In recent weeks, Walt Disney World has begun to unveil one of their largest (and even slightly controversial) projects ever, as Pandora — The World of Avatar is set to open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom after years of construction. The inclusion of Avatar, a non-Disney franchise in a Disney theme park certainly seems like an odd idea considering how different the two brands are, but the inclusion of Avatar won’t quite mark the first time that a non-Disney owned franchise has made their way into the parks. For that reason, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest franchises that have made their way into Walt Disney World despite not being owned by the company.
When The Muppets made their debut at Walt Disney World with Here Come the Muppets! and later, Muppet-Vision 3D, they were not yet Disney-owned franchises. At the time, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Muppet creator Jim Henson were in discussion for Disney to purchase the characters and the planned inclusions of The Muppet characters were only the beginning of those agreements. Sadly, those plans fell through with the tragic and untimely death of Henson in 1990 but The Muppets still made their debut and continue to leave their mark at Disney, and especially since Disney bought the franchise in 2004.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became the victim of bad Michael Bay-produced movies, the Turtles were the stars of their very own themed show at Disney’s MGM Studios which ran from 1990 up until 1995. A staple of the park, the memorable show featured the costumed characters performing in the backlot New York set, dancing to music before packing up and driving off in their Turtle Party Wagon. It was a delightful show that was one of the many great additions from non-Disney franchises to be found scattered throughout the parks.
When the Power Rangers made their way into the Disney parks, they were still owned entirely by The Walt Disney Company and were therefore attempted to implement into the Disney theme parks. As Disney continued to lose money on the Power Rangers and failed to view the franchise as profitable for the company, Disney sold the entirety of the Rangers assets and properties in 2010 back to Haim Saban, the original owner of the franchise. However, these non-Disney owned properties continue to leave their mark in the history of Walt Disney World and MGM-Studios’ early years.
Fair enough, this franchise never did quite make it to the Disney parks, but before the Harry Potter franchise went to Universal Studios, the Walt Disney Company was in deep negotiations with author J.K. Rowling about bringing the franchise to Walt Disney World. However, when Rowling’s demands weren’t met, the franchise moved to Universal. While the inclusion of this series never did quite make it to Disney, it’s hard not to speculate what might have been and the definite inclusion of the series had the company successfully wooed Rowling into the deal.
Arguably one of the best uses of any property in any Disney parks, the then-Lucas owned Indiana Jones made his Disney debut with Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which opened in 1989 and continues to operate to this day. The show is one that still remains impressive even as it nearly approaches its thirtieth anniversary in just a few short years. The Indiana Jones franchise is now a subsidiary of Disney through the purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, but the pre-Disney attraction is something that still remains an important piece of Disney history.
Similar to The Muppets, the inclusion of Star Wars before Disney purchased the series in 2012 was another great addition to the parks outside of the Disney brand when Star Tours opened in Disney’s MGM Studios in its early years. Now, Star Wars is getting its own fourteen acre wide themed area in the park it once made a modest debut upon, but looking back at the legacy of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s almost impossible to think of the park without the hand-in-hand theme of Star Wars, which helped defined the park since the very beginning.
That’s going to do it for our list of non-Disney franchise that have made their way into the Disney parks over the years. Judging by our list, are we setting up speculation that Disney will one day purchase Avatar? Okay, maybe that’s a stretch but until then, we’re excited to see what Pandora: The World of Avatar will add to the Walt Disney World Resort when it opens this May.
Mitchell Stein is the founder and operator of the Disney-fan based website The Mickey Mindset which is a leader in delivering Disney news, articles and opinions across the company. He can be contacted by following him on Twitter @MitchellStein1.