What the D23 Expo meant for the future of Disneyland

The landscape of America’s theme parks has changed drastically in the past decade. An era of brand licensing and acquisitions, ushered in more than a decade ago when Universal first created a Harry Potter-themed land in its Florida park, has transformed our vacation destinations into places teeming with sprawling film-based enclaves.

This weekend, Disney’s biannual fan convention, D23 Expo – a state of mind for all things Disney branded – previewed some changes that could define the coming decade, including even more movie branding Executives provided updates on Disney California Adventure’s Avengers Campus as well as Frozen themed areas coming to three of Disney’s international resorts. The transformation of a dining area from Disney California Adventure in Big Hero 6 was also revealed and is new. Details were provided on a transformation of Disneyland’s popular Splash Mountain into a Princess and the Frog themed attraction.

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

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Josh D’Amaro turned from previous 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 theme park design, announced that it’s considering adding animated films like Zootopia and Moana to Animal Kingdom, as well as Encanto, Coco, and a Realm the Disney villains to the Magic Kingdom.


“I can’t wait to talk more about these ideas and include some of them,” D’Amaro said, implying that nothing had been greenlit yet. While it was intended to inspire optimism among fans, it also suggested a cautious note for the expo. This year’s fan event often looked inward by celebrating anniversaries — Walt Disney Imagineering’s 70th, The Muppets Christmas Carol’s 30th — and set a nostalgic tone, even when looking at the company’s centenary year 2023 looked. As for theme parks, D’Amaro has been open about how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered, postponed, or altered plans.

Disney’s legacy and near future took center stage over three days at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“We don’t yet know where some of these concepts will take us,” D’Amaro said of theme parking. “Because there are absolutely no limits when you dream of such a big future. For more than six decades since Disneyland Park opened, we’ve been like a train just rushing along the tracks. Then COVID brought this train to a halt. But it also allowed us to spend some time tinkering around and it was a rare opportunity to stop and think about where we wanted to go.”

Still, the company’s first theme park will see some not insignificant 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 in a converted Toontown early next year — as well increase the diversity of what the park has to offer. A theme park pavilion on the D23 expo floor addressed the latter initiative: details were revealed of Tiana’s bayou adventure, which replaces Splash Mountain, a ride whose imagery was featured in the outdated and racist film Song of the South by 1946 are rooted.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is set after the events of Princess and the Frog, with the film’s lead, Princess Tiana, now a popular entrepreneur, taking guests on a journey through the bayou to find a missing ingredient that is needed to throw a Mardi Gras. level fixed. Splash Mountain will be reworked to commemorate several locations in Louisiana. The focus will be on making guests fall in love with the city of New Orleans.

Pacific Wharf at Disney California Adventure Park is portrayed as San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6."

Pacific Wharf at Disney California Adventure Park is reimagined as San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6.

(Walt Disney Imagineering)

More importantly for the park, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will hand over a popular guest attraction to the company’s first black princess. It’s a significant development for Disneyland, says Imagineering’s Carmen Smith, one of the creatives overseeing the ride.

“When we look at who is in our parks,” Smith says, “how do we make sure we’re telling stories if you’re a little girl who happens to be of African descent or Indigenous, Latino?” or Asian”, you can see yourself in one of the Disneyland attractions.

She adds, “I think this is a character that so many young girls – and boys – 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 just the beginning of more stories that we will tell that represent the world we live in. That’s so important.”

Longtime Splash Mountain fans shouldn’t worry. The ride will still feature a big drop that will drench guests, and Imagineering promises there will be 16 reinvented creatures for guests to encounter. Only one was on display at D23 Expo: an otter who made a musical instrument out of found objects like typewriter keys and a fishing line. The concept art also hinted that the ride would have a bit of a magical, otherworldly feel, as parts would glow purple and the aquatic fauna would have a brilliant, pink luminescence.

The biggest Disneyland-related surprise was unveiled early on at D23 Expo, when the company’s CEO, Bob Chapek, announced on Friday that a ride with the Avengers would actually make its way to the Avengers campus at Disney California Adventure. A project was initially announced in 2019 but put on hold due to the pandemic. Not many details were revealed on Sunday, but the park’s expansion appears to be quite different from what was originally planned as a trip to Wakanda. The ride now focuses on introducing guests to a selection of characters from the Marvel Multiverse.

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

“In this new attraction, you’ll be able to fight alongside all the Avengers against any enemy from anywhere… you can imagine,” said Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios. However, no timeline was given for the attraction’s launch.

Other D23 Expo announcements have focused on additions and tweaks outside of the parks, such as: B. SoCal mainstay Porto’s Bakery, which is making its way into the Downtown Disney district — guests were sent home with free pastries — and a Pixar redesign of the Paradise Pier Hotel. The immediate future also bodes well for something Disney fans know well: nostalgia. New nightly shows at the resort, including an update of California Adventure’s World of Color, will focus on the Walt Disney Co.’s 100th anniversary.

It’s a well-deserved celebration, as Walt Disney’s short stories helped define the last century of American pop culture. And with some of these stories, like Princess and the Frog, making it to its parks right now, we’re giving the company pause to reveal that its most ambitious new theme park ideas are still in the think-tank stages. For now.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-11/what-the-d23-expo-meant-for-the-future-of-disneyland What the D23 Expo meant for the future of Disneyland

Sarah Ridley

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