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.
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?Tweet
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