4. MARVEL Theme Park Universe
Location: Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and Walt Disney Studios
It's not every day that a phenomenon becomes so deeply embedded in pop culture, it can last for generations, but at least the first two decades of the 21st century are on track to be remembered as the Age of the Superhero. The formation of Marvel Studios in 2005 revolved around an ambitious and unprecedented idea: to create a massive, interconnected "Marvel Cinematic Universe" of stories with heroes and villains woven between films. Disney's $4 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009 helped fuel the MCU's first three "phases," which $22.5 billion from the first 23 films (yes, an average nearly a billion each).
Given that Iron Man feels as deeply engrained in modern media as Star Wars, you'd probably expect Disney to be constructing ultra-ambitious, Rise-of-the-Resistance-level Avengers attractions across the globe! There's just one problem. Through a few unexpected twists of fate, Disney doesn't own the exclusive rights to use their own heroes in all of their theme parks. We broke down the ins-and-outs of Disney and Universal's co-parenting of Captain America and crew in the special AVENGERS: Custody War feature.
The end result is that no Marvel-themed lands will (probably ever) be built at Walt Disney World. However, Marvel is moving into Disney's other properties... just not in as grand a form as you might imagine. A riff on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the so-called "Marvel Theme Park Universe" connects Disney rides into one standard timeline; a reality slightly skewed from the timeline of the films.
First, a corner of Hong Kong Disneyland's Tomorrowland is being gradually annexed into a world of its own. Like the mid-century, World's-Fair-influenced Stark Expos orchestrated by Tony Stark's father in Iron Man flashbacks, Hong Kong Disneyland was selected to host a modern Stark Expo. Its two pavilions (cast as "The Iron Man Tech Experience hosted by Stark Industries" and the "S.H.I.E.L.D. Science and Technology Pavilion") see guests invited in as tourists, but exiting as heroes after having been drawn into villainous attacks.
Two other Avengers areas (at Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Park) are instead cast as Avengers Campus, with intertwining stories that present them as recruitment centers set up in Anaheim and Paris to enable the next generation of heroes (that's us) to test out cutting edge technologies.
Both will include Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure inviting guests to test out spider-tech themselves (thanks to the Worldwide Engineeing Brigade - W.E.B.). Each will also have its respective anchor attractions: in Paris, an Iron Man redux of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and in California, the Guardians of the Galaxy overlay of the Lost Legend: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror that initially opened back in 2017. That ride introduced a very new kind of mythology to Disney Parks... one well-known by comic book fans: an alternate universe.
As fans of the highly episodic Marvel Cinematic Universe know, the epic events of Avengers: Infinity War and its climactic follow-up Endgame centered around Thanos' acquisition of the Infinity Stones that, with a snap of his finger, eliminated half of all life on Earth. Naturally, the event and the Avengers' response to it significantly altered the lineup of the Marvel movies going forward, with pivotal deaths, resurrections, and introductions that will guide the series' next phase.
So when on the timeline is the Avengers Campus set? Easy. It's not. In comic speak, it's an "alternate universe;" a sort of narrative spur that officially is set in a reality like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, except (according to Disney Live Entertainment director, Dan Fields):
There's no snap. What I mean by that is we want there to be some conflict, but we don't want anyone to feel that there's an apocalyptic threat to the end of humanity. Our friends in the studio do a great job with that. So we want the conflict to be a little more accessible to the daily guests here.
In other words, when we're recruited in the Avengers Campus, it's to shoot some webs, try oversized food, and buy Spider-Bots, not to sacrifice ourselves in a cataclysmic, civilization-ending battle. Characters gone from the films will still be meeting-and-greeting on-campus, and it's likely they're being armed with canon-friendly, puzzled responses to questions about their deaths.
The idea is that both the Avengers Campuses and the Stark Expo in Hong Kong have a mythology all their own. While it's possible that the so-called Marvel Theme Park Universe will be a bit looser than other mythologies, we still expect a great deal of internal consistency between the California, Hong Kong, and Parisian lands... it'll just be a different reality than we know from the movies.
Location: Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
While Avengers Campus relies on an "alternate universe" to excuse its inaccuracies against the films, Disney's Star Wars land isn't willing to make any exceptions that would deviate its core story from the movie series. To that end, the planet Batuu is more than just an original “place” devised by Disney Imagineers; it’s an entire world rife with its own original mythology. That’s probably no surprise given the intensely academic and studied timeline that governs all things in the Star Wars universe, but unlike the intergalactic travels of Star Tours, Galaxy’s Edge achieves the most exalted status in the Lucasfilm library: it’s canon.
That means that planet of Batuu, the village of Black Spire Outpost, and the forest encampment of the Resistance are as official as anything seen in the film. An extensive history of the planet was created to explain every detail you’ll see on your visit. Broadly, Batuu is a planet on the outer rim of the galaxy that once served as a major fueling and supplying port before the advent of lightspeed travel turned it into a remote flyover. (Yes, it’s Radiator Springs… in space.)
But it goes even further. The markets and forests of Batuu – and the particular happenings there on the day you visit – are ingrained into the timeline and stories that power the entire Star Wars universe. During your visit to the village of Black Spire Outpost, you’re participating in one particular day, forever looping in time (just like how it’s always “Race Day” in Cars Land). Our visit to Black Spire Outpost occurs late in the year 34 ABY – between the events of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. In true Star Wars fashion, Disney’s official setup for the land’s story is presented in the format of the series’ iconic opening crawl:
It is a dark time for the RESISTANCE. Following the devastating Battle of Crait, the freedom fighters have fled with General Leia Organa to an undisclosed location. Meanwhile, hunted by the FIRST ORDER and Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, a band of Resistance supporters has established a temporary outpost on the remote planet of Batuu, thanks to scouting by Resistance spy, Vi Moradi. Here on the Outer Rim, the Resistance is rebuilding and searching for recruits to join the cause and help save the galaxy from tyranny…
That’s especially important for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – the land’s ultra-E-Ticket – which invites guests to join in the Resistance at a pivotal moment. Abducted by the First Order, riders find themselves lost aboard Kylo Ren’s Finalizer Star Destroyer, managing a last minute escape just as the Resistance cripples the cruiser (you know the scene…).
Obviously, Ren and General Hux escape to the new Steadfast command ship… But officially, it was this embarrassing setback that caused Hux to be placed under the supervision of General Pryde, causing his allegiance to Kylo Ren to falter… and leading to the events of The Rise of Skywalker! Yes, the ever-entangling mythos of Star Wars actually relies on the offscreen events guests live firsthand on Batuu… Phew!
So while Avengers Campus is willing to create its own fluid timeline and "alternate universe," you won't find Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker on Batuu. At least, not yet...
6. S.E.A. - The Society of Explorers and Adventurers
Bar none, there is no richer or more spectacular a mythology ever developed for theme parks than the cross-continental, millennia-spanning story of S.E.A. – The Society of Explorers and Adventurers. With a manifesto hidden in time, S.E.A. is purported to be as legendary as the Illuminati. It’s a hazy collection of figures known and unknown who are part of a secret society dedicated to enlightening the darkest corners of the globe. From Renaissance-era fortresses to modern archaeological finds, hints of S.E.A. exist in Disney rides, shows, and restaurants around the world.
Just imagine: the proprietor of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar pinned to the wall an article celebrating the 1930s discovery of the Modern Marvel: Temple of the Forbidden Eye by Indiana Jones, which Jungle Cruise skippers point out as they sail past. Meanwhile, the Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen restaurant (operated by the Jungle River Navigation Co.) has a secret dining room hidden behind a bookcase, reserved for S.E.A. members; one of whom wrote a letter to the president of Pleasure Island’s Lost Legend: The Adventurers Club, commenting on the fatal curse of Harrison Hightower, the thieving millionaire behind the Modern Marvel: Tower of Terror...
So do all of these attractions take place in their own massive, connected mythology? Naturally, it’s enough to drive Imagineering fans bonkers, continuously building, expanding, and refining a timeline of interactions and references that seem to indicate a much larger (if largely unofficial) “expanded universe” giving Marvel’s a run for its money!
And that’s just it: the brilliance of S.E.A. is that it’s a built-in viral marketing mystery; a frame story used in several of Disney’s best attractions. The story of S.E.A. forms an international scavenger hunt inciting Imagineering fans to play a game of storytelling hide-and-seek, grasping at straws and assembling new clues to make sense of it. From Tokyo DisneySea’s version of Soarin’ to Hong Kong’s Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor, the ever-growing story even involves a ride at Walt Disney World… Make the jump to our special S.E.A. – Society of Explorers and Adventurers feature to dig into the details.
Altogether, these five mythologies are just a few of the larger-than-life, interconnected worlds created by Disney Imagineers. Which others have you noticed to draw multiple rides, attractions, or even restaurants together?