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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.