Commentary

Disney Unveils New Rides, Experiential Plans For Theme Parks

Somewhat soon in an entertainment galaxy very familiar to legions of fans and day trippers from around the known world, Walt Disney Co. is planning a major upgrade to its Epcot theme park, including a “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride and a “Ratatouille”-inspired attraction in the France Pavilion. Both will be operating by 2021 — the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, the complex that hosts it.

“Making your dreams come true is who we are and what we do,” Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek told 6,800 Disney faithful in a room at the kickoff of the company’s D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center Saturday. In all, more than 100,000 people were expected at the bi-annual convention that closed yesterday.

“Chapek also announced more than $1 billion worth of projects unrelated to Epcot,” Brooks Barnes writes for the New York Times. “A version of the ‘Tron’-inspired roller coaster that has been a runaway hit at Shanghai Disneyland is coming to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Also coming to that resort will be a luxury hotel designed to make guests feel as if they are staying on an actual ‘Star Wars’ starship. A ride called ‘Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway’ will replace the dusty ‘Great Movie Ride,’ which is at another Disney World park, Hollywood Studios.

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 “‘This is not going to be a small attraction,’ Kevin Rafferty, a Disney ride designer, told the crowd of the Mickey Mouse offering. ‘It’s going to be game-changing,’” Barnes reports.

“The Star Wars hotel in Orlando is part of a new experiment called Disney 360 in which guests take part in large-scale role-play, with rooms that look like bunks in a starship, command centers, and bars and restaurants with droid servers who can pour you a tall glass of blue milk (just like Aunt Beru used to make),” Anthony Breznican reports for Entertainment Weekly.

“Basically, Disney wants to build a ‘Westworld’ for Star Wars fans,” Bryan Bishop suggests on The Verge. “That sounds like a bit of hyperbole on its face, but as described by … Chapek, the project amounts to almost exactly that.”

“We are working on our most experiential concept ever. It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment,” Chapek said.

“Theme parks, Disney's second-largest division, posted $1.9 billion in operating income for the six months ended April 1, according to its latest earnings report,” reports Reuters’ Piya Sinha-Roy

But that will grow, Disney clearly expects, with its innovations and billion buck investments. After all, what price can mere mortals put on raising a toast with Chewbacca?

Meanwhile, an “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer put together exclusively for D23 brought attendees at Disney's live-action panel “to their feet,” Marvel Entertainment tweeted and CNET’s Gael Fashingbauer Cooper reports.

“Marvel's Kevin Feige brought out a giant stable of talent to introduce the trailer: Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and co-director Joe Russo,” Hollywood Reporter’s Aaron Couch tells us.

“It begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy on their ship, floating through a creepy section of space. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) tells his crew to put on their ‘mean faces" because things could get dangerous. Suddenly, a body hits their spaceship. It's an unconscious Thor (Hemsworth), wearing his gladiator garb from Thor: Ragnarok (smart money is on the end of November's Ragnarok leading directly into 2018's Infinity War). They bring him inside the ship, and Mantis (Klementieff) wakes him up.

“Thor looks around, sees Star-Lord and asks the natural question: ‘Who the hell are you guys?’”

Whoever the hell they are, don’t be surprised if you’re face-to-face with the bunch of them in a Disney experiential experience down the road.

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