While many lament the events of 2020 for various reasons, Disney, movie, and theme park fans had a lot to look forward to this year only to see it snatched away for reasons beyond their control. Some of us were looking forward to an epic adventure with Natasha Romanoff in a darkened movie house, while others were excited to escape the clutches of Chef Skinner on a trackless ride system at EPCOT. The crew here at Laughing Place has rounded up some of the biggest things we were looking forward to but didn’t end up getting in 2020.
The hype machine was churning earlier this year during the Super Bowl when a new teaser and posters were released for the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in the first film in Phase Four of the MCU. Florence Pugh stars as Yelena, David Harbour as Alexei aka The Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz as Melina. The film was originally set to be released theatrically on May 1st, but was delayed due to the pandemic, and was given a new release date of November 6th. That day came and went and still we were left without our adventures with Natasha Romanoff. Merchandise even appeared at the parks and elsewhere, but without the film that would drive people to the shelves to pick it up. As of press time, Black Widow is scheduled to arrive in theaters on May 7th, 2021, though as we’ve seen already with instances like Mulan and the next entry on our list, we wouldn’t be surprised if that were to change or even be brought to Premiere Access on Disney+.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Originally announced in August of 2019 at the D23 Expo, Walt Disney Animation Studios was set to take us to a legendary world inspired by the beautiful and diverse cultures of Southeast Asia. The film travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well. Raya and the Last Dragon features the voices of Kelly Marie Tran (The Last Jedi) as Raya, a warrior whose wit is as sharp as her blade, and Awkwafina as magical, mythical, self-deprecating dragon named Sisu. Co-Director Don Hall is quoted as saying the film is “the most beautiful animated film I've ever seen.”
A rearranging of release dates brought about by the closing of theaters saw Pixar’s Soul pushed out from June to take over the original release date of Raya and the Last Dragon, November 25th, with Raya being pushed out to March 12th, 2021. Soul eventually was sent straight to Disney+ as a Christmas gift from the studio, debuting on the streamer on December 25th. At the recent Walt Disney Company’s Investor’s Day, it was revealed that Raya and the Last Dragon would now be released on March 5th, 2021, theatrically where available and as part of Disney+ Premiere Access where it’s not. Hopefully, Raya will remain a sure thing for the early months of next year.
runDisney Events Cancelled/Turned Virtual
Tens of thousands of guests descend upon Walt Disney World at various weekends throughout the year for the different marathon events hosted by runDisney. This year was slated to be no different, until the idea of having thousands of people literally corralled into one section of a parking lot didn’t sound so good anymore, causing numerous runDisney events to be cancelled. In-person events have been cancelled as far as April of 2021 (so far) with the Star Wars Rival Run weekend, with most events becoming virtual races where participants run at home on their own time and still receive their medals. Affected events included 2020’s Star Wars Rival Run, WDW Wine & Dine, and 2021’s WDW Marathon Weekend, WDW Princess Half Marathon, and the aforementioned 2021 Star Wars Rival Run. All of which were switched to virtual races.
Many consider this to not be the same though, as the runDisney races offer the unique settings of the parks and resorts of Walt Disney World with various entertainment and characters along the way, something that runners don’t get when they stick to their own neighborhood or treadmill at their gym. runDisney fans in North America though do have it slightly better than those that planned to run at the Disneyland Paris resort, where the Inaugural Princess Race Weekend and Magic Run Weekend were cancelled outright.
Guests visiting Walt Disney World can still get their running on at the hotel trails, and acquire equipment at the newly reopened Fit2Run location in Disney Springs in the former Lucky Brand space in Town Center.
Star Wars Celebration and D23 Events
Scheduled for the summer of this year, Star Wars Celebration would have seen the fandom of all fandoms arrive in Anaheim for a weekend of galactic fun. The event was supposed to be four days full of major announcements, immersive exhibits, an interactive show floor, screenings, exclusive merchandise, celebrity guests, panels, autograph sessions and more. Though it was no surprise when it came, the news broke in June that the Star Wars Celebration would be cancelled. However, the bigger surprise came when it was revealed that it had been pushed back by two years, now taking place in 2022.
This appears to throw off a rotation that was apparently trying to be established between Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim as well as the D23 Expo, which also takes place at the Anaheim Convention Center. Speaking of D23, this year’s Destination D event (which also alternates years with the D23 Expo) was pushed back into 2021, with the D23 Expo pushed into 2022 as well. The Star Wars Celebration was announced for August of 2022, with D23 Expo in September of 2022.
Fans who were interested in the exclusive merchandise that Star Wars Celebration had to offer did get their chance though when a virtual store opened in November for guests who were going to be in attendance at the Celebration, and eventually the general public as well.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
At the 2019 D23 Expo there were numerous announcements regarding the future of EPCOT, all combining into a massive overhaul of the park. One of the first projects that we were going to see was set to debut in the summer of this year in World Showcase’s France Pavilion, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
Though nearly identical to the attraction at Walt Disney Studios Parc in Paris, the excitement around this attraction was palpable as it was not only a new attraction coming to the park, but the beginning of a whole new EPCOT.
When the parks closed in mid-March, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was only months shy of its grand debut when construction on the new attraction was paused. The parks reopened in July and construction ramped up again, with a new Parisian street viewable from Disney’s Skyliner enticing antsy guests who are clamoring for something new on this side of EPCOT. Notably missing upon reopening, a banner that said the attraction would be opening in Summer of 2020.
A recent D23 event promised the opening of the attraction in 2021, and a sneak peek for a tiktok user Emily Jacobsen shows them touring the interior of the attraction without hard hat, vest, or other safety equipment, subtly implying the attraction is complete and ready to go.
We were promised Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in 2020 and getting it in 2021, but there were other EPCOT announcements that don’t appear to have fared so well. A three story World Celebration pavilion, a Mary Poppins dark ride for the UK pavilion, and a major refurbishment of Spaceship Earth were all planned and announced, but have been removed from press materials and the EPCOT Experience preview center in the Odyssey pavilion, leaving many park fans curious as to whether or not we’ll actually see them come to fruition.
The once touted “Largest Disney Nighttime Spectacular Ever,” Harmonious, is still set for World Showcase lagoon, with gigantic equipment moving into the body of water. Now called “One of the largest Disney nighttime spectaculars,” The show is a beautifully crafted dreamscape of Disney music and images, reimagined by diverse cultural musicians and artists from around the world, and also has no opening date at this time, though progress is definitely being made on the project.
Disneyland’s 65th celebration
While nothing in size or scope when compared to previous anniversaries, like say The Diamond Celebration of the 60th anniversary, or the Happiest Homecoming on Earth with the 50th anniversary, fans were still excited to visit Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom for the 65th anniversary on July 17th. However, thanks to an extended closure of the parks, we weren’t able to celebrate that anniversary at all inside the gates of Disneyland. Adding insult to injury to many park fans, we were teased with the possible opportunity to. In June, Disneyland announced that they will reopen Downtown Disney on July 9th, and the parks would be celebrating the 65th anniversary by reopening their gates on July 17th proper. The state of California had other ideas in mind though, not allowing the parks to open on the projected date, and failing to issue guidelines in which theme parks could open until much later in the year, keeping the Happiest Place on Earth shuttered well into the unknown future. Downtown Disney was able to open and remains open at this time, even with parts of Disney California Adventure added as an expansion of the District. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa was also expected to see its Disney Vacation Club Villas reopen earlier this month, but again, thanks to recent guidance and stay-at-home orders from the state, saw that reopening come and go. As of right now, Downtown Disney is open for shopping and dining to-go only, as food can not be consumed on Disney grounds.
The opening of Downtown Disney was perfect for those who wanted to get their hands on 65th anniversary merchandise, and there was plenty of it. A complete line of 65th merchandise was available at Downtown Disney and on ShopDisney, and more got in the fun like Funko, and BoxLunch.
Aside from the anniversary, the park had just debuted the new daytime parade, Magic Happens, weeks prior to the closing of the park in March, and had several refurbishments guests were excited to see, including work on the Haunted Mansion, scheduled work on the Indiana Jones Adventure, and a newly enhanced Snow White’s Scary Adventures in Fantasyland. Work was halted for a time, but picked back up as the summer progressed, with Walt Disney Imagineering recently showcasing the new “Snow White’s Enchanted Wish” with enhanced show scenes and new exterior paint to the opening day Fantasyland attraction.
Unfortunately, The 20th anniversary of Disney California Adventure is fast approaching in February of 2021, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to celebrate that one in an open theme park either. Construction work has continued after a halt there as well, leading us to our next item we were really looking forward to in 2020 but didn’t see:
Originally set to open alongside Disneyland’s 65th anniversary on July 18th, 2020, the much-anticipated Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure still waits to be seen by the public. Buena Vista Street opened as an expansion of the Downtown Disney District, allowing guests to get as close as they can to the new land, but gates still block them from entry.
The highlight of the new land is set to be Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, where guests will embark on an action-packed adventure alongside the amazing Spider-Man! When Peter Parker’s helpful but otherwise buggy Spider-Bots get stuck in replication mode and escape from a WEB Workshop, Spider-Man must stop the rampaging robots before they wreak total techno-havoc across Avengers Campus. Problem is, they’re rapidly leveling up and becoming tough to beat!
The interactive ride will see guests hop aboard a WEB Slinger vehicle and help weave a frenzied web to trap these friendly neighborhood sidekicks in true Spidey style. A recent update from D23 also showed the ride vehicles in action, moving through a load/unload area.
High in the sky we were all set and ready to see the debut of a truly remarkable technology from Walt Disney Imagineering, “Stuntronics.” These animatronic figures would flip and fly high above Avengers Campus and would probably have proven to be an attraction in themselves. The first of these was revealed to be Spider-Man, most likely near his new attraction.
The Sanctum was to be a walk-through attraction featuring Dr. Strange, with character encounters along the way, which will be interesting to see in today’s park climate where character meet and greets are not a thing for the time being.
Up in the air (not a Stuntronic this time), is the next phase of Avengers Campus that would feature another new major E-Ticket attraction added to the lineup, and similar to aforementioned EPCOT experiences that were shelved, no official talk of this attraction has continued since we learned construction on Avengers Campus had resumed. Across the Esplanade we saw work continue on an earlier announced Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway coming to Mickey’s Toontown, though its timeline was delayed, we saw progress. Regarding the next phase of Avengers Campus however, there is radio silence.
We know the Quinjet has landed, and the Campus seems like it's ready for guests, but we won’t see anything until Disney California Adventure reopens. Much like the 65th, Avengers Campus merchandise was ready to go, and we saw some of it released in Downtown Disney, and at Special Reservation Only Shopping Events held at the former ESPN Zone.
Halloween Horror Nights 30
Though not Disney, many guests come to Central Florida specifically in the fall to experience seasonal offerings at all of the parks, including Universal Orlando and their Halloween Horror Nights event. The culture and lore that follows Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) increases year after year, and is followed by many die-hard fans. This year was to be the biggest year so far, as it was their 30th anniversary.
The event held on as long as it could, even casting for scare-actor roles and moving Team Members from attractions to the houses to get them ready for opening. The houses were built and themed, and when all other construction stopped, they continued through to make sure they were ready for the season. Then, on July 24th, the announcement came. There would be no HHN this year. Fans were distraught, but not surprised. Anyone who has ever gone to the event knows that thousands and thousands of people line up to move through a claustrophobic “conga line” to enjoy spooky and horrifying (and sometimes hilarious) themed environments populated with some of the most terrifying things one can imagine come to life.
All was not entirely lost as Universal Orlando decided to open up some of the houses as a “daytime test” so fans can enjoy them. Careful not to call the event HHN, the test of “Haunted House Experiences” (as they appeared on the Universal Orlando App) consisted of two houses in the unused soundstages of the park near Race Through New York With Jimmy Fallon. “Universal Monsters: Bride of Frankenstein Lives” and “Revenge of Tooth Fairy” were opened in mid-September, proving popular and staying through Halloween. Social distancing guidelines were in place, plastic dividers installed, and pulsing of parties so as not to come near each other in the mazes were all enforced. Though the fans were treated to two houses as part of their daily admission, they wanted more as HHN fans are apt to do. Rumors persisted that more houses were finished, just sitting there hoping and waiting to be experienced. Thanks in part to an addition to the Tribute Store in the New York area of the park, the big rumor was that a Beetlejuice house was somewhere in the park. On Halloween weekend, sure enough, Universal opened up a Beetlejuice “Haunted House Experience” just for the weekend. While guests and fans were treated to a very short-lived experience with the Ghost with the Most, it only confirmed that Universal had much more to offer for the year, and there are, in fact, finished HHN attractions lingering in backstage locations. One of those came to light as parts of an “Unused HHN House” appeared to be for sale for on social media, with closer examination revealing they were from a rumored Billie Eilish house that was built in the second theater of Shrek-4D, being scrapped so they can use that portion of the building again for the upcoming holiday peak periods.
While we did get something, much of the frustration comes from the idea of what could have been. However, fans are speculating that the main reason they didn’t call this HHN 30 at all, was because they’re saving that moniker for next year, as well as the finished houses, maybe adding a few more to the lineup so the 30th can be back and bigger than ever. The creative powers that be only helped fuel that speculation when they released a video showing off a finished house, “Puppet Theater: Captive Audience.”
EPCOT and Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional
Halloween Horror Nights wasn’t the only seasonal event to get scrapped. As stated earlier, fans descend upon Central Florida in the fall and winter months because of the event lineup. Halloween Horror Nights, EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Christmas Party, and EPCOT’s International Festival of Holidays take place throughout the latter part of the year. This isn’t just limited to Florida, California also sees Halloween Time and their own Holiday festivities at the Disneyland Resort, as well as nearby Universal Studios Hollywood and their own HHN, and Knott’s Berry Farm with their own Knott’s Scary Farm and Knott’s Merry Farm events. But the biggest loss to some, was that of the Candlelight Processional at Christmas time in both EPCOT and at Disneyland Park.
EPCOT has been hosting a “taste of” version of their festivals since the park reopened in July with a “Taste of the International Food and Wine Festival.” Basically, all the carts and sampling areas that guests have come to expect with the Food and Wine Festival are still present, but the other offerings where large groups converge, like the Eat to the Beat concert series in the American Gardens Theater, are eliminated. Using the same guideline, the Taste of the International Festival of the Arts will not have the headlining Broadway performers in the same space, and the Taste of the International Festival of the Holidays went without their long-running Candlelight Processional.
Moving to EPCOT in 1994 from it’s former home at the Magic Kingdom, the Candlelight Processional has been a fan favorite, becoming a traditional viewing experience for many vacationing and local families to see at some point in the season. With the Christmas story being told by celebrity narrators, and local schools and cast members getting in on the act to provide music, the Candlelight Processional holds a special place to many and this holiday season wasn’t quite the same without it.
Meanwhile, over at Disneyland, the processional isn’t performed numerous times nightly like it is at EPCOT, but is similar and is still held near and dear to many for the same reasons, and has taken place at that park (in the processional form) since 1958. At least for Disneyland, both of those parks are still closed so the lack of the performance might not sting as bad, whereas at EPCOT, where guests can see some semblance of a Holiday festival, the empty theater might make the loss just a bit worse.
Aside from all the cancelled or modified seasonal events and openings and celebrations we’ve already mentioned, the unopened attractions, the closed hotels, nothing has probably been more affected this year than your planned vacation. Even if it wasn’t to a theme park, travel around the world has been hit by the events of the year, forcing people to change or cancel their plans outright.
For those who were (and are) looking at going to the Disneyland Resort in California, at this time both parks remained closed, as do the three hotels of the resort. Guests visiting will only have the limited dining options and shopping of the Downtown Disney district with no official plans to open the parks in sight.
Those who visit Walt Disney World are treated to a similar, but also vastly different experience than what they’re used to. Some would even argue a better one. Capacity is limited at the parks with an advanced reservation that is required to enter the gates. Fastpasses are not a thing right now. Some might say this makes for a better experience, but it's still a different one than what most are used to. Most agree on the disappointment of a lack of many shows, nighttime spectaculars, fireworks, or parades. Character Cavalcades are a great offering but not the same energy that a classic Disney parade offers. Some guests are finding that their favorite Walt Disney World resort hotel might not even be open for their visit. Numerous Disney resorts are still closed or are only available to Disney Vacation Club members as there are DVC Villas at that resort, with standard rooms still being shuttered for now.
Were you planning to sail away aboard one of the beautiful ships of the Disney Cruise Line? All of those trips were cancelled, with the ships being repositioned to Europe for drydocking and refurbishments. Adventures By Disney? Most trips were suspended, with many adventures continuing to be suspended into March of 2021. Disney Parks around the world have reopened, with some even re-closing. Both Hong Kong and Disneyland Paris have closed their gates again after reopening.
Reunions, Weddings, Birthdays, Graduation trips, whatever the reason for your traveling, has been affected by this year. Fortunately, this is a problem that is on the world stage so most travel companies are willing to work on refunds or other arrangements.
Whatever it was that you were excited for this year, we hope you have a great 2021 and see all your hopes and plans come to fruition!