It's been a little more than four years since Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, and while we've seen the studio release Marvel movies, Marvel characters show up on Disney cartoons, and Disney comics get released by Marvel, there's only been a smattering of Marvel presence in Disney theme parks. That is, until now.
As announced on Tuesday (October 8), Iron Man will be blasting his way into Hong Kong Disneyland in the form of a theme park ride, photo pavilion and shopping area. This is the first time a Marvel character has inspired a ride at a Disney park, based on the complicated legalities of Marvel's deal with Universal Studios.
» Though Disney bought Marvel in 2009, the rights for some Marvel characters were already promised elsewhere. For theme parks, this was with Universal Studios in America (only). Universal has parks in both California and Florida, and both currently have Marvel-themed attractions and rides.
» Shortly before the Marvel/Disney deal, Universal California let their deal lapse. That means if Disney wanted to, they could install rides right now. The problem, as it stands, is space in Disney's California park. In order to set up a Marvel "land," something else has to disappear.
» Universal Orlando is another issue entirely: their deal with Marvel exists in perpetuity. Not only do they never need to close down their Marvel area in the Islands of Adventures theme park, but nothing Marvel is allowed to exist at a theme park within a 250-mile radius.
That last point has caused several problems for Disney in the past few years, particularly when Disney decided to run an Avengers monorail through Disney parks. Universal and Disney eventually reached an agreement, but by all accounts things were pretty tense.
Because of this standoff, we've only seen small bits of Marvel-dom appear in Disney parks... Before the release of "Iron Man 3," a StarkTech Expo was set up in Disneyland's Innoventions area. Similarly, starting November 1, fans can experience the "Treasures of Asgard" at Disneyland before the release of "Thor: The Dark World" on November 8.
That's what makes the Hong Kong ride so fascinating. Iron Man is extremely popular in China; Disney added extras scenes for the release of "Iron Man 3" expressly for the country, so starting with Tony Stark's heroic alter ego makes a lot of sense. And though there aren't a lot of details about the ride, it does sound in line with what you'd expect from a superhero theme park experience: Iron Man will "take flight with the superhero as he fights alien invaders across the skyline of Hong Kong," according to the New York Times.
That said, there's no word on whether it will be a Dark Ride (i.e., looking at dioramas or scenes, as is Disney's normal mode), a rollercoaster, or some sort of combo film/ride like you might find at Universal theme parks.
On the other end of the spectrum, Marvel also announced Tuesday that they'll be releasing comic books in cooperation with Disney Imagineers. The first book, which will be released under Marvel's new "Disney Kingdoms" banner is called "Seekers of the Weird," and will adapt a never built theme park ride. From the press release:
"Dreamed up by famous Imagineer Rolly Crump in 1965, the Museum of the Weird was home to a collection of mystical curiosities said to have been unearthed from all corners of the globe. Originally conceived as a spooky walk-through attraction connected to the Haunted Mansion, Crump's innovative designs were left on the drawing board following the passing of Walt Disney....until now!"
The book, written by Brandon Seifert (Witch Doctor) and drawn by Karl Moline (Avengers Arena) won't be released until January... But given Disney's fluidness with their theme park attractions, one wonders if Disney Kingdoms is the studio's way of generating comic book content that can end up at Disney Parks. Meaning, once you have the outline, why not build the attraction?
Time — and a team of lawyers — will tell.