Play the music and light the lights. The emergence of more Marvel and Muppets in the Disney theme parks is enough to make the future look very bright! Disney must balance so many properties these days that there is only enough slots during the yearly theatrical schedule to place movies. A few are reserved for “Disney proper,” whereas others must account for Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar.
Likewise, many of the Disney theme parks’ newest offerings are not “originals,” but rather come from preexisting brands. Two Disney brands gaining more exposure in the parks come from arenas that have been relatively absent in Disney parks: Marvel and the Muppets.
First on the docket is the news that shook Comic-Con last month. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first full-fledged Marvel movie to have its own attraction in a domestic Disney theme park. The brief Superhero HQ exhibit/character meet-and-greet in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland does not really count in my book, though it was at least a first step. As opposed to Disney spending tens of millions of dollars constructing a new attraction, the company has opted to repurpose Disney California Adventure’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into a Guardians-themed ride.
The reaction has been mixed. Disney purists may feel this is disloyal. Some Marvel fans have expressed disappointment that it’s not truly a new ride. Even so, this is happening. Very soon. The rebranded attraction, to debut in Summer 2017, will take place in The Collector’s museum, involving a chase to help the main characters escape from his fortress. Music will play a central role in the new attraction, as in the film, and a random sequence of drops will also account for a varied ride experience each time. Joe Rhode shares more about the attraction in this reveal video from the Marvel Entertainment YouTube channel:
Across the globe, Hong Kong Disneyland will see the opening of the Iron Man Experience simulator attraction in the coming months. In the works for several years, this first Disney Marvel attraction will feature some of the same technology as Star Tours, but with a modern superhero twist. Odds are that Disney is already thinking of bringing this to California Adventure, especially should the Guardians overhaul receive a positive response. Hollywoodland in the park could convert over to a Marvel space, as has been long suspected, in the coming years. You be the judge if that makeover would bring about positive change. There is truly no other appropriate space at the Disneyland Resort to integrate Marvel, so the development of a new land – or reinvented land – makes the most sense.
The video below from the Inside The Magic YouTube channel shows a preview of what the ride footage from Iron Man Experience will be like:
On the other hand, one Disney brand that has been struggling in one way or another for years is The Muppets. While the 2011 film appeared to regenerate the classic set of characters, the 2014 sequel, despite adoration by many viewers, including me, took a downturn in box office earnings. Then the 2015 television series on ABC experienced a ratings pendulum. It launched with a strong nine million viewers and bowed out with just under one-third that number a mere five months later. Some took umbrage with it lacking the heart of Jim Henson’s original creations, whereas others may not have found it funny. I thought it was genius. Alas, the low ratings prompted ABC to cancel the show after one season. Hope exists for the Muppets, though. Disney thankfully has yet to quit on them, constantly experimenting with them.
In the theme parks, since 1991 the Muppet*Vision 3D attraction has played at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. Despite a ginormous overhaul of the park, Muppet*Vision 3D will stay intact for the foreseeable future. You see, the nearby Toy Story Pizza Planet restaurant closed last year, and rumors persisted that it would be reinvented into a Muppets-themed dining establishment, as had been planned for that space since the early 1990s. In Disney’s universe, every mouse – or rat – has its day. Debuting this fall is PizzeRizzo. Gonzo’s best rodent buddy will take ownership of the venue in what is sure to be a must-eat spot. The area of the park was recently renamed “Muppets Courtyard,” thus ensuring that the Muppets are not disappearing from Disney’s Hollywood Studios anytime soon. How encouraging, especially since the Muppet*Vision 3D attraction has all but disappeared from Disney California Adventure Park, where the theater is now often used to screen sneak previews of forthcoming Disney films.
Meanwhile, if PizzeRizzo was not enough fantastic Muppets news, Disney announced that a new live show featuring Kermit, Miss Piggy, and friends will take the stage in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom of all places. “The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History” will feature reenactments of famous situations. How the show will take form is anyone’s guess. Is this a short-term show in light of the November presidential election? Hopefully not. Nearly a decade ago we saw the brief appearance of the Muppet Mobile Lab, a roaming robot with live interaction with Epcot park guests. How cool to chat with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker! It was a major innovation for Disney Imagineering, but the experience was sadly short-lived. Rumors even persist that Epcot will see the return of the Muppet Mobile Lab.
Catch a clip of the previous Muppet Mobile Lab in this video below from the Attractions Magazine YouTube channel:
Will the emergence of these two new Muppets offerings signal an even heightened presence of these characters in the parks? Albeit doubtful, at the very least it demonstrates that Disney has all intentions of keeping the Muppets alive and familiar to younger audiences. These small efforts, in the form of a restaurant and show, if well-received, could very well lead to a new film in Muppet*Vision 3D. That would not prove too cost-prohibitive, considering the setting is already present. For a movie that has been running for 25 years, a fresh update would be most welcoming.
These new efforts involving the Marvel and Muppets is truly only the beginning. The prospects are as encouraging as they are limitless, and with Disney Imagineers constantly aiming to one-up their own game, the quality of these experiences will keep guests coming back for more.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.