Disney's California Adventure. Let's take a deep dive into the new land.Marvel's superheroes have a new home on the west coast. Avengers Campus opens Friday at
Disney is not the first theme park to build a Marvel-themed land. Universal Orlando did that 21 years ago at Islands of Adventure. But while Universal's land matched its look to the comics, Disney has taken its cue from its Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet much like an MCU movie or TV show, Avengers Campus leaves us with some questions.
The Disneyland Resort created its first Marvel-themed ride when it redesigned its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. Disney now has designated Mission Breakout as part of Avengers Campus, which raises the question of what exactly our heroes might be doing about this ostentatious intrusion from intergalactic jackass Tanleer Tivan that is looming over their headquarters.
And what's going inside that Avengers headquarters anyway? Right now, visitors may find occasional stunt shows playing on the building's second-floor deck. But when now-Disney CEO Bob Chapek introduced Avengers Campus at the 2019 D23 Expo, he suggested that a phase two of Avengers Campus would include a Quinjet ride to Wakanda, based on an all-new ride system.
Disneyland, of course, opened a new IP-driven land without its biggest attraction in 2019 with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. And it fans stayed away all summer. With the pandemic scuttling plans across the industry, when might the headquarters building at Avengers Campus become something more than a facade?
But like an MCU flick, Avengers Campus delivers plenty of answers, too. For example, yes, you can design a superhero ride without a villain. Check out WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, which I review in a separate post.
Disney finally will serve fans that shawarma they have been demanding ever since the original Avengers movie came out. Check out our preview of the land's new food for that. And the creative team at Walt Disney Imagineering has loaded Avengers Campus with the Easter eggs that fans have come to expect.
Their backstory tells us that Avengers Campus is built on old Stark Industries property that Tony Stark has turned over to Peter Parker to develop the Worldwide Engineering Brigade. The WEB (Marvel loves acronyms, doesn't it?), is looking to recruit STEM talent to outfit and support the next generation of superheroes. But reminders of the site's past remain, include parking signs for Stark Industry's founder and his assistant.
But you don't need to look too far from those for a reminder of the nasty byproducts of some of Stark's work. Anyone got the number for the EPA? And maybe OSHA?
WEB students are painting over Stark Industries' sometimes sketchy past - literally, with this mural on the side of the WEB headquarters building.
At the land's media preview earlier this week, I spoke with Executive Creative Director Dan Fields about the many superhero character encounters that fans can expect in Avengers Campus. And a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man stopped by for a moment, too.
The WEB concept imbues Avengers Campus with an earnestness that further convinces me that Disney California Adventure really is the west coast version of Epcot that Disneyland's second gate initially was designed to be. Sure, there are all the food and culture festivals. But Avengers Campus shows us, in the most obvious instance yet, Disney wrestling with the modernist optimism that inspired Walt to envision an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
Howard Stark is the MCU's Walt Disney - if he was in the business of building weapons instead of theme parks. Perhaps because we have had a lot more Howard Starks in the world than Walt Disneys, the optimism that many people (well, white ones, at least) felt in the 1950s and 1960s has given way to a far more bleak outlook about our collective future.
The reusable merchandise bag that Disney is selling in Avengers Campus literally declares, "Science is Awesome." But how many Disneyland visitors really believe that anymore? Disney is rebuilding much of Epcot because its 1982 vision for Future World simply does not resonate with as many visitors today as superheroes and animated characters do.
I have written before about the opportunity that Disney has to use its cultural power to inspire people: Why America Needs Epcot... and Other 'Non-Fiction' Theme Parks. But to do that, Disney must grab visitors by the heart before it can begin to get into their heads.
Avengers Campus is not Stark Expo. It's not a bombastic display of power and technology - though WEB Slingers includes some pretty nifty motion sensor tech, if you care to look for and think about it. Avengers Campus looks like any one of countless tech-incubator gentrification projects you can find around the world. Its pro-STEM messages are easily overlooked by anyone coming to watch Black Widow beat the heck out of Taskmaster.
But those messages are here, for the children and the adults whose eyes and ears and minds might be open to them. Maybe science cannot literally help you sling webs from your wrists or stock an entire bar with a single can of beer. (Read that Avengers restaurant piece, below.) But science and engineering can do amazing things - maybe even enough give this dystopian, pandemic-wrecked world the great, big beautiful tomorrow that people like Walt Disney once believed it would enjoy.
Will it? Maybe that's the biggest question that Avengers Campus left me with.
Opening Ceremony: The Disneyland Resort hosted an opening ceremony for Avengers Campus tonight with in-person appearances by Paul Rudd, Jon Favreau and Anthony Mackie, plus video greetings from other MCU stars. Watch the replay here:
And if you were drinking every time someone said "Marvel" during the show... well, you'd still be totally sober. Thanks to that contract!
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