It’s been a pretty interesting year when it comes to Disney news. There were a lot of announcements, a few surprises, some big movies, and even the opening of a new land. Some of the major changes that were announced ended up happening very quickly, while others we won’t see come to fruition until next year or beyond.
As 2017 rapidly draws to a close, I’m going to go through some of the major things that happened in the Disney universe. These aren’t in any particular order, and for each one I’ll explain what the news itself was and then offer some of my personal insight into it.
The news: Over the course of this year, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park has seen several new additions. Stella, a baby elephant, was born in January. In May, two red river hogs were born, and June saw the growth of the park’s warthog family with four new additions. In August, Animal Kingdom’s first two tiger cubs were born–a male, named Jeda, and a female named Anala. In baby giraffe news, Azizi was born in September and Gemma came into the world in October.
My take: This is not only a testament to the park’s conservation efforts and animal care, but it’s just all sorts of cute. I had the chance to see Stella while on the Caring for Giants tour, and I’ll admit that I really want to get back to Animal Kingdom soon so I can see the little tiger cubs (since I don’t think they’ll be little for very long).
A Whole New World
The news: In May, Disney opened Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom. Based upon the movie Avatar, it transports guests to the fictional planet of Pandora. The land features some incredible theming, from the unique plant life to the “alien” food, and includes two attractions: Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage. Overall the land has been very well received, with guests marveling at its beauty (particularly at night, when “bioluminescence” makes everything glow). Flight of Passage, a 3D simulation attraction, has been overwhelmingly popular, and wait times can still be a couple hours or more.
My take: I haven’t had the chance to experience Pandora – The World of Avatar myself yet. Folks say that it’s beautiful, that the theming is amazing, and that Flight of Passage is awesome. However, I think that the most mind-blowing thing about Pandora is simply that they made a land based on the movie Avatar (which, lets be honest, isn’t that good and it’s not exactly a mega-popular franchise) and really made it into something worth experiencing. Really, my biggest issue with it is just that I don’t think it has anything to do with animals or nature or the conservation of those things, so I question why it was built at Animal Kingdom in the first place (but, that being said, I still really want to go on Flight of Passage).
Lack of Energy
The news: At the D23 Expo in July, it was announced that Ellen’s Energy Adventure in EPCOT would be closing in August. Its replacement would be a new attraction based upon the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. Not much else was revealed about the new ride at the time (though since then we’ve learned that it’s going to be a “family friendly” roller coaster), and many fans of the EPCOT park in general and Universe of Energy in particular were very upset.
My take: I’ve written about my thoughts on the state of EPCOT (most recently here), and the closing of Universe of Energy seems to be just another nail in the coffin of what was once a unique and inspiring park. I’ll admit that I was never a huge fan of the Energy attraction itself (the dinosaurs were neat, though), but I appreciated the “edutainment” experience that it offered. Of course, while the information presented was wildly out of date, it still would have been cool to see something new in that same vein rather than some movie-based thrill ride. Something that addressed the energy issues that the real world is facing, and offering real possible solutions, instead of a talking raccoon.
The news: The Tron Lightcycle Power Run attraction, one of the most popular at Shanghai Disneyland, is coming to Walt Disney World in Florida. No release date has yet been given, other than before or around Magic Kingdom’s 50th anniversary in 2021, and it’s currently unclear as to whether the Florida version is going to be an exact copy of the Shanghai attraction or be modified in some way. The coaster will occupy a spot behind Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, and will not replace any existing ride.
My take: OK, I can’t accurately describe how excited I am for this. It’s mostly frantic hand motions with some weird high-pitched squealing, and it doesn’t really translate well to a written format. That being said, I am extremely excited that Walt Disney World is getting this attraction. I love Tron, and I’ve watched several different ride-through videos of this ride and I’m super eager to get the chance to experience it in person (without somehow affording a trip to Shanghai, that is).
Under the Big Top
The news: Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, which has been running at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs since 1998, will be ending on December 31, 2017. The show takes place in a theatre that was custom-built for Cirque du Soleil, and has been performed thousands of times since it started. A new Cirque show has been announced as La Nouba’s replacement, one will “pay homage to Disney’s rich history of animation” according to the Disney Parks Blog. No opening date for the new show has been revealed yet.
My take: I never had the chance to see La Nouba, so I can’t really say much about the fact that it’s leaving (other than a twinge of regret over never taking the time to check it out). I do enjoy Cirque du Soleil shows, and I love Disney animation, so I’m already very intrigued by the concept for the new show. I’ll have to be sure to actually see this one when it opens.
Fox and the Mouse
The news: Disney has purchased Fox, the entertainment company with a rich history in film and television, in a deal that’s worth about $52 billion. This gives the Walt Disney Company the rights to all of Fox’s movies, including the Alien franchise and Avatar, as well as TV shows such as The Simpsons. The deal includes an incredible number of titles, and also gives Disney a controlling stake in Hulu and European streaming service Sky. This is part of Disney’s larger plan to release their own streaming service, as it gives them not only the infrastructure to do so but an absolutely insane number of movies and shows (in addition to Disney’s own impressive library) across almost every genre. The deal did not include Fox News or their sports networks–Disney already owns ABC News and ESPN–as well as a couple other random assets. It also brings X-Men, Deadpool, and Fantastic Four back into Marvel’s control.
My take: I really don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, it does put Disney in a great position to rival Netflix and Amazon right out of the gate when they debut their streaming service. However, my fear is that it’s just further diluting the Disney brand name with just too many franchises. It used to be that when you heard “Disney” you thought of a certain type of entertainment and maybe particular movies, but now it could mean anything from Snow White to Die Hard. There’s also a worry that we’ll see even more popular movie properties shoved into the parks, which is already a concern. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton about business, so it’s possible that this is actually a really awesome thing that’s happening. We’ll see, I suppose. The deal did include National Geographic, which could be an interesting acquisition if they found a way to incorporate it into Animal Kingdom. Also, as a big Marvel fan, I’m interested to see if the characters they got will be incorporated into their Cinematic Universe somehow.
Great Movie Rides Off Into the Sunset
The news: The Great Movie Ride, a day-one attraction from back when the Disney/MGM Studios park opened, has been closed down. The announcement was made during the D23 Expo in July, and in August the ride took its last trip through the movies. Its replacement is going to be Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a ride featuring the classic Disney characters. Not much has been revealed yet, other than that the characters will be based upon their current cartoon art style and that it’s going to feature some sort of 3D technology. No release date for the new attraction has been given at this time.
My take: I loved the Great Movie Ride, and it’s been one of my must-ride attractions whenever I’ve been in the park. It’s definitely a classic, and when the closure was announced a lot of people were obviously upset. I’m actually pretty OK with it, though. Let’s be honest–the Great Movie Ride was showing its age. The last time I was there, it was balancing on that line between “charmingly vintage” and “desperately in need of a renovation”. I think creating a brand new attraction as the centerpiece to the new Studios experience is a good call, and I’m really excited to see this new Mickey Mouse ride.
Hall of Delays
The news: The Hall of Presidents closed in January, in order to add the newly inaugurated official into the mix. While this is standard whenever there’s an election, this was a bit different because of how long the attraction was shut down. Traditionally it reopens over the summer (the original date given this time was July). Then delays started, and it was pushed back to an undetermined time in the Fall and then again to Winter. Disney stated that this was due to a huge refurbishment project, with multiple areas–like the theatre’s audio systems–seeing improvements. Speculation ran rampant, with many suggesting that it was due to the wildly divisive political climate. Rumors even surfaced that the show would be shuttered permanently. Ultimately, though, it did reopen in December with all forty-five presidents in place and the current one featured with a speaking role.
My take: I personally have no interest in hearing the current president speak, and have no intention of visiting the Hall of Presidents as long as he does. I respect that the attraction is about representing American history, and that it’s about the office of the presidency regardless of politics, but there’s definitely a part of me that had hoped we’d see the attraction get closed and replaced with something new. To be fair, though, I’ve seen the show once in the last couple decades, so it’s not exactly a big fave of mine anyway.
We Wants a Strong Empowered Female Character
The news: An iconic scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is being drastically altered. The bride auction, featuring the sultry redhead, is being reimagined and the character will become a rifle-toting pirate captain herself. No longer will it be about selling women to pirates, and now the scene will have the townsfolk dropping off their riches to avoid the redhead’s wrath. While Disney didn’t give specific reasons for the change, other than “creating exciting new experiences,” many fans assumed that it was a step towards making the ride more politically correct by removing what’s basically a scene about selling women. Lots of people were upset about the alteration, and were very vocal on social media (as were defenders of the change). Disneyland Paris has already had the new scene put into place, and both of the US parks will see it happen in 2018.
My take: I’m totally OK with this change. Sure, it’s a classic scene that’s been a part of the the attraction for fifty years (and it has the well-known “we wants the redhead” line). It’s one that I–like many fans–grew up seeing and there’s a nostalgic part of me that will miss it. At the same time, there’s no denying that the scene does feature the sale of humans and is perhaps in poor taste when that’s a genuinely real problem in the world today. I wrote an entire post about this, which you can read here, so I won’t rehash all of my thoughts, but I will say that I’m pretty excited to see this new redheaded pirate.
Sealed With a Wish
The news: Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams, ended in May of this year. The fireworks spectacular debuted at Magic Kingdom in 2003. It was replaced by Happily Ever After, a nighttime show that utilizes cutting-edge projection technology on Cinderella Castle to tell colorful Disney stories in addition to fireworks.
My take: I’m going to genuinely miss Wishes. It was an amazing show that really had an emotional resonance with me, not just because the themes really epitomized “Disney” to me but also because it’s been special to my wife and I–we saw it on our honeymoon, and it just kind of became important to us. So we drove to Florida in May in order to see it one last time before it was gone forever. We haven’t seen Happily Ever After in person yet, though we did catch a live stream of it from the Disney Parks Blog when it debuted. It’s amazing and very cool–those projections are stunning–but I don’t know (yet) if it’ll have the same emotional connection with me that Wishes did.
The news: Paradise Pier, at Disney California Adventure, is going to get a new look in 2018. It was announced earlier this year that the area, currently themed like an old-style boardwalk amusement park, would be reimagined as Pixar Pier. Attractions will be getting facelifts–such as the California Screamin’ roller coaster which will become the Incredicoaster–and the land will be divided into separate “neighborhoods” which represent different Pixar franchises. Toy Story, Inside Out, and The Incredibles will all be featured. The fourth area, which encompasses Mickey’s Fun Wheel, will be a mix of different Pixar properties (the Fun Wheel will retain Mickey’s face on the side, but the gondola cars will be repainted with Pixar characters). The land will be unveiled during a special event called Pixar Fest, which begins in April of 2018.
My take: I’ve got to admit, I was very underwhelmed with Paradise Pier. It was pretty, sure, but it just wasn’t very entertaining to me. I’m not convinced that Pixar Pier is going to be any better, but I’ll be interested to see if they really do give the whole experience an overhaul. I’ll reserve judgement until I see what they actually do. I know that a lot of people were upset about the announcement, in part because it has nothing to do with “California” and therefore goes against the theme of the park, and because they’re sick of seeing franchises shoved into the parks in lieu of actual creativity. I agree on both counts, but given my lack of interest in the previous version of the area (other than the corn dogs, of course) I’m at least casually intrigued to see if they improve it while giving it the Pixar facelift.
Fail to the Chief
The news: John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, announced that he was going to take a six-month sabbatical to address “missteps” that he had taken in his time with the company. Reports quickly came out of sexual misconduct, included unwanted advances and physical contact towards female staff members, and accounts from both male and female employees described a pattern of creepy behavior that went back decades. There’s been no further word on his status with the company at this time.
My take: Frankly, he should be asked to never return. What he did is disgusting, and a six month vacation in response to behavior that’s allegedly been going on for upwards of twenty years just doesn’t seem harsh enough. There needs to be consequences for his actions, starting with never working for Disney (or anywhere) again. Full stop.
The news: Work has begun on a Ratatouille attraction at EPCOT, located in the France pavilion of World Showcase. The dark ride is going to be similar to the one in Disneyland Paris, and will be a “4D” experience that features trackless vehicles moving through different environments where 3D scenes play out on screens. No opening date has been given yet, though the announcement did say that it would be open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.
My take: I’m a bit on the fence here. I’ve heard good things about the Ratatouille ride in Paris, and the videos I’ve watched are cool, so I’m very excited to see it. More attractions, especially in World Showcase, isn’t a bad thing either as they can draw in guests who might otherwise just pass by some of the pavilions. At the same time, I’m still a bit grumpy (in an admittedly old man “back in my day” sort of way) about Frozen Ever After invading the Norway pavilion so the very idea of even more cute film-based rides in World Showcase may be coloring my view somewhat. At least Ratatouille actually takes place in France, rather than some fictional place loosely based on a real country, so there is that.
Guardians of the Tower of Terror
The news: The Tower of Terror attraction at Disney California Adventure was closed in January of 2017. In its place, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout opened in May. Similar in structure to Tower of Terror–in that a gantry lift brings guests to different floors before dropping them in a freefall–the new ride is the first Marvel attraction to open in the US parks. Many folks on social media were quick to point out their unhappiness with the exterior look of the new attraction building, which was pretty much Tower of Terror covered in pipes, though the ride itself has been well received since it opened.
My take: I didn’t get the chance to see Tower of Terror at DCA, as the line was always too long and I’ve already seen it plenty of times at Hollywood Studios (it’s slightly different at each park). I have yet to get to see Mission: Breakout, but I like the ride style and I like Guardians of the Galaxy so I expect that I’ll enjoy it. Though I have to agree that the building itself is kind of an eyesore. I get that it’s supposed to be a building that would fit in the Guardians universe and all, but it really does just look like Tower of Terror covered in pipes.
Moving Right Along
The News: Minnie Vans, a point-to-point transportation system similar to Lyft and Uber, started at Walt Disney World this year. For a flat rate of $20 per ride, guests can call a car (which is red with white polka dots, of course) that will take them anywhere on property.
My take: It’s a neat idea, and it can be good for certain types of guests: large groups who don’t want to deal with a bus, families with kids who want to get somewhere quicker, etc. I don’t know that I’d ever need to use one (though I have used Lyft to get around between resorts) but having more options to get around Walt Disney World property is never a bad thing.
A Hotel Room Far, Far Away
The news: A new resort Star Wars resort experience is coming to Walt Disney World. The stay will immerse guests in their own Star Wars story: special rooms in a luxury “space station” with windows that look out into space, character interactions, even costumes to wear to really become a part of the adventure. Everything about the experience will be focused on making guests feel like they’re staying in the Star Wars galaxy.
My take: It’s going to be expensive, so I should start saving my money now (or even sooner) so I can do this thing. I want to do this thing.
Dining in SPAAAAACE!
The news: A new restaurant is going to be opening in EPCOT that will transport guests to a dining experience far above the planet Earth. The restaurant will be themed to make guests feel like they’re eating on a space station, with views of our planet far below. Not much else has been shared yet, other than that the restaurant will be adjacent to Mission: SPACE and will be operated by Patina Restaurant Group–who also runs Morimoto Asia, Via Napoli, and other eateries on property.
My take: I’m loving these new themed dining experiences–Skipper Canteen, Be Our Guest, etc–and I’m really excited about the idea of eating at an outer space restaurant. It kind of seems like a classic EPCOT Center-style thing, too, so it’s something I’m definitely interested in checking out.
The Magic of Theatre
The news: A big new theatre is being constructed in Magic Kingdom, on Main Street USA. The building is based off of the Willis Wood Theatre in Kansas City, circa 1920. No announcement has been made yet as to what sort of show will be featured in the space.
My take: It’s cool to see a big new addition to Main Street, especially one that’s an attraction and not just a shop (or a Starbucks). Plus, as a theatre professional myself, I’m always happy to see more live theatre happening. I’m eager to see what they end up putting in the space, and personally I’d like to see some sort of classic Disney experience that features Mickey and his friends. Really, I’m just hoping that it’s not Frozen…
It’s been a pretty big year for Disney announcements, and it’s likely that we’ll see even more changes coming in 2018: not only will some of the things announced already open up, but I’m sure we’ll get more information about future projects and new revelations about things to come. That’s one of the most exciting things about being a Disney parks fan–there’s always something new to look forward to!
Happy New Year!