D23 Expo kicked off Saturday morning with a mega-show of celebrities at its Walt Disney Studios Live Action Films presentation but for theme park fans, the big event of the day was Hall D23’s Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation in the afternoon with Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek. Always a highlight of Expo, the Parks and Resorts show is known for being packed full of big announcements and this year was no exception as Chapek brought out one Imagineer after the next to discuss all of the projects coming to Disney parks over the next few years. The result was a mixed bag of major investments at Disney’s parks, particularly in the United States and especially in Florida, many of which come at the expense of established park themes in favor of pushing the latest intellectual properties. From Star Wars to Pixar to Marvel, this year’s D23 Expo has made it very clear that intellectual properties are coming to every corner of Disney parks regardless of theme and whether fans like them or not.
The event kicked off with a video reel highlighting Disney Parks and Resorts around the world and its cast members, along with a medley of Disney songs performed on stage by Cast Members in their work costume.
Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek, introduced as a “proud Cast Member,” took the stage following the medley and went into a lengthy introduction singing the praises of Disney Parks Cast Members, crediting Cast for making Disney parks “feel real” for guests. In fact, Cast Member appreciation ran as one of a couple overarching themes to this year’s presentation, which was a nice gesture but felt somewhat forced and disingenuous from a company that continues to underpay and slash the benefits of its frontline employees.
Chapek went on to play a long form ad from Disney Parks’ “Unforgettable” ad campaign that continued to highlight the role Cast Members play and then transitioned to discussing the parks themselves, playing a sizzle reel of many new attractions and experiences at Disney Parks worldwide, all of which had opened within the first six months of 2017. To celebrate the new attractions, Chapek announced the everybody in the audience would receive a trading pin from a Disney park around the world at the end of the presentation.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World
Following the recap of this year’s new attractions, Chapek jumped right into talking about what’s next for Disney Parks, starting with Star Wars and noting how the teams are hard at work pushing the limits of technology to bring the new Star Wars-themed lands to life.
Chapek talked about the incredible Star Wars Land model on display at the Parks and Resorts pavilion on the show floor and then played a fly-through video of the model, which showed off even more of the detail and intricacies of the land’s layout. The fly-through really showed off the land in a way I wasn’t expecting and it seems pretty remarkable just how intricate the streets and alleyways throughout the village area will be, really making it feel real and lived-in. While the tiny passageways and narrow streets look truly immersive, will they be practical for the demands an operating theme park — especially one as busy as Disneyland? Time will tell…
With that, Chapek announced the official name of the new lands — Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and discussed how these lands will transport you to the galaxy of Star Wars, put you in the middle of the action on two attractions that put you in the middle of a battle between the Resistance and the First Order. Walt Disney Imagineer Scott Trowbridge was welcomed on stage to give more details on the new land.
The lands will feature two major attractions that put guests in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Each attraction – and even the land itself – will offer guests the chance to immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe like never before.
One attraction will make you feel like you’re on a Star Destroyer inside a hangar bay. It’s an attraction built on a scale we’ve never done before.
The second attraction will give guests the opportunity to fly the Millenium Falcon, piloting the ship, shooting blasters or preparing for hyperspace – all while completing a critical mission. But how you perform on the mission holds even bigger stakes: perform with skill and you may earn extra galactic credits, while bringing the ship back banged up could put you on the list of a bounty hunter. End up on Harkos’s list and you may face a problem if you show up at the local cantina!
Yes, the land will be intensely interactive, bringing you face-to-face with familiar and new characters from that world, such as Chewbacca, BB-8, Kylo Ren, and even an old favorite — Captain Rex from the original Star Tours. And as the description for the Millennium Falcon ride says, your actions will affect your experience throughout the land… think of it as Legends of Frontierland or Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town Alive on steroids.
You’ll also encounter plenty of characters including previously mentioned Captain Rex who is now a DJ at the local cantina (really, a DJ?), or have a close encounter with Kylo Ren. And yes, the cantina will serve blue milk.
While it’s sure to be revolutionary, it’ll be interesting to see how Disneyland copes with the even-higher crowds that come because it’ll first to open — with Disneyland’s infrastructure already over-extended on regular days, it’s scary to imagine what kind of effects Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will have on the park and how the ambitious plans for heavy interactive features will change when the realities of theme park operational needs set in that first year.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The presentation didn’t miss a beat after the Star Wars excitement and quickly launched into a series of major project announcements for Walt Disney World, all of which are set to be finished by the resort’s 50th anniversary in 2021. First up, Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World will receive the first ever ride-through attraction based on Mickey Mouse.
Chapek welcomed Imagineer Kevin Rafferty on stage to share more on the new ride who stressed Disney’s dedication to creating original attractions in the vein of its classics like Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World, including features like original songs.
Officially named Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, guests will step through a movie screen and into the world of the new Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts and on a wacky adventure with Mickey and Minnie and all their friends. From the Disney Parks Blog:
On Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, you’ll step through the movie screen and join Mickey and his friends like never before. The attraction will put you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen. This zany out-of-control adventure features surprising twists and turns, dazzling visual effects and mind-boggling transformations that happen before your very eyes.
The attraction is inspired by the Mickey Shorts that you can see on the Disney Channel. And the people who bring you the shorts at Disney Television Animation are partnering with us to help bring the attraction to life.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will feature a new story and a new singable attraction theme song as well as a new experience we’re calling “2 1/2 D.” No glasses required. Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said teams are inventing new technologies that turn the flat world of a colorful cartoon short into a “dimensional display of amazingness.”
Rafferty touted the ride will feature brand new technologies developed for the ride and said it will be presented in 2 1/2 D (not 3D). A small clip of test footage for the ride showed a large room transformed by what appeared to be massive projections.
While not announced at the presentation, the new attraction will replace Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ classic Great Movie Ride — and soon. Great Movie Ride is officially set to close August 13, 2017. The death of the Great Movie Ride is a massive loss for a park designed to celebrate movies and a severe blow to historic, Audio-Animatronic-heavy spectacle E-Tickets. While dated, the Great Movie Ride is a classic Walt Disney World attraction, not in need of replacement but simply updating. What a shame to see the signature attraction for this park, the ride that encapsulates the original park’s mission statement, get replaced. Surely, Mickey is long overdue for his own attraction and we’re excited to see what’s cooked up with this, but why not build the Mickey ride elsewhere in the park? Didn’t Walt Disney tout Florida’s “blessing of size?” Why replace existing attractions instead of building new, especially for a park that will continue to need additional capacity to help soak up crowds for the foreseeable future with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening in 2019?
Major new attractions, dining and updates for Epcot at Walt Disney World
Next up, Chapek launched into a segment that referenced Disneyland’s recent Main Street Electrical Parade commercial that showed off a fictional warehouse where defunct Disneyland attractions are stored. Chapek used the commercial to stress that Disney is committed to honoring its past before introducing another medley of songs from past theme park attractions including Walt Disney World’s “Wishes” fireworks, Disneyland’s iconic Golden Horseshoe Revue, the Carousel of Progress, and (of all things) the Mad T Party dance party.
After the performance, Chapek announced plans for major redevelopment of Epcot, while stressing that Disney wants to stay true to Epcot’s original vision while making it “more timeless, more relevant, more family, and more Disney.” Chapek welcomed Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald up on stage, noting Tom worked on the original Epcot to really drive it home that the announcements would be the right fit for the park.
Ratatouille could be a great fit for the France Pavilion, but the ride as it exists in Paris isn’t ideal for Epcot. An unsurprising fit, we hope that the Epcot version will be tweaked to pay better tribute to the Parisian food culture that the film celebrated, rather than being simply the zany ride found at Disneyland Paris.
Also announced is a new Circlevision film for the China Pavilion, in production now, utilizing newly-developed filming techniques which will make for the first seamless Circlevision film. This is great news and I’m very excited to see the next generation of Circlevision!
Meanwhile, in Future World, a new E-Ticket attraction based on the Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, which seems like a thematic stretch for Epcot… As evidenced by the concept art, the new ride will take over the existing Universe of Energy pavilion (Ellen’s Energy Adventure), which is also set to close August 13.
From the Disney Parks Blog:
[…] a “Guardians of the Galaxy”-inspired attraction will be added to Future World, adhering to the original vision of Epcot’s Future World as the place to experience the excitement and adventure offered by space travel.
To help sell the idea of the Guardians of the Galaxy being in Epcot, Tom showed a photo on the screen of “a young Peter Quill” (Star-Lord from the movies) at Epcot when he was younger. So, instead of finding an intellectual property that fits the theme of Epcot, Disney’s writing in backstory to an existing IP to make it fit. Anything can be true to the vision of Epcot if you just write it into the story, folks.
Also announced are updates to Mission: SPACE including new on-ride simulator films and a version that’s friendly for the entire family. And adjacent to Mission: SPACE, a new sit-down restaurant will be added, offering diners views of outer space! This sounds great, an unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, actually something that feels in-line with Epcot’s original vision.
True to Epcot’s original vision? Perhaps some of it, and maybe more if the rendering of the redeveloped Innoventions Plaza behind Spaceship Earth comes to fruition. If it does, say goodbye to the old Communicore/Innoventions buildings — long past their prime. The redevelopment of this space could be the biggest win for Epcot in all of this.
Twitter user @ScottGustin posted a side-by-side comparison of present-day Epcot with the overview rendering above. Big changes in the works!
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) July 16, 2017
Another Twitter user, @imagineeringdis created an overlay showing how the proposed changes in the concept art could change the layout of Future World.
My analysis of the Epcot concept art released today. It’s not exact, but it gives us an idea of the proposed walkways, etc. pic.twitter.com/Wsyhqt7SyG
— Imagineering Disney (@imagineeringdis) July 16, 2017
Major new attractions for Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
Chapek continued the fast-paced presentation by announcing the TRON will be coming to the Magic Kingdom with the addition of the Light Cycle rollercoaster that has proven to be the top-rated attraction in Shanghai Disneyland. This is a big addition I can get behind — an IP that feels right for the land it’ll call home and an all-new build that seemingly won’t affect or replace any existing attractions.
Meanwhile on Main Street, a new theatre will be built based on the Willis Wood theater in 1920s Kansas City, where Walt Disney lived after leaving his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. The concept art doesn’t look ideal for Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, USA, but I’m optimistic the Imagineers will find a way to make it feel thematically appropriate. No word yet on where this is going, but the obvious guess is a full replacement of the Town Square Theater which is currently an elaborate Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet.
New transportation systems at Walt Disney World
Chapek also announced two new transportation systems for Walt Disney World. One is quite literally a fleet of mini vans that will take guests from point to point. While not announced, we’re expecting this to be a personalized up-charge service. The mini vans will be themed to Minnie Mouse and called “Minnie Vans.” No, I’m not joking. This type of service isn’t really a problem but it was a tough pill to swallow after hearing Chapek sing the praises of Walt Disney World’s wonderful, but terribly neglected and aging Monorail System. When you’re being buttered up to hear the announcement of Monorail System renovation and expansion but get actual mini vans, it’s very disappointing.
Also announced is the new Skyliner skyway system — an interesting announcement considering Disney removed its various Skyway systems from its parks in the 1990s. Even more perplexing that a skyway is being touted as an efficient transportation system between Resort hotels and theme parks. We hope it is, and we’re not opposed to the idea but it comes off as an odd choice, especially when expanding the Monorail System could accomplish the same result and likely be far more effective… just likely far more expensive.
Immersive hotels at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris
Chapek also announced two new hotels at Walt Disney World and an overlay of another in Disneyland Paris. The Walt Disney World hotels include a highly-immersive, hyper-themed, and interactive Star Wars-themed hotel, going up near Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The hotel will be part of Disney’s new “Disney 360” vacation concept which will keep guests in the story at all times during vacation.
From the Disney Parks Blog:
According to Bob, this revolutionary new vacation experience will be a living adventure that allows guests to immerse themselves in an entirely new form of Disney storytelling.
“It’s unlike anything that exists today.” Bob said. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”
In Paris, Disney’s Hotel New York will be overlaid with a new Marvel theme and renamed “Disney’s Hotel New York — The Art of Marvel,” which transform the lobby into a New York art gallery with props and artwork from Marvel films on display throughout.
Disney Cruise Line gets a new ship and new show
In the world of Disney Cruise Line, Chapek announced the addition of a new cruise ship in addition to the two ships currently under construction and also announced a brand new stage musical based on the live action Beauty and the Beast film.
Pixar in the Parks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World
Chapek also announced the new “Pixar Fest” for Disneyland Resort. The promotional offering will debut in 2018 and feature an all-new Pixar fireworks show at Disneyland along with the relocation of the Pixar Play Parade to Disneyland. While a bizarre choice to move the aging Pixar Play Parade to Disneyland, the loss of a parade at California Adventure opens up the park for the return of the popular Paint the Night parade, which will move to DCA and feature a new float (which we hear is actually more of a replacement for the cut Frozen float).
The re-themed pier is set to open in 2018 alongside Pixar Fest. From the Disney Parks Blog:
Pixar Pier will feature a brand-new look for the area now known as Paradise Pier, as some of your favorite characters come to life on this seaside waterfront. You will discover whimsical neighborhoods filled with your friends from “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out” and even more of your pals from “Toy Story.” Building upon the evolution of Disney California Adventure park that began in 2007, we are building more new worlds for you to step into and enjoy your favorite stories.
The change to Pixar Pier is baffling — after spending so much money to enhance, upgrade and rebrand Disney California Adventure in 2012, Disney continues to make permanent changes that hack away at the thematic enhancements made at the park for changes that continue to eradicate the remaining California-themed and classic Disney aspects of the park. What will Pixar Pier mean for Mickey’s Fun Wheel, the Silly Symphony Swings, Goofy’s Sky School or The Little Mermaid? How will those attractions fit into the pier next year?
Marvel Land coming to Disney California Adventure
The final big announcement from Chapek was confirmation of long-running rumors that major Marvel-themed attractions are on their way to Disney California Adventure.
The new Marvel attractions, which will be located in a new immersive Marvel land, follow the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! ride, and will be themed to Spider-Man and The Avengers. No timeline on this project was provided but it’s now at least officially confirmed to be in the pipeline. Hopefully they’re of a higher quality than the current Summer of Heroes promotion and the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, a serviceable but half-baked overlay of an existing ride.
And then Chapek finished by once again touting the everyday contributions of Cast Members. A dramatic reading of a guest letter involving a child and a green balloon took place, followed by a performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star” by the Cast choir, a black and white clip of Walt Disney talking about Disneyland, and a cavalcade of characters.
And with that, the 2017 Parks and Resort presentation was done, packed full of more news than many had anticipated. How do you feel about all the news? Are you excited for it, or do you think Disney is pushing too many IP-du-jours into the parks at the expense of the themes and identities of these parks? Let us know in the comments!
Want more? We live-Tweeted the the news as it broke live from the show, you can read through the Twitter thread by clicking on the Tweet below and reading the thread on Twitter.com:
A sizzle reel and live singing is kicking off the Disney Parks and Resorts presentation #D23Expo
— Dateline Disneyland (@DatelineDisney) July 15, 2017