What the D23 Expo meant for the future of Disneyland

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The landscape of American theme parks has changed dramatically over the past decade. An era of licensing and brand acquisitions, ushered in more than a decade ago when Universal first created a “Harry Potter” themed lot in its Florida park, has transformed our vacation destinations into places filled with large-scale cinematic enclaves.

This weekend, Disney’s biannual fan convention, the D23 Expo — a sort of state of the union for all things Disney-branded — previewed some changes that could define the decade to come. , including even more movie brands. Executives provided updates on Disney California Adventure’s Avengers Campus as well as upcoming “Frozen” themed areas at three of Disney’s international resorts. The transformation of a Disney California Adventure food court into “Big Hero 6” was also unveiled, and new details were provided on a redesign of Disneyland’s popular Splash Mountain into a “Princess and the Princess” attraction. frog “.

Expo D23 also introduced a new term to the theme park lexicon: “thought starters”.

Josh D’Amaro, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, dropped by from past D23 Expos to showcase potential projects in early development. No promises were made, but early concept art showed how parts of Florida’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom might one day be reimagined. Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s division responsible for designing theme parks, revealed that it plans to add animated films such as “Zootopia” and “Moana” to Animal Kingdom, as well as bringing “Encanto”, “Coco” and a Disney Villains Zone at the Magic Kingdom.

Maybe.

“I can’t wait to talk more about these ideas and start locking down some of them,” D’Amaro said, indicating that nothing has been approved yet. Although meant to inspire optimism among fans, it also scored a cautious note for Expo. This year’s fan event often looked inward as it celebrated anniversaries — Walt Disney Imagineering’s 70th, “The Muppets Christmas Carol’s” 30th — and set a nostalgic tone even in anticipation of the celebrating the company’s centennial in 2023. As far as theme parks go, D’Amaro has spoken openly about the COVID-19 pandemic having changed, postponed or altered plans.

For three days at the Anaheim Convention Center, Disney’s legacy and near future were two focal points.

“We don’t yet know where some of these concepts may take us,” D’Amaro said of the theme park lands. “Because there are absolutely no boundaries when dreaming of a great future like this. We’ve been like a train rolling down the tracks for more than six decades since Disneyland Park opened. Then COVID stopped that train. But it also allowed us to spend some time tinkering, and it was a rare opportunity to stop and think about where we wanted to go.

Still, the company’s first theme park will undergo significant changes over the next two years, projects that will add an attraction – Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, already open at Walt Disney World, will launch early this year. next in a remodeled Toontown – as well as increasing the diversity of the park’s offerings. A theme park pavilion on the D23 Expo floor has addressed this latest initiative: details have been revealed for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which replaces Splash Mountain, a ride whose imagery is rooted in the dated and racist 1946 film ” Song of the South”.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be set following the events of ‘The Princess and the Frog’, with the film’s lead role, Princess Tiana, now a popular entrepreneur, taking guests on a journey across the bayou to find a missing ingredient needed to start a Mardi Gras-level party. In the process, Splash Mountain will be reworked to evoke multiple Louisiana locations. The focus will be on making guests fall in love with the city of New Orleans.

Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure Park will be reimagined as San Fransokyo from “Big Hero 6.”

(Walt Disney Imagineering)

More important for the park, however, is that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will yield a favorite guest attraction to the company’s first black princess. It’s a significant development for Disneyland, says Carmen Smith of Imagineering, one of the designers overseeing the ride.

“As we look at who’s in our parks,” Smith says, the question the company is asking is “how do we make sure we’re telling stories where if you’re a little girl who happens to be of African descent , or Native, Latino or Asian”, you can see yourself in any of the Disneyland attractions.

She adds: “I think he’s a character that so many young girls – and boys – feel like they can relate to. This is an opportunity to expand our reach and show that all stories matter – everyone’s stories matter. I see this as the beginning of other stories that we will tell that represent the world in which we live. It’s so important.

Longtime Splash Mountain fans shouldn’t worry. The ride will still feature a large chute that will soak guests, and Imagineering promises there will be 16 reimagined creatures for guests to encounter. Only one was featured at D23 Expo: an otter that fashioned a musical instrument out of found objects like typewriter keys and fishing line. Concept art also hinted that the ride would have a somewhat magical and otherworldly feel, as parts glowed purple and wildlife in the water had a glowing pink luminescence.

The biggest Disneyland-related surprise was revealed early on at Expo D23, when company chief executive Bob Chapek announced Friday that a ride featuring the Avengers would indeed be heading to Disney California Adventure’s Avengers campus. . A project was originally announced in 2019, but put on hold due to the pandemic. Few details were revealed on Sunday, but the addition to the park appears to have been significantly changed from what was originally billed as a trip to Wakanda. The ride will now focus on connecting guests with an assortment of characters from across the Marvel Multiverse.

D’Amaro said a third attraction for the land, which currently houses Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!, is still planned. Imagineering, however, “went back to the drawing board,” he said, when Marvel announced plans to focus on multiple realities.

“In this new attraction, you’re going to be able to fight alongside all of the Avengers against every enemy from anywhere…that you can imagine,” said Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. But no timetable has been given for the launch of the attraction.

Other D23 Expo announcements focused on additions and tweaks outside of the parks, such as SoCal stalwart Porto’s Bakery heading to the Downtown Disney district — guests were sent home with free pastries – and a Pixar retheme from Paradise Pier Hotel. The immediate future also promises a lot of things Disney fans know well: nostalgia. New nightly shows at the resort, including an update to California Adventure’s World of Color, will focus on the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Co.

It’s a deserved celebration, as the stories of Walt Disney helped define the last century of American pop culture. And with some of those tales, such as “The Princess and the Frog,” just hitting its parks, we’ll give the company pause for revealing that its most ambitious new theme park ideas are still in the consideration phase. . For the moment.

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