Mickey’s 90th Birthday gifts are a mixed bag

This weekend, Mickey Mouse is celebrating his 90th birthday. In past birthdays Disney has celebrated with a special cupcake, maybe some merchandise, and a social media campaign, but not much else. I foolishly assumed his 90th birthday would be something similar. Instead, Disney brought out the media train in full force.


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Earlier in the week at IAPPA, Disney’s Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, Bob Chapek shared a few details about upcoming Disney Parks projects. The Disney Skyliner will be open by Fall of 2019, and we got an exciting test video of the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. But in true Disney fashion, the real show came on Disney’s own turf at Disney’s D23: Destination D event.


Buckle up, because we have a lot of details coming your way. We’ll start at Epcot. If you’re like me, you’ve already begun the 12 step program to say goodbye to the currently running fireworks show, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. We’ll say goodbye to that show in 2019, and today we have learned that its permanent replacement will arrive in 2020. In Disney’s words “The new nighttime spectacular will celebrate how Disney music inspires people around the world, and will feature massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, and lasers”.


This is more confirmation of the concerns that Epcot purists have had about Disney characters becoming a larger presence in Epcot. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t see how anyone can (or should) be surprised. Disney has been clear about this for a while. You can be upset about it, but not surprised. We only have a brief description to go off of but if we are going to have Disney characters in Epcot, this sounds like a pretty good way to do it. The big tell for me will be if they respect and honor the actual cultures of the respective countries. They can use the characters as a primer for kids, but use that foot in the door to share some highlights of actual culture.


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In fact, we learned today that both Canada and China will receive new circle vision films, which is very welcome news. France will also receive an additional film, but not a replacement to Impressions de France. Instead, a Beauty and the Beast sing along based off the live action film. I’m not the biggest fan of this (although I can already hear my nieces asking me to take them), but they haven’t removed Impressions De France, so I’m taking this as a win win. We have 2 years to wait to see how they handle the integration of Disney characters into World Showcase, but I’m optimistic.


Disney will be filling that 2 year gap with a temporary show ironically titled “Epcot Forever” in fall 2019. They shared a piece of concept art, and the detail was that it will “feature classic Epcot tunes”. Some have speculated that they may use a mini show that is currently used for some conventions and special events, but there is no confirmation of that. If you’ve been to Hollywood studios recently, you’re familiar with the sense of limbo as we await the reimagining of the park. It sounds like starting in 2019, we will begin to feel that at Epcot.

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We don’t have too much longer to wait for some new entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as we learned that a new nighttime show will debut in May. Utilizing very familiar projection technology, “Wonderful World of Animation” will celebrate 90 years of Disney (and Pixar) animation. As Tom Bricker points out, there is no mention of pyrotechnics so this will probably be a show to play in front of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, which is presented at the Chinese Theater. 

Speaking of that Chinese theater, the same concept art shows some updates to the facade. I’m not sure if this will be done during the show with projection technology, or if this is a peek to a new permanent fixture on the building. Here’s hoping it’s the former. We also have what seems like a slightly delayed launch window for Mickey’s Runaway Railway of Fall 2019. I don’t know what is taking this long for a dark ride, but I’m hoping it’s worth the wait because Fall 19 is shaping up to be a busy time at the studios.


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A majority of those Fall 19 crowds will be headed to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This is the real meat and potatoes of the event, as we learned a decent amount about the relatively secretive project. “Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run” and “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” are the official names of the main attractions at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. These are pretty wordy for my taste, but I get why. If they name the Falcon attraction “Smugglers Run”, guests will eventually end up calling it the Millennium Falcon ride. It reminds me a lot of Apple naming the touch screen iPod, the iPod touch. The official name is iPod touch, but tell me anytime you’ve ever heard someone call it that and not “iTouch”. In this case, Disney is just going with what they know people will end up calling it.


At 86 years old, one of the most influential composers in Hollywood isn’t slowing down. John Williams has been composing the music for main line Star Wars films, and is going to continue with composing the score for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Let that sink in. John Williams, a legend in Hollywood, is composing the score, for a theme park. I’m not sure that this has ever been done. Yes Michael Giacchino has written some great attraction music, but it looks like Williams is involved in the whole nine yards. They’re not just hitting shuffle on every Star Wars album and calling it a day. There was a clip of the score released, and you should definitely take a listen. I was already on the hype train, but this clip put me in the conductor’s seat.


While I might be excited about an extremely immersive experience, I was a little concerned about normal day guests. I have a lot of friends that I would consider nerds, and they would never want to do any live action role playing in a theme park. They want to be immersed in a different world, but not quite dress up and play a part. It looks like Disney may have realized this in some play testing at Disneyland, as they announced today that you can role play only if you wish. It will be facilitated through the Disney Play app, so it’s easy to join. Or not. This is probably the right call, but I hope the experience is still ground breaking and immersive. There’s a difference between getting lost in the world of Star Wars, and being glued to your phone where you’ll get Twitter notifications, iMessages, calls, etc. 

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If you on the other hand want to be fully immersed into the Star Wars universe, Disney has you covered there as well. The untitled Star Wars hotel won’t be opening alongside Galaxy’s Edge, but it does seem like this resort will really scratch the itch of the most passionate Star Wars fans. Pitched as a cruise liner in the Star Wars universe, you can safely assume the First Order will fix that pesky “relaxing” vacation you planned on. I’m sure there will be plenty of quests for you to embark on be it in the hotel itself, but also inside Galaxy’s Edge.

Untitled Star Wars Hotel

Untitled Star Wars Hotel


As though they need to make it extremely clear that you don’t need to dress up like a Jedi to stay at a hotel, Disney also shared the name of the previously announced resort coming to the Fort Wilderness area. Reflections - A Disney LakeSide lodge, will open in 2022. I’m disappointed to say that this is the least interesting announcement of the day. The concept art was released last month, and it looks like any hotel that you would find in basically any city. Or maybe a rehab facility you might find in south Florida. This absurdly mundane name compliments the lifeless aesthetics of the architecture, so I guess they nailed what they were going for. Bob Chapek has said that his goal is to make everything “distinctly Disney”. I’m not sure what is “distinctly Disney” about a holiday inn, but what do I know? I’m just an average Dis nerd.


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Even with that negative response, there is still a lot to be excited for here. Disney has repeatedly said that Galaxy’s Edge will be revolutionary, and the more we learn about it, the more I think that isn’t hyperbole. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed the industry without question, but Galaxy’s Edge may just turn it upside down. Epcot is getting some much needed TLC in the form of updated circle vision films and some new nighttime entertainment. There will even be a quick farewell to the Epcot of old before the new era is brought in.

My disappointment in these announcements cannot be boiled down to “Intellectual property has no place here”. IP can be used to attract guests provided there is a clear vision. I have yet to see a clear vision for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot other than an assortment of attractions featuring characters you know and love. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but that story has not yet been told.

Epcot Forever - temporary opening in Fall 2019, closing at some point in 2020

Epcot Forever - temporary opening in Fall 2019, closing at some point in 2020

Launch Date and details of Play Disney Parks App Revealed

Thomas Smith writing for the Disney Parks Blog

We’re so excited to share this news with you! The all-new Play Disney Parks mobile app will make its official debut at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort on June 30. The app will be free to download, and guests can pre-order today on the App Store and Google Play to be among the first to have the app automatically downloaded on their device. 

With the recent launch of Pixar Pier last week, and the grand opening of Toy Story Land in a few days, Disney really picked a good time to launch this app.

Lines have seemingly never been longer at Walt Disney World, and even worse, everyone is glued to their phone. On the surface it looks like this app just makes that situation worse, but it appears that they’re making an effort to have families play the games together. Which is a much more desirable outcome over guests getting sucked into instagram. It’s great for guest satisfaction AND engagement. 

I’m really excited to see how this app will physically interact with the queues. They’re making it sound like you will be able to influence the queue in some way. It all seems pretty basic now, but it doesn’t take a lot to imagine the possibilities that this opens up.

On this weeks Disney Dish show (which I strongly recommend), Jim & Len were discussing how Imagineering has a goal to eventually have guests skip the line if they do well with the games. 

From an Apple nerd perspective, I’m also excited to see Disney utilize some new iOS features. For starters, you can pre order the app (for free) so that it automatically downloads to your phone on Saturday. Even more exciting, they’re integrating free Apple music playlists directly into the app. If you’re an Apple music subscriber, you get to add those playlists to your account. Simply awesome. 

First Look at nighttime lighting at Toy Story Land

This is a pretty solid look at Toy Story Land, set to open next week at Hollywood Studios. The nighttime lighting for Slinky’s coaster looks like it’s worth both a day & night ride. The lighting for the Alien Spin attraction on the other hand looks like a playhouse Disney dance party. Granted, I haven’t seen any of this in person. That will have to wait until next Saturday. 

I’m genuinely surprised that Disney doesn’t sell more toys based off of their theme park attractions. They sell the monorail playset, but I don’t feel like I ever really see toys based on expedition Everest ride vehicles. I would have to imagine the “toy” aspect of these rides was a motivating factor. Still, these toys look like such an easy sell for kids. Parents, be prepared to accidentally step on a few of those aliens after your Toy Story Land visit. 

Rumor: Harry Potter & the Forbidden Forest Coaster Details

 

There’s no way to know if this video is 100% accurate, but it still has me pretty damn excited. If you’re someone that is averse to spoilers, I would avoid it. It just seems a little too perfect to not be at least a little accurate.

That being said, man oh man this sounds amazing. I was really let down by Escape from Gringotts. It was billed as a high tech rollercoaster like you saw in the movie, but instead we got a very tame screen based ride. This seems like a direct response to that poor reception. In stark contrast to Gringotts, I’ve heard rumors that there is a bit of a “no screens” policy for this experience. The ride system itself also sounds like a big step up for Universal. I won’t spoil those details here, but I will say Disney doesn’t have anything like this.  

Normally, a single coaster might have a hard time competing with the juggernaut that is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but if there is any property that could do that, it’s Harry Potter. 

Bus Times come to My Disney Experience

Thomas Smith from the the official Disney Parks Blog

Today, we’re rolling out a brand new bus time feature in the My Disney Experience mobile app that enables guests to spend less time waiting at the bus stop and more time getting ready for a fun-filled day in the parks. With this feature, guests can quickly discover up-to-the-minute estimates for when the next buses will depart from their Disney Resort hotel and when they will complete their journey to their destination.

Most tourists visit Disney without having a plan, so this new feature is going give them one hell of a leg up on their vacation. As a local who uses monorails instead of buses I won’t get much use out of this, but I think a monorail, boat, and skyliner version of this is inevitable. Imagine a world where you’re hanging out at galaxy’s edge, consider heading over to world showcase, and see in the app that the skyliner would get you there at 5:30. That’s pretty compelling.

The app also has user interface improvements, which will hopefully make it a little more discoverable for the average user. I’m a bit of a tech nerd, and even I have issues finding features within the previous version of the app. With only a few moments playing around with the new version, I can tell you the menu at the bottom makes it much easier to navigate. 

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Rumor: Star Trek Land at Universal Studios?

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Ben Pearson writing for /Film

Disney and More have heard rumors that the building which housed Universal Studios’ Terminator 2 3D experience is looking to be filled with either a Bourne Identity or Star Trek-themed attraction, and those whispers have been floating around the theme park fan community for a while now. But a bigger rumor has also emerged, and it claims Universal is planning an entire Star Trek Land for the company’s unofficially announced fourth park – and we’ve heard similar rumblings from our own sources, too.

Universal bought a ton of land next to the convention center a couple of years ago, and it’s only a matter of time until they announce the fourth theme park that will occupy that land. Nothing has been officially announced yet, but a Star Trek Land in that park seems like a blunt way to take on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the immersive new Disney park that will open next year.” 

Seems a little reductive to just throw one star property against another star property, doesn’t it? I love both series, but the differences and rivalries between the two franchises are a running gag amongst fans. That being said, it does line up with the old narrative that Disney is for families and Universal is for the “mature” crowd. 

The comparison gets amusing when you look at box office numbers. In order of release dates, the rebooted Star Trek has made $257m, $228m, and $158 m. Compare that to the $936m, $532m, and $620m that Star Wars commands. Harry Potter may have saved Universal, but Disney is bringing in the big blasters. 

Epcot Space-Themed Restaurant Project Alive

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Jose Castillo writing for WDW News Today

 "It was announced today that the space-themed restaurant planned for Epcot (originally announced at the D23 Expo in 2017) will be built in a new area located between Mission: SPACE and Test Track. This new restaurant is operated by Patina Restaurant Group, who also operates many of the restaurants found around the Walt Disney World Resort including Via Napoli at Epcot and Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs. This news debunks the rumors that the restaurant was going to take over the old Wonders of Life pavilion and confirms that it instead will be a brand new location."

With all of the construction going on around Disney property, I really started getting concerned that this project would be on the chopping block. Out of everything announced at D23 last summer, this was the most original and one of the most exciting. Unfortunately, that also made it the most likely to get canned in my book. There were rumors a few months ago indicating that Disney had dollar signs in their eyes with Black Panther and wanted to rush a Wakandan pavilion into Future World.


I wouldn't have been surprised to see Disney fast track a Black Panther attraction instead  of a space themed restaurant lacking any IP. This is a somewhat surprising announcement that alleviated any concerns I had. Don't get me wrong I'm really excited about what is coming to WDW for the 50th anniversary, but the franchise fatigue is real. A wacky restaurant about space travel really does feel like original Epcot.

Comcast calls no easy buckets on Disney/Fox sale

Reuters:

U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp is asking investment banks to increase a bridge financing facility by as much as $60 billion so it can make an all-cash offer for the media assets that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has agreed to sell to Walt Disney Co for $52 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

 

In the months since the Disney/Fox announcement, I've heard a lot of people discuss the acquisition as though the ink is dry. I've cautioned against this, as we've known the deal could fall apart for legal reasons. Even with that, a surprise bid from comcast isn't necessarily a wrinkle I would've put money on. Keep in mind, this may not happen either as it all depends on investors to pony up the cash.

 

I might be a Marvel fanboy, but this whole deal has made my spidey sense tingle. Sure we could be getting a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie with the X-Men, but at what cost? Disney is already the largest and most powerful entertainment company on earth, and I don’t think they need to get any bigger. It's not that I don't think Disney could figure out how to market Moana right alongside Deadpool, instead I find it concerning from a competitive point of view. As a fan of the company’s work, I think it's important that Disney has strong competitors to keep them on their toes.


I’m not entirely sure whether or not Comcast should buy Fox either, but I am confident that Disney shouldn’t.