D23 2015: Star Wars, Toy Story, Marvel, and More!

The massive D23 fan expo has come and gone (and, once again, I was sadly not in attendance) and over the course of the weekend lots of exciting news was revealed about what’s to come for the Disney company and its theme parks.

So I’ve been trying to catch up on all the news, or at least the stuff that really captured my attention. Here are some of the highlights:


Star Wars

One of the biggest announcements was the creation of a Star Wars Land at both Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Orlando. This 14-acre expansion will be themed like a spaceport on a new planet in the Star Wars galaxy and will include restaurants (like the Mos Eisley Cantina), shops, and attractions. It’s also been stated that “aliens” from Star Wars will be working at the shops and restaurants in the spaceport, offering an incredible level of immersion.

Two attractions have been announced, one being a “battle experience” and the other involving flying the Millennium Falcon on a secret mission.

Ahem… let me reiterate that: FLYING THE MILLENIUM FALCON!!!!

OK. I’m better now. Moving on.

Star Wars Land will be an expansion of Hollywood Studios in Florida and will be taking over some existing real estate (including Big Thunder Ranch) in California.

If it delivers on its promise of immersing guests into an outer rim spaceport in Star Wars, then it’s pretty much going to be the best thing ever. It’s a ways off, though, as they don’t expect to even break ground until 2017. So, taking into account that they then have to build everything, we’re probably looking at a few years after that before it opens. If anybody has time machine they’d like to lend me so I don’t have to wait that long… I’ll be sure to return them before I even borrow them!

An update to Star Tours is coming as well, which will include characters and settings from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. That update is expected to happen later this year (probably to coincide with the December release of the movie). The Jedi Training Academy kid’s show will also get a facelift to include characters from the animated Star Wars Rebels.

To tide Star Wars fans over, Disneyland and Hollywood Studios will be getting an attraction called Star Wars Launch Bay later this year. It’s going to be some sort of interactive experience involving Episode VII as well as the first six movies. Which could be pretty cool, as long as they keep any Jar-Jar references to a minimum.

Finally, a new special event called Seasons of the Force will be coming to both parks in 2016. It was a little unclear in the presentation video that I saw, but it seems like this new event would be replacing the Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios (but with a new name and a new Star Wars-themed fireworks show). It’ll be a completely new thing for Disneyland. Additionally, the California park’s Space Mountain will be getting a facelift for the event, becoming Hyperspace Mountain. New projections will turn the ride into an X-Wing space battle.

It was a lot of really cool news for Star Wars/Disney fans like myself. Lots to look forward to, even if some of it does seem far, far away.

Toy Story

 Though Toy Story 4 was previously announced, John Lasseter revealed more information about the movie during D23. He explained that it’s going to be a romantic comedy centered around Woody and Bo Peep, and will be releasing in 2017. I honestly have mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, I love Toy Story and I’m excited to get another chance to see these characters in a movie. On the other, I feel that Toy Story 3 really wrapped things up beautifully. So hopefully the fourth movie is because they genuinely have a great story (which Lasseter says they have) and not just because the franchise makes a lot of money.

That being said, either way I’ll be there opening weekend.

The biggest news, though, is an 11-acre Toy Story Land expansion at Hollywood Studios. This new area will be immersive and themed as if guests have been shrunk down to the size of toys, with massive blocks and board games. New attractions include a family friendly Slinky Dog roller coaster and a ride involving flying saucers and those green three-eyed aliens (plus, THE CLAW will be hanging above the ride). This one sounds like it may be a spinning ride, which makes me a bit sad as my equilibrium can’t generally handle those (I avoid the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom), but I may have to pop some Dramamine and check it out. I’m a big fan of those little aliens.

The Toy Story Mania ride, which boasts some of the longest wait times across all of Walt Disney World, will be getting another track which will allow for higher capacity.


The big Marvel-related news from D23 is that there’ll finally be a superhero themed attraction at a Disney park.

The only downside? It’s in Hong Kong. Which I suppose isn’t a downside if you’re actually going to Hong Kong Disneyland.

The first Marvel ride at any of the Disney parks will focus on Iron Man. Part of the “Stark Expo” in Tomorrowland, an area that’s a showcase of Stark technology, guests will go on a simulator ride (similar to Star Tours) which will involve Iron Man in a battle with HYDRA.

Hopefully this is just the start, and we’ll see lots more Marvel content at all of the Disney parks. I know that in the US it’s all complicated by legal contractual things–Universal has the rights to Marvel character theme park attractions in Orlando–but hopefully that’ll be sorted out someday and we’ll see superhero rides at Walt Disney World. It should be noted that the Universal thing applies only to the East coast, and Disneyland in California will be getting a new Superheroes HQ attraction upstairs from the Star Wars Launch Bay.

And More!

The extremely popular Soarin’ attraction will be changing, becoming Soarin’ Over The World. The new version will be coming to Shanghai Disneyland first when that park opens next year (and it’ll be called Soaring Over the Horizon there) but will arrive in the US sometime next year. The current version of the ride is focused just on California sights.

Animal Kingdom’s Pandora-The World of Avatar is still under construction, but they showed plenty of concept art and designs. They also announced the main attraction of Pandora, called Flight of Passage, which will involve flying on a banshee creature over the alien planet.

In addition to the Pandora expansion, Disney is working to add nighttime entertainment to Animal Kingdom. A show called Rivers of Light will debut next spring, featuring live performers and special effects. Also next year, the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction will start running sunset safaris. They’re also adding hyenas (which are primarily nocturnal) to the ride. This expansion into the evening hours is a big change for the park, which has generally closed around 5:00pm.

It’s confirmed that a new Jungle Cruise themed restaurant will be coming to Walt Disney World, in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. Called the Skipper’s Canteen, the restaurant will have differently themed dining rooms (similar to Be Our Guest) and will carry over many of the motifs from the ride such as the servers being ‘skippers’. Expect lots of puns with your food. The new establishment is expected to open by the end of this year.

The first logo for Incredibles 2 was revealed. Nothing else was revealed, other than John Lasseter’s assurance that it’s a really good story. There’s no release date yet, and Lasseter said that they’ll show more at the next D23 show in two years, and the movie is still a couple years off.

Disney Animation announced a big (pun intended) project: Gigantic. Based upon the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the movie will be directed by Nathan Geno (Tangled) and the music will be written by Robert and Kristen Lopez (Frozen). The setting will be the Spanish Age of Discovery, and will involve Jack befriending a young giant girl and working with her to stop evil giants. No release date has been announced, and only a few pieces of concept art were shown at D23.

A lengthy panel shared information about the upcoming animated movies MoanaZootopiaFinding Doryand The Good Dinosaur was also shared over the weekend. Moana tells the story of a young girl in the South Pacific who sets out on a seafaring adventure. She meets a demigod, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who accompanies her on her voyage. Concept art was revealed for the characters, as well as some island and sea settings. In Zootopia animals are the main characters, walking and talking and living in a city. The movie focuses on a rabbit cop and con-artist fox, and is described as a sort of buddy comedy as they work together to solve a big case. Pixar’s Finding Dory is the sequel to Finding Nemo and takes place just a few months after the end of the first film, with the forgetful Dory and her friends setting out to find her parents. They’ll meet new characters, including a grumpy octopus, along the way. And in The Good Dinosaur, a young apatosaurus is separated from his family and must go on a journey to find his way home. He travels with a young cave-dwelling boy, and in a bit of role reversal the dinosaur can talk but the boy only grunts.

Disney showed footage from some upcoming live action releases, including Sleeping Beauty, Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon. Given how underwhelmed I was by Maleficent and Cinderella (both were pretty, but fairly lackluster in the story department) I’m hesitant to form any thoughts about these until I actually see them. Which I’m sure I’ll do, probably the day they come out. They also showed the first footage of Beauty and the Beast and also revealed more information about Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I’m excited for that last one, just because I’m a huge fan of the series. Even those not-very-good ones in the middle there.

And finally, Disney Interactive showed off some video games over the D23 weekend. The biggest was the upcoming Disney Infinity 3.0, a continuation of the popular game/action figure collection series. This installment focuses heavily on Star Wars, and though it had been announced and shown well before D23 there was still some new information–like new versions of the Star Wars figures that will have light-up lightsabers. It was announced that Kingdom Hearts 3, the latest in the long-running Disney-meets-Final-Fantasy series, would have a level based on Big Hero 6. And Disney Ineractive’s mobile arm showed off Magic Kingdoms, a game that lets players create their own theme park using areas and attractions from Walt Disney World and Disneyland. There will be a storyline as well, using characters (such as Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear) to fight villains.

Obviously this isn’t all the news from the hectic weekend of D23, but it’s a highlight reel of what really caught my attention. Some of what was shown is coming very soon, while others are quite a long way off (again, looking to borrow a time machine). I was a little surprised that they didn’t reveal the new name of the Hollywood Studios park, or when we can expect to learn more about that, but that’s a fairly minor omission amid such big announcements.

Also, just so we’re clear: someday I’ll be able to go to Walt Disney World and FLY THE MILLENIUM FALCON!

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