Why Is Disney Teasing Its Theme Park Fans?

September 12, 2022, 4:15 PM · Why did Disney Parks give us that "Blue Sky" segment during Josh D'Amaro's D23 Expo presentation yesterday?

Near the end of the presentation, Walt Disney Imagineering's Chris Beatty and Walt Disney Studios' Jennifer Lee joined D'Amaro on stage to tease several potential projects for Disney's Animal Kingdom and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The three talked about adding "Zootopia" and "Moana"-themed areas on the current site of Dinoland in Disney's Animal Kingdom, then suggested several potential themes for an expansion of the Magic Kingdom beyond Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, including "Coco," "Encanto" and a Villains land, which thrilled fans who long have wished for Disney to build a rumors Villains theme park as Walt Disney World's fifth gate.

D23 Expo concept art
Concept art for Moana and Zootopia at DAK.

But if you paid close attention to what the three were saying, it's clear that they did not announce anything, however. As they said at the beginning of the segment, this was all "blue sky" talk about what Imagineering, with its animation studios partners, could, or might, do in the parks.

So why the tease? Why not just announce what the company intends to do in these spaces?

More concept art
Concept art for the "beyond Big Thunder" proposals.

Before the presentation, another website publisher and I joked about what we thought would be this yeras "Mary Poppins" announcement. At the previous D23 Expo, Disney announced a Mary Poppins attraction for the United Kingdom pavilion that seems to have blown away like a tattered kite in a raging wind.

Many of us suspected at the time that the Mary Poppins announcement was little more than blue sky (in the tech world, the term would be "vaporware"), since no one had seen any substantial plans for the project and no one from Disney had put out any requests for proposals to contractors.

By explicitly labeling yesterday's D23 Expo Disney World ideas as blue sky, D'Amaro and company at least were being honest. Disney can walk away from any of these ideas at any time, and there should be no talk of Disney canceling or being "too cheap" to go ahead with them - they never actually existed as formally announced plans in the first place.

So why "announce" them at the Expo? Why not limit the Disney Parks presentation to projects that the company is committed to and has begun the process of developing?

Two reasons, and they are not exclusive. First, Disney executives might have thought that the presentation did not have enough surprises to "wow" the 7,000 dedicated Disney fans in attendance, plus the countless fans following along online and through news coverage of the event. Pretty much everything else that D'Amaro announced was known, with the Disney Parks chairman providing no substantial news yesterday about several of the major developments at the company's theme parks around the world.

And while we are mentioning omissions, where was the news about Disneyland's treehouse? Or a return date for Fantasmic! or opening date for the Toy Story BBQ restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios?

Adding the Blue Sky segment padded the show and gave fans some of their biggest "stand up and cheer" moments of the presentation. If Disney wanted to use the D23 Expo as a focus group test of its ideas, the Villains and Zootopia concepts crushed those tests.

Second, perhaps Disney wants to take more control of the rumors that will always surround its theme parks. Theme park fans always want to know what is coming next, and if Disney does not tell them, outside forces - from contractors to journalists to influencers to other fans with especially active imaginations - will step in to fill that information vacuum and create narratives for them.

By becoming the formal source for theme park development rumors, Disney can shape and direct fan expectations. The company also can better track fan reactions to its potential plans, helping the company to make better informed decisions about what will - or won't - hit with guests when introduced.

I do not know the specific motivation behind the decision to tease these concepts yesterday. But I do know - and Disney officials privately have confirmed - that there is no way that all five are going to happen. It could be one, or two, or none.

Replacing Dinoland at DAK is pretty straightforward, but having worked at Thunder and the Rivers of America at the Magic Kingdom, developing that as the entry to an expansion of Disney's most-visited theme park would be tricky, logistically. There's just not enough room back there unless Disney builds a bridge over the waterway that connects the Rivers of America with the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Ultimately, Disney can solve that problem by throwing money at it. But Disney's got going to throw money after solutions that won't deliver a return on its investment. Perhaps the fan reactions at the D23 Expo were the return on the investment of throwing out some rumors to see how they would fly.


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Replies (13)

September 12, 2022 at 4:32 PM

I agree. Why does Disney have to tease us. Just be honest and straightforward. Tell us what’s being developed, and what are the exact plans. Nobody wants to hear, “maybe Coco will come.” Or, “maybe Encanto will come.” Just be honest, and tell us the truth.

To be honest, I’d rather see the Villains land, as opposed to Coco, and Encanto. I feel the Villains land would be much more intriguing, and creative. To be honest, Coco and Encanto don’t interest me. A Villains land could make for some cool attractions. For example, imagine a ride dedicated to Jafar, and you ride on a magic carpet to try and stop him? Or, a ride dedicated to Cruella de Vil…and you have to stop her from stealing the Dalmatians? Or, a ride dedicated to Scar, from the Lion King? To me, these attractions would be more interesting than Coco and Encanto.

September 12, 2022 at 5:14 PM

I'll add a #3: to show they can compete with Epic Universe. I think it was pretty telling they showed these Blue Sky concepts for WDW only. It reminded me of the Disneyland forward concepts when trying to curry favor from Anaheim. This is similar, but instead of the city of Anaheim, DPEP is trying to stay in the good graces of the fans...and investors.

Now I'm not naïve enough to think many families or tourists will completely blow off a Disney trip for a Universal trip. But let's consider what the landscape will look like in 2025 for a family that tries to go on a Disney vacation every 5 years. Let's assume they were able to squeeze a trip in 2020 just before the pandemic hit. Nothing new will be in Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. Pandora will be 8 years old. MK & Epcot will have Remy, Guardians, Tron, & Tiana. Those will be the parks to hit. I could totally see this hypothetical family doing a combined HS/DAK day (to hit Flight of Passage & RotR) in favor of spending an extra day or two at the brand new theme park across the way, whereas normally maybe this family would do one Disney park per day and then do Universal or the other area attractions in their remaining days.

And I think this is exactly what Universal wants: not the completely dominate the Central FL market, but to entice guests to shave off a day or two (and maybe a night or two) at Disney in favor of them.

And unless Disney has something up their sleeve, this will be a hard proposition for many to pass up.

September 12, 2022 at 5:56 PM

@MyHandsDontScan: The scenario you describe could result in Universal cannibalizing attendance it is existing parks.

September 12, 2022 at 6:36 PM

"This analysis is terrible."

Mind your manners. You can disagree with an idea without being rude.

September 12, 2022 at 10:38 PM

The IP lands are out of control in this industry right now. I understand Disney wants to promote its own brands in all facets of their business, but I think it's but its a huge risk to make so many lands in so many parks based entirely off movies that are popular now. I think they run the risk in the future of the parks being stuck in the 2010s/2020s. I feel the same way about Universal's new park.

Also its a major turnoff (at least for me) that literally everything they have done for so long now has been all IP. If you're on a week long vacation at WDW do you really want literally everything you see to be Disney IP? It becomes redundant and annoying.

September 13, 2022 at 12:04 AM

The thing is, I vividly remember 30 years ago, Disney announced so many projects that never came to be, complete with years they were to open. Rides based on Muppet Movie, Dick Tracy, Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy, Mount Fiji coaster at Japan, the list goes on.

They've been burned before on ideas that never came around so no wonder they want to be more careful as who knows what happens in the future to shake it up. But the fact they are thinking of this stuff and planning some ideas is enough to entice.

Again, hardly the first time we've seen supposed blue sky stuff never happening at all but one thing about Disney is how some ideas have a funny way of coming to life, just not the way we expect so some of these may end up shining in a different way and excited to see how.

September 13, 2022 at 9:18 AM

As I noted on the previous article, I think Robert is partially correct in that Disney was using this segment as an informal public poll/trial balloon for potential concepts before WDI starts investing serious money into R&D on these concepts. However, I also think the Blue Sky presentation this year was a function of Disney not having a lot of meat to their parks presentation. Given the pandemic and disruption it has caused to the parks over the past 2 years, it has also created a gaping hole in the development pipeline. Disney simply doesn't have a lot of projects worthy of being presenting at an event like D23, and WDI is not ready to commit to other projects that are still 3-5 years away (hence the vagueness of the Avengers CAMPUS e-ticket announcement).

I do think Disney parks fans have been spoiled over the past few years as they have gone through a period of significant investment and expansion - probably well over $3 billion over the past 5-8 years just in the domestic parks. Given that level of investment, I think it's justified for them to take a breath before gearing back up for another period of expansion/renovation later this decade. I am a bit annoyed that projects publicly announced and in the pipeline have either been scrapped or otherwise put on indefinite hold and they're just not talking about those cancellations to not keep fans hanging.

September 13, 2022 at 9:12 AM

thecolonel, why the offense?
The retort was directed at the comment and not the person, per Robert’s instructions.
Is the flower too delicate?

September 13, 2022 at 10:17 PM

It shouldn’t be named D23 Expo, it should be named the D23 Con.
Disney conned all its adoring fans and loyalists into shelling out large sums of $$$ to be in Anaheim and hear in person Disney’s grand theme park plans and announcements about…nothing. It was a show about nothing (Seinfeld!). Maybe this IP should replace Dinoland USA.
Follow the dangled carrot poor donkeys.

September 13, 2022 at 11:20 AM

I'm with Russell- Disney is coming off a pretty aggressive 5 years of investment seeing 3 new lands opened in Orlando and 2 in Anaheim. They seem content to sit back and assess before announcing anything on the scale of Pandora, Galaxy's Edge, etc.

I do wonder if Galaxy's Edge has met their internal expectations of attendance increases and revenue per guest. That performance should influence what comes next, and the prevalence of "mini-lands" in the pipeline makes me suspect we won't see another major land expansion announced until after Epic Universe opens.

September 13, 2022 at 11:28 AM

I think there is enough demand out there that Epic Universe will both give Universal a major shot in the arm and also not really impact Disney's bottom line too much. The Disney/Universal fanboy debates on here and everywhere else are incredibly boring and not really relevant/correct either. (Though I will say Disney passing on adding a train stop on the new Brightline project because EU is getting one is deeply stupid)

I was, like just about everyone else, very underwhelmed by the D23 presentation, but I think this is just what Chapek Disney is. The board and the shareholders want him to increase profit margin as high as possible and that's what he's doing. I've mostly stopped going to Disney despite being an Orlando local, but enough people are still going (and by the way, they'd love it if more hardcores who don't spend money in the parks stopped going too!) that there's no pressure for them to continue to invest.

September 14, 2022 at 8:24 PM

Thinking about the relative lack of new ride announcements, I'm wondering if the new rides are still just in their preplanning stage while the focus is completing the projects that are past the development stage. Covid in 2020 took operations out entirely and when the parks resumed operations more fully in 2021, I feel the focus was more selecting projects that were able to be completed than planning new ones. Even in 2022 the announced expansions haven't been done yet and they still take up Disney's focus.

(Universal's Epic Universe was also planned and developed before covid)

September 18, 2022 at 10:55 AM

My guess, Robert, is that you hit the nail on the head about Disney using D23 as a focus group to gauge what would make most guests happy (though, let's face it; nothing Disney does or doesn't do will please everybody).

I would love to see a villains land (or park) but, as you said, logistically it would be difficult. And I would say that it would be a harsh transition from Frontierland to a villains land, but I thought the same about Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland (from both Frontierland and Critter Country), and Disney actually made it a pretty smooth transition.

I'm DEFINITELY not getting my hopes up for any of the blue sky stuff (and even actual announcements, like the Mary Poppins attraction get canceled). In my circles we like to say "it's just a rumor unless and until Disney confirms it" -- but sometimes it's just a rumor even after Disney says it's going to happen. Granted, they did lose a LOT of revenue with the park closures so while I'm disappointed that the Mary Poppins attraction isn't likely to happen, it's easier to take when I think about the position that Disney was in with the parks closed.

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