attraction will not be a simulator. This leads credence to the rumor it'll be a titled track-based swing ride where riders sit on a bench that's fixed to the bottom of a swinging pendulum.

They have talked about putting a coaster in the area behind the Tower for years. At one time it was going to be a version of the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Since WDSP is converting their RnRC to Avengers theme its not inconceivable that they'll just clone that ride for DCA. As for Hollywood Land. I bet they are waiting to see how "Marvel Land" does before they make any final decision. There's a lot a space in Hollywood Land and who knows another IP might catch the public's fancy in the meantime. I also think the Eastern Gateway Project is still a possibility down the road and that would determine the land use too.

March 21, 2018 at 11:56 AM ·

I'm excited for "Super Hero" Land. Yes, Universal's "The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man" is still one of my favorite theme park rides. But I'm sure Disney has something creative up their sleeves. MarkSharp, that sounds amazing! A "titled track-based swing ride where riders sit on a bench that's fixed to the bottom of a swinging pendulum." I have no doubts that Disney will create an amazing Spider-Man attraction.

I wonder what The Avengers ride will be like? Again, I'm sure Disney has something up it's sleeves. "Super Hero" Land should be fun to explore. I'm surprised it was announced so early. All indications were pointing to the next D23 Expo in 2019, for an official announcement. I'm glad we found out sooner. It was time for "A Bug's Land" to go. Marvel makes much more sense as far as interest, and financially. I'm sure more attractions will be created down the road as well. Possibly Captain America, Iron Man, or maybe even Black Panther? Time will only tell...

March 21, 2018 at 12:29 PM ·

The artwork leads me to believe it will but an Avenger's attraction and not just a Spider-Man ride.

March 21, 2018 at 1:04 PM ·

I hope Hollywood Land stays in some fashion. Get rid of the backlot theme, and just make it an it an extension of Buena Vista Street. Turn Monsters Inc into a Muppet dark ride. Maybe even reuse the basic plot of Superstar Limo, but actually fun and entertaining. Build another dark ride where the drop off area if and when Disney can find a new place for it. Maybe about the early history Disney, kind of a combination of One Man’s Dream and the Great Movie Ride. There’s a lot of options, as long as Disney doesn’t decide Marvel should go there. The California theme had potiental, it was just executed very poorly.

March 21, 2018 at 1:10 PM ·

On a related note, it seems like Walt Disney World would be free to build an immersive Wakanda land.

March 21, 2018 at 1:21 PM ·

I think Disney's plan is to build an elaborate Marvel-meet-and-greet at DCA.

March 21, 2018 at 2:36 PM ·

@Randy, I don't think we'll get any muppet attractions at DCA, especially a dark ride. That IP is a tricky one. It does has some niche popularity attached to it, but it appears that (for the near foreseeable future) they won't have any sort of an attraction based presence in the parks.

Any new dark ride is far likelier to feature one of their more popular IPs ( I doubt we'll even see anything original there)

The California theme has largely been abandoned....I could honestly see Grizzly River Run being revamped into something different. If that rock bear peak could look like a little bit more like a "panther".......

March 21, 2018 at 3:00 PM ·

I think it says something for the quality of bugs land that most of the rides there couldn't be sold to a c-grade carnival. If never fisted the area until we took our kids there last year, and even they were underwhelmed.

March 21, 2018 at 3:02 PM ·

@Gabriel Wakanda seems like a slam dunk for WDW. Unfortunately the land just doesn't exist in World Showcase, but a hidden-entry deal somewhere in World Showcase similar to Diagon Alley at USF would seem to fit the bill for Wakanda. If they can't do it there...maybe in Rafiki's Planet Watch's spot at Animal Kingdom?

March 21, 2018 at 3:15 PM ·

If Wakanda gets done, it would definitely be at Animal Kingdom. It suits the vibe there so well (even though the WOrld Showcase could do with some more energy).

March 21, 2018 at 4:55 PM ·

Nobody's talking about a Wakanda Land except a few WDW fanboys. And besides the idea of Marvel at DAK seems very weird and highly unlikely.

March 21, 2018 at 6:23 PM ·

Yep Wakanda is just some fanboys dream. It is very unlikely to get its own land. Only huge, top grossing films get entire lands dedicated to them. EXCEPT... Black Panther is one of those films! Currently in the top 14 all time world wide. Additionally, the 13 films before it include: two Avengers, two Star Wars, one Harry Potter, one Fast & Furious, one Jurassic, Beauty and the Beast, Avatar, and Frozen. Avatar and Frozen have exactly ONE film each to date and both have lands either completed or in the works by Disney.

March 21, 2018 at 8:38 PM ·

Disney should just stop fooling around and the get the Marvel rights back.

March 21, 2018 at 9:09 PM ·

@MarkSharp — WDCo’s CEO has publicly spoken about incorporating Black Panther into Disney park’s WORLDWIDE.

WDI has already hinted an African pavilion featuring Black Panther is being discussed.

March 21, 2018 at 11:07 PM ·

@MarkSharp Avatar at DAK seemed weird and unlikely for a while there too.

March 22, 2018 at 6:16 AM ·

I wouldn't call a pavilion a land. But for those that do Wonders of Life may qualify.

March 22, 2018 at 7:26 AM ·

Easier said than done Disfan. Disney and Universal are direct competitors, and Universal just spent a bunch of money rebuilding Hulk. Disney would have to back up the Brinks truck to get Universal to relinquish their Marvel rights at IOA. Universal would be severely damaged losing those rights (would have to re-theme 2 e-Ticket attractions, an entire land, and meet and greets), so they're not about to give Disney those back without significant compensation (think hundreds of millions). Plus, Universal would not want to give Disney the advantage (or satisfaction) to be able to use the most popular Marvel characters at a competing theme park 15 minutes down the road.

This is a stand off that will probably never end. Disney seems perfectly happy working around the agreement (using GotG at EPCOT), and Universal seems fine working within its bounds (rebuilding Hulk identical to the original layout and only updating the projection systems and image resolution for Spiderman).

March 22, 2018 at 10:37 AM ·

I agree with Russell. It's a stand off that will likely never end, and why should it? Universal isn't giving up its Marvel rights.

And as far as Disney is concerned, they can use Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and Black Panther. Who'd ever have thought those characters would amount to anything? Heck, Marvel can create new characters, see what sticks, and if any of them take off, well, there ya go!

More than that, what good would it do Walt Disney World to have the rights to X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc? It's not like they're going to demolish Future World or Adventureland to make way for a new Hell's Kitchen Daredevil land.

Finally, I think Wakanda would fit in PERFECT with Animal Kingdom. Are you kidding? Imagine that taking the place of Dinoland USA. And from what I've seen, Wakanda is pretty lush and has a ton of natural beauty that would fit into Animal Kingdom - oh, and consider the premium-tier on-site hotel ideas that could come with this!

Animal Kingdom with Pandora, Wakanda, and the safari? Yes, please.

Don't think they're not considering it. Dinoland USA. 'Nuff said.

March 22, 2018 at 4:06 PM ·

What would it take for Disney to get the Marvel rights back...? Scoop up a few more big IPs then say "let's make a deal"? Sick amounts of cash 10/20 billion? Looking back, Harry Potter would have cemented Disney's position but part of me believes that if that happened, getting Marvel back would never happen. To me, it seems like Universal also has strict guidelines that they have to operate under to maintain their status with the rights. Maybe time and decline of attractions will drive Universal to the table...

March 22, 2018 at 7:55 PM ·

Can we stop a minute to give a round of applause to Robert Niles? The Universal/Marvel legal mess is impossible (in my opinion) to understand but Mr. Niles really has a handle on it. He explains it in a way that I can understand, which I have not seen anywhere else. I think this is the most confusing and frustrating situations in the theme park world, especially for fans since Universal seems frozen in what it can do with marvel and Disney is also blocked in many ways and that just means fans don't get anything from ether company. I wish disney and marvel would sit down and hammer out a permanent fix where Universal would give up Marvel and in return Disney would give them something else. Then fans would win.

March 22, 2018 at 8:36 PM ·

FWIW Disney World can't use Black Panther.

March 24, 2018 at 9:12 AM ·

@73.72.179.209 What does Disney have that Universal wants? I can't think of anything.

March 24, 2018 at 2:11 PM ·

@82.95.91.195

Comcast is DESPERATE for capes. Their studio head has expressed the desire NUMEROUS times in interviews.

Their theme park division has expressed a desire to grow BOTH MARVEL and the Simpsons lands, if given the chance. They’ve even filed patents to express their willingness to commit BILLIONS to do so.

Brian Roberts has expressed FRUSTRATION that after offering FOX 15% more than WDCo, FOX still chose Disney.

Brian Roberts has expressed, informally to this point, Comcast’s will EXCEED FOX’s current offer for 51% of SKY. FOX has stated, it will not respond to informal offers.

To gain further details on each fact, detailed above, query CNBC, a Comcast company.

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