It was a crazy weekend for Disney fans around the world, as all the news from the D23 Expo came fast and furious. But alas, all good things must come to an end. And the last, major panel of the convention was dedicated to the future of Disney Parks.
Josh D’Amaro, Chairperson of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was the host for the ceremony, which kicked off with an amazing performance of the song “Find Your Happily Ever After” from Disney pop star, Jordan Fisher. The song, famous among fans of the former nighttime spectacular, recognized it instantly. And accompanying it, came the first piece of news from D’Amaro, which is that the Happily Ever After spectacular would be returning to Disneyland; the first of many updates for the park.
After spending a few moments to recap the immense year the Parks department has had, D’Amaro carried on focusing on the future of Disney Parks. This year they announced a new Disneyland Paris show called “Pixar: We Belong Together” and the 70th Anniversary of Imagineering. But to start things off, D’Amaro really wanted to begin where it all started: Disneyland.
With Galaxy’s Edge being a terrific, well received expansion to the park over the past few years, it was about time they expanded into something that would be set outside the sequel trilogy cannon. Earlier this year, they did that with the introduction of Boba Fett and Fennec Shand to the park. And at the panel, D’Amaro invited out filmmaker and Mandalorian co-creator Jon Favreau to officially announce that The Mandalorian and Grogu will finally be coming to the parks in November of this year.
Following that, Favreau’s pal, head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige came out to chat about the future of Avengers Campus. The first of two announcements was one that came with its own introduction. Mark Ruffalo “called” into the panel and asked about when we’d see Hulk in the parks. And with that, Feige and D’Amaro were visited by a giant, almost 9-foot walk-around Hulk character, in a Quantum Realm suit from Endgame. The voice that came out of it was Ruffalo’s. D’Amaro couldn’t resist joking about making sure Hulk didn’t smash anything on his way out given a Spider-Man animatronic did enough “smashing” a few months ago this year. Hulk made his exit, and the real meat of the announcements for Avengers Campus was made.
Feige confirmed that a brand new, E-ticket ride was coming to campus soon. And showed a concept art with a ride vehicle heading towards a villain as a huge assortment of Marvel’s biggest heroes surrounded it. Feige confirmed that this ride would take advantage of The Multiverse Saga storyline, allowing for the ride to utilize all heroes across every iteration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to help guests join in on the battle. And additionally, the villain for this ride would be an original one exclusive for the ride’s storyline; a variant of Thanos called “King Thanos.”
With the announcement of the new ride, the Avengers Campus portion of the presentation concluded, but the news for Disney’s California Adventure did not stop there! Straight from Big Hero 6, San Fransokyo is coming to the park! The Pacific Warf area between Cars Land and Pixar Palace will be refurbished to look like a replica of the iconic location from the film, and will feature its own Baymax meet and greet as well.
Around the Disneyland Resort, specifically the Downtown Disney District, there will be a few new additions. They’re going to install a Din Tae Fung and a Portos location as well. And they are going to replace the Paradise Pier Hotel with a new one, called Pixar Place. And for the athletes out there, there was an announcement that the RunDisney in-person events were finally coming back.
Going from DCA and Downtown Disney back to Disneyland Park, D’Amaro talked about updates happening in Toontown; specifically construction on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The original attraction opened to great reviews in Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, and was finally coming to California. With it would be a reimagining of Toontown, incorporating a lot more Mickey and Friends branding to the area. The renovations are expected to debut in 2023.
The final announcement for the Disneyland park was of course the great renovation of Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. The ride will be acting as a sequel of sorts to the film, and guests will help Tiana prepare for a massive party, by searching around the bayou for a secret ingredient she needs for a recipe. Guests will be escorted by Louis the alligator, and the ride will feature the voices from the original Princess and the Frog movie including Anika Noni Rose. Speaking of Rose, the announcement ended with a surprise performance from Rose of “Almost There” and “Dig a Little Deeper” from the original film, complete with New Orleans Jazz Bands roaming the isle. It was a complete Mardi Gras celebration contained within the arena.
The next announcements came for Walt Disney World in Orlando. The announcements started with the updates to Epcot, which will see a new nightime spectacular next year to replace the current show, Harmonious. They are also working on Journey of Water with Moana, a new walk-through attraction, that will debut in late 2023. And lastly for the park, Figment the purple dragon will be returning as meet-and-greet guest. As for the Magic Kingdom, the Tron Lightcycle Power Run has been testing and will be opening Spring 2023. And the Hatbox Ghost will be installed in their version of The Haunted Mansion.
Across the sea, in Shanghai Disney, D’Amaro provided updates on Zootopia, including the state of the art attraction that will allow guests to ride-along with the ZPD. They also showed a preview of the animatronics they’re creating for it, and it looked incredible. They were also building on their Duffy franchise with new characters and an upcoming Disney+ series.
Over at Hong Kong Disneyland they unveiled a new statue of Mickey and Walt for the 100th Anniversary of the company. And they are building their own Frozen land that will be opening in the second half of 2023. Tokyo Disney is moving forward with its own separate version of a Frozen land as part of their Fantasy Springs expansion. And Disneyland Paris is also getting one as well, in addition to a new small Tangled ride. To celebrate the abundance of Frozen presence in the international parks, attendees were treated a performance of “Into the Unknown” in French, Cantonese, and Japanese.
The panel then segued into Blue Sky concepts that the Imagineering team have been toying with. And to assist with their ideas, they teamed up with Head of Walt Disney Feature Animation, Jennifer Lee. Together they discussed possible expansion ideas to Magic Kingdom including possible lands inspired by Coco, Encanto, and the famous Disney Villains. And in Animal Kingdom, they discussed exploring ideas to revamp Dinoland USA, including a US-based version of Zootopia and a land inspired by Moana.
The panel concluded with the announcement that 2 new nighttime spectaculars will debut in Disneyland Resort. Disney’s California Adventure will receive a new show called “World Of Color – One.” And Disneyland will feature a new nighttime spectacular called “Wonderous”. This led into a performance of the new song called “It’s Wonderous” that served as the grand finale of the panel. From the skies arial acrobats descended and twirled. Fan favorite characters made their way to the stage and danced as cast members danced down the isles too. All in all it was a celebration of the magic the parks. And though there wasn’t a lot of new announcements, the news that did arrive put a smile on the faces of everyone in the crowd. And after all, isn’t that the point of the Happiest Place on Earth?