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Disney Gives Updates on STAR WARS, Marvel, AVATAR, and TOY STORY Plans for Their Parks at D23 Expo

Disney dropped the tease to win all teases for their Parks and Resorts panel at D23 Expo Saturday morning during the panel focusing on their live-action film slate. They revealed Star Wars-themed lands are coming to both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. Yes, it is rather exciting. Knowing the crowd was salivating for more information about the galactic addition, the Parks and Resorts panel hosted by Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, started with updates on the Star Wars presence at the parks but also touched on additions involving Toy Story, Avatar, and Marvel. Like Disney, we’ll begin with the galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars

As revealed in the live action panel, Disney will be adding 14-acre additions on both coasts–in Disneyland in Anaheim and in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando–for Star Wars land. The area will introduce guests to a planet they’ve never seen before–a gateway planet on the outer rim. The word “immersive” was used over and over again to describe this land and others. Therefore, in Star Wars land, every single thing will be in-story. Since the ambitious plans are obviously a bit in the future (they didn’t announce opening dates), Disney is also rolling out plans to allow guests to experience the Force more immediately.

The Imagineer working on the Star Wars plans, Scott Trowbridge, provided an update on the plans that are right around the corner. Spoilers: The deal is getting better. The Star Wars Launch Bay that was initially announced for Shanghai Disneyland will be coming to both resorts in the United States soon. It will offer guests looks at props for the upcoming film and allow guests to play new games such as Disney Infinity. In addition to the Launch Bay, Star Tours will get an update before the end of the year and that update will include a new planet and new characters from Episode VII. The Jedi Training Academy will get a refresh, too. And there’s more.

Given that Star Wars Weekends has been so popular, Disney is introducing a limited time event to Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in early 2016 called Star Wars Season of the Force. Themed food, drinks, and merchandise will be available to purchase and each coast gets something special. At Disneyland, Space Mountain will become Hyperspace Mountain. The re-imagining will feature projections and put guests in the seat of an X-wing. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there will be a new custom fireworks show with a score recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Toy Story

Continuing the immersive theme, Chapek announced that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is adding Toy Story Land. Kathy Mangum said they’ve changed their approach at Hollywood Studios. Instead of putting guests behind the scenes looking in, they want to put guests into the worlds. They want new lands to be as all-encompassing as Cars Land in California Adventure. With Toy Story Land, the guests will be “shrunk” to the size of Andy’s toys as they enter. The setting? Andy’s backyard. The land will have two new attractions: an alien saucers ride and a family-friendly coaster where the ride vehicles are Slinky Dog.


Animal Kingdom is need of a refresh, and as Chapek said, Disney is “working to transform Animal Kingdom into a park that offers a full day of fun.” Part of the efforts involve leveraging the different environment the park offers after dark, and part of it involves Avatar. Imagineer Joe Rohde discussed how Disney is collaborating with James Cameron, Jon Landau, and WETA to bring Pandora to life. Cameron and Landau joined Rohde on stage to discuss their work and what they’re doing to make Pandora feel like a real, breathing place. Rohde said, “We make sure what we do is true to the scale and mythic feeling of Pandora.” To that end, Cameron revealed the land is officially called Pandora: The World of Avatar. Guests won’t be revisiting familiar events and scenes from the film when they enter the land. Instead, the emphasis is on creating your own experience.

The area will feature a flying ride called the Flight of Passage, and Cameron hopes it will open guests’ eyes. He mentioned one aspect of Avatar that people connected was its beauty and that it had a sense of wonder. They want to re-create that sense with the World of Avatar. Rohde said, “We want to use the experience of Pandora to remind us of Earth itself. We live on an extraordinary planet.”

And oh yeah, we sang “Happy Birthday” to James Cameron before he left the stage.


The first Marvel attraction coming to a Disney park is the Iron Man Experience in Hong Kong Disneyland. Slated to open in 2016, Ted Robledo said the ride will begin in Stark Expo. Tony Stark has opened Stark Expo in Tomorrowland and guests will view the history of Stark Industries inventions before going on a ride in Iron Wing vehicles that put them alongside Iron Man in a fight against Hydra. This part of the presentation suffered from some technical difficulties, but Stan Lee made an appearance and talked about his cameos (there was a reel) and Iron Man showed up ever so briefly.

The panel wrapped with an overview of the many lands of the not-yet-open Shanghai Disneyland.

Since we took a tour around the world to get updates on each Disney park, it made the perfect segue for Chapek to make one final announcement. Soarin’ will be updated to Soarin’ Around the World next year in both California Adventure and Epcot.

Whew. Which update are you most excited about? Talk to me in the comments or give me a shout on Twitter.

IMAGES: Disney Parks Blog

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