Home » Bursting the Disney Bubble: 5 Problematic Projects That Leave Fans Worried for Disney Imagineering’s Future

Bursting the Disney Bubble: 5 Problematic Projects That Leave Fans Worried for Disney Imagineering’s Future

Zootopia Moana Land Concept Art

Ah, the “Disney Bubble”… The invisible – but very real – iridescent dome that hovers over Walt Disney World is a thing of legend. Once you’re inside the “Disney Bubble,” the real world seems very, very far away. 

But over the last several years, we’ve seen disappointing and distressing moves at Disney that suggest that the legendary “Disney Bubble” might be on the verge of popping. It was this time two years ago that we first explored Disney’s new era of slashed perks and new upcharges – where Disney seems to invent problems, then sell the solutions. Then we endured a flubbed 50th Anniversary, a year without any ride announcements (and during the meteoric rise of a competitor), and – predictably – falling attendance as guests return home to report how drastically prices have increased across the board.

But even beyond rising prices, frustrating upcharges, and general lack of enthusiasm that Disney seems to have for its parks so far in the 2020s, there’s another issue worth discussing… the things that have come to Disney Parks in the last decade – all IP-based, of course – have some serious problems… The projects below all have an inherent issue that leaves fans frustrated… and worried about Imagineering’s future. Are you?

1. Avengers Campus

The Problem: No E-Ticket

When then-Chairman of Disney Parks Bob Chapek stood on stage at the semi-annual D23 Expo in 2019, it was to unveil the long-gestating details of Avengers Campus – the high profile land meant to embody the biggest film franchise of all time and Disney’s then-current golden goose. But even then, Chapek hedged his bets, showing a two versions of the same piece of concept art. The second version merely inserted a massive white warehouse emblazoned with the Avengers “A”. This, he promised, would be an incredible, technological, all-out, innovative thrill ride that – like the Avengers film – would serve as a mega crossover event. The only problem? It wouldn’t be part of the land to start.

Instead, the legendary “Avengers E-Ticket” would be part of a “Phase II” expansion of the land… some day. It seemed like a short-sighted move, especially for the company who’d just opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge without its anchoring Rise of the Resistance U-Ticket, and predictably had seen attendance and public response fall far below expectations. So it’s no surprise that fans had the same kind of reaction with Avengers Campus, which really only added the fun-but-frivolous Web-Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure to the park’s ride count.

Don’t get us wrong: Avengers Campus is a nice land. It’s fun. It’s lighthearted. It’s got lots of Easter eggs. And it’s filled with character (literally) thanks to Disney’s commitment to keeping the land stocked with heroes. But there’s no denying that it’s still missing that big budget blockbuster E-Ticket experience that the Marvel brand really requires and that the Avengers deserve.

In 2022, Disney re-confirmed that the original, expansive, E-Ticket thrill ride had morphed into a lower-scale, more family-oriented “Plan B” version of an Avengers ride… but a major downswing in Marvel’s box office popularity (and the fact that no dirt has moved at California Adventure) leaves fans worried… And given Disney’s track record, even if construction began today, we wouldn’t expect a proper Avengers ride for at least five years. Speaking of which…

2. TRON Lightcycle Run

The Problem: Too slow

Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016, introducing a whole new formula for Disney’s “Castle Parks” and ushering in a generation of fresh attraction concepts. One of the clear standouts was TRON Lightcycle Power Run – a launched roller coaster positioning guests aboard straddle-seated Lightcycles, blasting into the digital realm of TRON. It was a compelling, colorful, and clever ride, and as usual, fans quickly took to the internet asking Disney to bring it stateside. But this time, they listened.

At the semi-annual D23 Expo, the became official: Magic Kingdom would indeed receive a copy of the Shanghai ride in its own Tomorrowland, with the ride’s iconic, glowing, serpentine canopy joining Space Mountain’s geometric cone in the land’s skyline. Seasonal, regional parks often begin vertical construction of roller coasters in late summer and have them open for riders by the following spring. Obviously, Disney rides are rarely just “bare steel” coaster that could come online so quickly. But in case you missed it, we’re not talking about a few extra months here. In fact, 1,875 days passed between the ride’s groundbreaking and its public opening – that’s about five years.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly interrupted Disney’s construction timeline while also causing materials shortages across the industry. But it’s worth remembering that Universal’s VelociCoaster endured the same scenario and went from groundbreaking to opening in 875 days – less than half the time. Back at Walt Disney World, fans looked on in utter disbelief at how long it took for Disney to literally build an exact clone of a ride they’d already built once before. Five years. Even remembering it now, it feels unthinkable.

And apparently, Disney management felt so too… Because the next project on our list allegedly came about when much-detested, penny-pinching CEO Bob Chapek personally tasked Imagineers with getting an IP-based project off the ground as quickly as possible, and with as little cash as possible… Read on…

3. Pixar Pier

The Problem: What ever happened to story?

As the story goes, Bob Chapek (then recently-promoted to oversee Disney Parks) was aghast to learn that Imagineering development cycles sometimes stretched to nearly a decade. Coming from his time at Disney Consumer Products, Chapek understood that Disney needed to strike while the iron is hot, getting the product to the people. Like his then-boss Bob Iger, Chapek also knew that Disney’s intellectual properties were priceless, and that fundamentally Disney Parks should be about bringing them to life; elaborate “brand loyalty centers” where Disney + Pixar + Marvel + Star Wars live.

That, if you can believe it, is supposedly the inception of Pixar Pier – a personal challenge from Chapek to Imagineering to prove that they could infuse a popular IP into Disney’s theme parks both quickly and inexpensively. It worked, of course, but anyone who knows the project management triangle will tell you that if you want it fast and you want it cheap, you shouldn’t also ask for quality. Pixar Pier is living proof. Some elements of the land are beautiful, infusing more of the turn-of-the-century details that the land began to gain during its 2012 reimagining.

But a whole lot about Pixar Pier reads as “cheap and cheerful.” We’re talking vinyl stickers to turn the Mickey-faced Ferris wheel into the Pixar Pal-a-Around; “label slapping” high-earning, beloved, and emotional Pixar franchises onto carnival rides; mis-matched themes; appearances of the literal “Pixar” corporate logo. As with the other projects on this list, it’s not that it’s awful. Not at all. I mean, it’s cute! But it’s also dumb. Dumb in the sense that there’s no sense to it; no logic; no “immersiveness”; no story. 

If Pixar Pier does have a story, it must be that in present time, The Walt Disney Company owns a boardwalk and has decided to overlay the highest-earning franchises from its Pixar Animation Studios subsidiary onto the carnival rides there. Not exactly art. It’s just strange that the same company that can develop exhaustive mythologies for Avengers Campus, deeply immersive us in timeless settings like Cars Land, and rigorously hold themselves to the “rules” in Galaxy’s Edge can also put a mid-century Incredibles “neighborhood” on a Victorian boardwalk next to a giant Toy Story Land-style Happy Meal box and be fine with it. (By the way, the company was allegedly shocked when Pixar Pier had practically zero impact on the park’s attendance. Oops.)

4. Journey of Water

The Problem: Placement

From the moment it was announced, the internet was quick to hate on Journey of Water Inspired by Moana. You can understand why. In the multi-year reimagining of EPCOT, fans have gotten a whole lot of what they didn’t want for the park, and almost nothing of what they did. Especially the park’s core – formerly, the Innoventions area – has been a bit of an embarrassment for some of the very same reasons fans poo-poo’ed other projects on this list. There are many who say that EPCOT’s central plaza didn’t need completely reimagined, especially with so much work around the rest of the park that we can agree is essential (eh hem, Imagination).

Now that it’s open, we can mostly agree that Journey of Water is a sensational little attraction. Part walkthrough, part splash pad, and part educational exhibition, the attraction is incredibly “EPCOT” in its foundation. Guests basically enter the circular path at the start of the water cycle, then follow water’s journey by way of interactive fountains and features. The problem, of course, is the Disney-mandated IP overlay aspect, which assigned the very popular star of the 2016 Disney Animation film Moana.

Listen, a Journey of Water attraction makes great sense for the park. And Moana is not just a universally-acclaimed film; it’s the top-streamed movie on Disney+. And the resulting mix is absolutely gorgeous… but it’s also the weirdest character injection into EPCOT yet. After otherwise embracing the park’s ’80s retro-futurism throughout its new “neighborhoods” and offering great throwbacks to the park’s original design ethos, Journey of Water is… a weird little Polynesian volcanic grotto filled with wicker lamps and tropical plants? It’s beautiful, but understandably lends major confusion as to what (if anything) EPCOT is about

Which brings us to our last example…

5. Zootopia

The Problem: There is no plan

Who would ever have guessed that in 2023, one of the hottest button issues in Disney Parks fandom would be the 2016 animated film Zootopia? Yet here we are. Zootopia is often held up as an example about many issues plaguing Disney Parks today. Like a storm cloud, it hovers overhead… After all, Disney developed a Zootopia themed land for Shanghai Disneyland (since the film did bonkers business in China) and in today’s day and age, there’s almost zero chance that Disney won’t copy-and-paste the land into more parks to save on research and development costs. So where would it go?

Well… that’s kind of the issue. It seemed entirely possible that Zootopia could end up at any Disney Park. Seriously. Magic Kingdom? Sure. EPCOT? We can see it happening. Hollywood Studios? Yep, possible. California Adventure? At this point, why not? The fact that Zootopia seems equally likely to end up at any of them just sort of goes to show that Disney’s theme parks are differently decorated, but have really lost any specific, individual core meanings.

Anyway, in 2022, we seemed to see Disney’s plan unfold when Disney one of its dreaded, awkward non-announcements, showing concept art of possibly adding Zootopia at Animal Kingdom. On one hand, it makes sense. Zootopia. Zoo. Animals. Y’know, duh. But the park’s creator – Joe Rohde – had already famously said “No” to ZootopiaWhy? Because, in short, Zootopia HAS animals, but isn’t really ABOUT animals… It’s an allegory about a uniquely-human problem (racism) that’s not any more about animals than Frozen would be if Frozen’s characters were designed as Nordic foxes instead of humans.

Online arguments were brutal, with some saying, “Zootopia has animals, so it belongs in Animal Kingdom, period, end of story” and others trying to hold to the oft-cited, revered themes developed by Rohde: that everything in Animal Kingdom should be about the untradeable value of nature, our relationship to it, and the transformational power of exploration, none of which are strengthened by a neon cartoon city and an E-Ticket ride where you join a bunny cop to patrol the city streets.

Anyway, all the arguing was for nothing, because Disney announced another non-announcement in 2023: that Zootopia was off the table, and instead they’d decided to stick with the park’s existing design ethos and build a “Tropical Americas” land replacing Dinoland that may or may not include Indiana Jones and Encanto. (Zootopia will instead come to the park by replacing “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” but at least a 3D film is less permanent than a full-scale land.)

Still, for many fans, the damage was done, and twofold. First and foremost is the depressing and demoralizing new practice of Disney not announcing anything at all, and instead just getting folks riled up with shoot-from-the-hip, unconfirmed, awkward showcases of things they’re “considering” but might never build; “fake” announcements clearly just meant to give executives something to talk about at fan conventions when budgets have been slashed across the company, even if such non-announcements pulverize goodwill.

Secondly, the idea that Disney was even considering Zootopia despite the explicit condemnation from the park’s founding creative sort of revealed the true issue: there’s no plan. No one’s driving the bus. Even Animal Kingdom might not stick to its roots anymore, and instead, we’ll all just be flung into whatever IP-based world Disney decides to plop down in the park it thinks is closest to making sense and needs to cap-ex boost. It’s a disappointing and depressing state of affairs that leaves many fans feeling like the Disney Bubble has officially burst. Do you agree?