Even before it was officially announced, we knew that Marvel Land was coming to Disney California Adventure. And due to the contract in place with Universal Orlando Resort, we figured that pretty much all of the super-powered characters and places that will be a part of this eventual land would be exclusive to the west coast.
However, it looks like Disney is increasingly testing the boundaries of its contract with its Orlando neighbor in some very interesting ways that imply that Disney is looking to bring the world of Marvel to Walt Disney World in a much bigger way than we originally anticipated, which is especially surprising considering the meager origin of Marvel characters at Walt Disney World...
It all started with a limited time character appearance at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Back in 2014, when Guardians of the Galaxy was still a brand-new hit, Disney quietly introduced a one-night only character experience that allowed guests to meet Star Lord (AKA Peter Quill) as well as Gamora during the (now cancelled) hard-ticketed Villains Unleashed event at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Touted as a character "encounter" rather than a traditional meet and greet, these characters weren't able to sign autographs or pose for pictures during this event, instead simply talking to guests and getting up on stage occasionally.
However, even though these characters only appeared once (and in a very limited capacity), this event marked the very first time that Marvel characters were seen inside a Walt Disney World theme park, and paved the way for pretty much everything that came next.
The merchandise creep
Though Disney hasn't hosted a Guardians of the Galaxy character experience since the aforementioned one night only event in 2014, in the aftermath of this successful event, merchandise from the various Marvel properties, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man and more started appearing around Walt Disney World, not only at Disney Springs (which got a new Super Hero-themed shop in 2015) but also inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, possibly in violation of the current Universal contract.
Though it was rare to see Marvel merchandise previously at Disney parks, now guests can grab apparel, toys, hats and more featuring characters like Captain America, Loki and more pretty much anywhere around the resort.
The strange appearance of Doctor Strange
Continuing to test the limits of the Marvel licensing agreement with Universal Orlando Resort, Disney has recently announced that a 10 minute sneak-peek of Marvel's new Doctor Strange film will begin on October 7, 2016 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the One Man's Dream attraction, ahead of the movie's November 4 opening in theaters.
In addition, Stitch Kingdom recently uncovered a casting notice that implies that a Doctor Strange character experience will be debuting sometime in the near future at Walt Disney World. While the call says this will be a "limited engagement" (and doesn't specify a park), it does suggest that Disney will be trying out another character experience similar to the Star Lord and Gamora experience mentioned above. And while Doctor Strange isn't technically a member of the Avengers, he did become a member of the New Avengers in the early 2000s, which again, could put Walt Disney World in breach of contract depending on how Universal defines the Avengers "family" referenced in the legal documentation drawn up in the late 1990s.