It seems that the highest demand presentations at D23 Expo year after year are the ones where we get a glimpse at new and upcoming films. This is likely because the studios spare no expense, bringing out all the stars and often featuring dazzling musical performances. However, the D23 Expo is held in the shadows of the Disneyland Resort and for thousands of attendees, the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation is the one and only reason they go. Plus, the Parks showed that they also know how to put on a great show.
The spectacle began as guests in the audience began to stand up, singing “Go the Distance” from Hercules (which was celebrating its 20th anniversary at this year’s Expo). As the planted talent congregated in the aisles, more singers took the stage dressed in various Cast Member costumes. They countered “Go the Distance” with “Seize the Day” from Newsies. It was an Alan Menken extravaganza as they mashed up the two songs and welcomed all of us to Disney Parks.
Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Bob Chapek hosted the ceremony and began by making everyone cry with a Disney Parks ad where a deaf girl discovers that Tinker Bell and Minnie Mouse are able to talk to her in sign language. He then gave the entire segment a huge pat on the back for successful projects like Pandora: The World of Avatar. And thus began what I like to call “The Rumor Confirmation Presentation.” It has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?
Starting with Star Wars, which was the centerpiece of the Walt Disney Imagineering Pavilion on the show floor, Chapek announced that the land will be called “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” This was both the first and last time we will ever hear anyone refer to it as such, as we will forever call it “Star Wars Land” and billboards will likely follow suit. Nobody calls “New Fantasyland” by its real name either (“The Enchanted Forest”) and Harry Potter understands how Star Wars feels. When’s the last time anyone told you they were heading to Universal to see “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?” All kidding aside, there were actually some announcements about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars Land. Rex from the original Star Tours has a new gig as a DJ in one of the restaurants and Hondu from Star Wars Rebels is part of the premise behind the Millennium Falcon attraction.
The next rumor confirmed is that a Mickey Mouse attraction is indeed coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Chapek welcomed Imagineer Kevin Rafferty and he proved his Mickey Mouse fandom by wearing a really cool tie. While it is exciting that Mickey Mouse is getting his first ride-through attraction, everyone was a bit disappointed that it is based on the new, crudely animated Disney Channel shorts series rather than the classic Walt-era Mickey style. The attraction is called Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and uses new 2.5-D technology. To avoid any “Boo’s,” Kevin failed to mention that this attraction will replace The Great Movie Ride, which closes forever on August 13th to make room for it.
When Chapek returned, he talked about a recent ad for the return of The Main Street Electrical Parade that featured a girl walking through a warehouse and plugging in the missing light to turn the parade back on. He teased more things might be coming back and then welcomed the singers back to the stage with a medley of songs that paid tribute to Wishes, The Golden Horseshoe, Carousel of Progress, Mad T Party and Tapestry of Dreams.
Switching gears to Epcot, Bob Chapek promised lots of new attractions in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021. Heading up the Epcot project is Tom Fitzgerald, who worked on Epcot Center before it opened and understands how to bring Epcot into the 21st century while staying true to its roots. He began by confirming that the popular Disneyland Paris attraction Ratatouille: The Adventure is being added to France. One surprise announcement was that Reflections of China is also receiving an upgrade and will be Disney’s first seamless 360 film.
Nobody was surprised when Fitzgerald announced that Guardians of the Galaxy is coming to Epcot, but the story behind why it fits in Future World was groan worthy, explained away by a Polaroid of young Peter Quill in front of Spaceship Earth. I tried not to cry, knowing that it will replace my favorite Epcot attraction, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, also closing August 13th and killing the “Traveling Theater” ride system in a single day. They didn’t say what kind of ride it will be, but the concept art showed the Universe of Energy show building remaining as the facade.
I believe everybody was surprised to hear that Mission: Space is getting some love. The Green Mission (non-spinning) will be getting a brand new mission that gently revolves guests around Earth, while the Orange Mission (so much spinning) will still travel to the Red Planet with enhanced visual effects. In addition, a new rotating table service restaurant is going in “Next Door” (Wonders of Life?) and will feature digital screens of outer space. “Epcot needs more table service restaurants,” said nobody ever, but this one looks pretty cool.
Lastly, they announced that changes will be coming to the “Entrance” of the park. The image on screen, however, was the entrance to World Showcase and it appears that a lot of green space is being added to the area between the fountain and the gateway to World Showcase. The artwork shows walkways extending out into World Showcase Lagoon like the bridges at Disney Springs, and there also appears to be a new fountain area. I’m assuming from this image that Illuminations is not long for this world and it looks like a World of Color-style show is about to take place and soak everybody on the bridges. They ended the Epcot section by letting us know that more will be announced soon.
Magic Kingdom will also receive some new experiences in time for its golden anniversary. Tron: Lightcycle Power Run is actually coming to Tomorrowland, although it is not replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway as previously reported. Instead, it will squeeze between that attraction and Space Mountain. That park will also get its own Broadway-style theater on Main Street, but the show inside won’t be revealed until a later date.
Taking a break from the parks, Chapek brought us to some upcoming resorts. Disneyland Paris is getting the first Marvel resort with Hotel New York: The Art of Marvel. At Walt Disney World, guests will be able to spend the night in “A galaxy far, far away” in the first immersive Star Wars resort. And a new Disney Vacation Club property called Disney’s Riviera Resort will have a rooftop restaurant that offers views of nighttime spectaculars at both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
To help guests get around the 40 square miles of Walt Disney World, Chapek announced the “Minnie Vans,” which are now in operation. These vans can be summoned through the My Disney Experience app to take you anywhere on Disney property. He also confirmed the gondolas, which will be called the Disney Skyliner and will connect guests staying at Disney’s Riviera Resort, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century and Art of Animation to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The gondolas also look uniquely Disney with great character art on each one. Dibs on the Hitchiking Ghosts!
For the rest of the Disney Parks announcements, go to the next page.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.