What's In Store for DCA's 'Super Hero Land'?
We begin by bidding farewell to It's Tough to Be a Bug along with A Bugs Land, which was quickly added in 2002 as a modest attempt to improve the original DCA 1.0 from its epic blandness, five years before Disney launched its 1.1 billion dollar extreme theme park makeover. For what it's worth, I rather enjoyed It's Tough to Be a Bug, and some years later, when I returned with my then three-and-a-half year old daughter, there were a few other attractions in A Bug's Land that proved enjoyable for the family. With that said, once Cars Land was parked next door it became obvious that the combination of being essentially a few county fair quality rides themed to a one-off and aging Pixar film wasn't going to cut it in the era of Universal vs Disney competition.
enter the mcu
So most die-hard Disney fans know about the extremely complicated legal gymnastics associated with the Marvel brand as it was sold off piece by piece to Universal, Fox, Sony, and eventually Disney Studios in 2009. With Bob Iger and Kevin Feige wrestling Sony into submission to share Spider-man with the massively successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by the Mouse House's likely to be approved purchase of 21st Century Fox and with it Marvel's X-Men characters, all the pieces seem to be in place for Disney to make full use of it's new arsenal of comic book gods and goddesses...except for those previously mentioned pesky legal restrictions. At the other end of the rope in this branding and intellectual property tug-of-war is Universal Studios. The end result is that Disney has to be very careful in how they roll out the roster of Marvel superheroes at their theme parks. The greatest restrictions are in Florida, meaning that Disney World will likely never have a fully Marvel-themed land and that individual Marvel character attractions can be added only if they are not already being used at Universal's Sunshine State parks, such as the recently announced Guardians of the Galaxy addition to EPCOT. That leaves the greatest amount of flexibility to the original Magic Kingdom and Disney's oversees parks. Finally after a couple of year's of leaked rumors and marketing teasers, it was made formal a few weeks ago when Disney announced all new 'Super Hero' lands at DCA, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. What surprised some was the aggressive timeline for launching these new homes for the Avengers--that being 2020. But in the case of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, it makes perfect sense as they hope to bring some 'balance to the force' between the two gates with the launching of Star Wars Land, aka Galaxy's Edge, in 2019.
Well that is enough background! Let's get on with the one thing that all Armchair Imagineers love to do...SPECULATE! Let's start with the basic footprint. The press release is still very light on details, with the only thing highlighted being the demise of the previously discussed Bug's Land. Already shuttered is It's Tough to Be a Bug and by the end of summer all the rest of the attractions will pass on to Yesterland. Previous comments from Disney senior executive Robert Chapek seem to allude to the backstage parking lot directly east of Cars Land as being a part of the Marvel expansion. Originally there was talk of this new land consuming a significant part of Hollywood Land but those rumors seem to have gone quiet with Disney giving up on the Eastern Gateway project.
So here is what I believe will be the approximate footprint for the new Marvel 'Super Hero Land' (see picture below). You will notice that along with the backstage parking lot and A Bug's Land, I've speculated that the buildings which currently house the Animation Academy and the Hyperion Theater could also be used as expansion space. More on that in a minute.
other small but necessary changes
A very practical matter that needs to be resolved is the trolley route. It now feels ridiculously out of place as it rolls towards the new Guardians of the Galaxy and this will feel even more awkward as the area is fully Marvel-ized. A simple fix is to send it north into the Hollywood Back-lot instead of its current southern route down what is called Sunset Boulevard. This would require relocating the trolley maintenance facility somewhere in the Hollywood Back-lot area. I'll be discussing what to do with this ghost town part of DCA in next month's installment of Armchair Imagineering.
Also, I hope that Imagineers are thinking about how they can preserve an immersive experience for the new Super Hero Land and its neighbor, Cars Land. Perhaps they should consider extending the facade of the latter's desert mountain range to obstruct any views of Marvel's attractions, with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy which unfortunately can be seen from half of DCA. They have done such an amazing job it seems in Disneyland with buffering the world of Galaxy's Edge from Frontierland and Critter Country. While they don't have nearly as much space to work with, I'm confident their brilliant minds can come up with a solution.
FINALLY, we can get to the content of this new land beyond that of the already established Guardian's presence. Well let's start with what we do know. Here is how Disney described it in their official press release:
At Disneyland Resort, the new Super Hero-themed land will begin recruiting guests in 2020, with even more new experiences to follow. The Guardians of the Galaxy will be joined by Spider-Man and the Avengers in what will become a completely immersive Super Hero universe, furthering the evolution of Disney California Adventure park.
This much is clear from this description about Disney's theme park strategy with its Marvel property: If you are a die hard fan and want to see all of your favorite characters in action, your going to need to plan allot of vacations and make sure your passport is up to date. This is a smart money move even if it is slightly frustrating to those of us who had hoped for a comprehensive Marvel Land that could have been an entire third gate at the Disneyland Resort. So what characters did DCA win in the superhero lottery? The answer is Spider-Man. Front and center should be the addition of a new E-ticket attraction featuring Peter Parker and friends. What kind of ride? I'm putting my fake imagineering money on an indoor attraction that, as reported in the Orlando Business Journal, makes use of a technology Disney submitted in a 2017 patent application. This roller coaster with a swinging sensation will need a good amount of real estate, so I am pegging it for the South-East corner currently occupied by a parking lot and backstage facilities.
As far as other attractions, we are promised that there will be "even more new experiences to follow." The press release also included three posters, one each for DCA, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Could there be some hints in these as to what other Avengers might be distinctly highlighted in each of these parks? Alongside Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, the DCA poster includes Dr. Strange and the Black Panther.
Personally, I was really hoping they would bring Ant-Man and the Wasp to Southern California, but the press release seems to indicate that Hong Kong snagged my favorite pint-sized super heroes. My thought was to recreate a facade of Hank Pym's house as the exterior of the formerly It's Tough to Be a Bug building. Ironically, the actual house that was used for the exterior shots of the film is on, get this, Buena Vista Avenue. Imagineers love these kinds of historical references! How appropriate would it be for the entrance to this ride to be a stone's throw away from Buena Vista Street. And while the approach with DCA 2.0 is to understand "California Adventure" more symbolically, there are still obvious literal connections to the Golden State and I think the theming of this attraction and the ride itself would be a perfect fit for DCA. Plus, the very nondescript road where Dr. Pym's pad was located could be a more subtle way to enter this new Super Hero Land next to its neighbor, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and the blur-collar Route 66 to Cars Land. As far as the attraction itself, there is plenty of queue space where patrons can wander in and out of Pym's backyard and house terminating in a shed where riders get ironically shrunk down to Bug's Land size. Then, through the 'windows' of the shed, riders can see a very over-sized Dr. Pym pick up the shed and move it inside the house, similar to how Pym shrinks an entire building in the new trailer for the sequel. In reality, the interior to the shed is an elevator with seats, similar to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, which simulates the appropriate motions while physically moving guests to the second part of the queue where riders now access the actual ride. The attraction would use the same ride system as Avatar's Flight of Passage, except this time riders mount slightly animated carpenter ants and go on a dangerous mission through the iconic streets of San Francisco.
Unfortunately, as I said earlier it seems like an E-ticket Ant-Man and the Wasp ride is destined for Asia. If that is the case, then what other Marvel characters could come to DCA and where would they go?
You can just make out the exterior of Dr. Strange's New York Sanctum in the poster. With some creatively double-sided facade work, I suppose a Manhattan street could serve as the entry point while not interrupting the Car's Land environment. And I have to say that a dark ride centered on the Mystic Arts could provide ample room for Imagineers to run wild with stunning visuals. Plus, the ability for Dr. Strange to transport himself to just about anywhere could help his character go to any Marvel setting and likewise allow him and the riders to team up with another Avenger. This could include multiple scenarios so that the ride stays fresh and get's a high number of repeat visits.
At this point, there isn't much more room left after you have included food options, merchandise, and space for character meet-and-greets or interactive performances. I think these standard amenities are best found in the center of the footprint, which is approximately where most of the current A Bug's Land is found. The exception to this would be what I propose as a sit-down restaurant located between Guardians and the new Spider-Man ride. Here guests could pay a premium price for personal visits from their favorite Avengers just like other restaurants do with other Disney characters, a la Goofy's Kitchen. They could either theme the restaurant to one particular Marvel character and setting, or have multiple dining rooms with multiple themes. As far as food goes, whether it be at the sit-down or quick-serve offerings, I would love to see an exact replica of the shawarma diner from the first Avengers movie.
Then what about Black Panther, the other iconic super hero displayed prominently in the poster? Disney is going to want to capitalize on the amazing success of this newest entry into the MCU. This is where I wonder if they can make the north side of Hollywood Land's Animation Building purely a facade, opening up the south and east side of the building to become the entry point for a Marvel attraction. The other option is the Hyperion Theater at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. However, I sincerely doubt that Disney will want to sacrifice the only legitimate and large indoor performing arts space in the whole resort. Either way, I suspect that should any of these changes happen it will come as part of a later phase. Spider-Man and the basic ammenties and area theming will be the first phase with perhaps one or two more 'C' or 'D' ticket caliber attractions added within a couple of years of its opening.
DCA is aging like...
Well those are my thoughts on what we might expect for DCA's Super Hero Land or whatever other handle they come up for the space. We should start to learn very soon about details as they begin to move forward with demo and construction. But what are your thoughts? I would love to hear what you think about my ideas and hear some of yours in the comments below.
One thing can be said for sure: that after these and other new improvements and additions are completed, DCA is aging like a fine Napa County wine.