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Why For aren't the Marvel characters appearing in any of the Disney theme parks yet?

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Why For aren't the Marvel characters appearing in any of the Disney theme parks yet?

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Earlier this week (Monday, to be exact), Bond from Upstate dropped a line to ask:

Hi Jim,

Long time fan... just wondering with "The Avengers" making a kajillion dollars and receiving near universal love, is Disney ready to go all in with a high profile Marvel area?  With Universal Hollywood getting Potter in 2016 and Shanghai opening in 2015, it seems like the window is getting tight to get full leverage.  Any word from your inside sources?

Copyright Marvel Entertainment / Paramount Pictures / Disney. All rights reserved


Bond in Upstate

Dear Bond in Upstate,

To be blunt, at least as far as the stateside situation is concerned, the news is mixed. There is supposedly something Marvel-related in the works for Disney's California parks in the works could debut later this year (More on that further on down in today's article). Likewise there are definitely Marvel-themed shows and attractions in the works when it comes to the Shanghai Disneyland project.

But when it comes to the Florida properties, that window remains firmly shut / locked up tight. Thanks -- in large part -- to those master licensing agreements which Universal signed with Marvel back in the late 1990s, which then allowed the theme park arm of that company  to build Marvel Super Hero Island area at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Copyright MCA Universal. All rights reserved

And Universal's attorneys take those contracts very, very seriously. Which is why -- when it was revealed back in late March that a "Marvel's The Avengers" -themed monorail would soon begin rolling around the Walt Disney World Resort -- lawyers for NBC Universal reportedly reached out and reminded Disney about the terms of their still-in-force master licensing agreements with Marvel Entertainment. Which stated that Universal had previously locked up the Theme Park use rights to Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man and Thor.

And given that this master licensing agreement clearly stated that only Universal had the rights to use these four Marvel characters in a theme park setting within a 250 mile radius of Universal's Islands of Adventure, should that "Marvel's The Avengers" -themed monorail actually pass through any Disney theme parks ... Well, that would then mean that the Mouse was violating some of  Marvel's master licensing agreements with Universal Studios. Which meant that Universal would then -- in lawyer speak -- have the right to " ... take appropriate action" (i.e. sue Mickey's little red pants off).

Given all of the money that the Mouse had spent on having that 200 foot-long  "Marvel's The Avengers" -themed "skin" created for Monorail Red ... Well, Disney didn't want to waste that dough. More to the point, the Studio didn't want to lose that huge cross promotional opportunity which came with having this massive moving billboard repeatedly roll past the tens of thousands of would-be moviegoers who visit the Magic Kingdom and Epcot only a daily basis.

So a series of (the way I heard it, anyway) fairly tense phone calls and e-mails were exchanged between Disney and Universal's lawyers. And eventually a compromise of sorts was worked out.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To explain: Because Walt Disney World's original monorail loop (i.e. the one that transports Guests to the Magic Kingdom as well as servicing Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa as well as the Ticket & Transportation Center) never actually enters the Magic Kingdom but merely passes closely by the entrance of that theme park ... It would be okay (from a legal point of view) if Monorail Red with its "Marvel's The Avengers" skin serviced that loop, endlessly circling Seven Seas Lagoon.

On the other hand, any monorail which services the Epcot route would have to roll through Future World, passing by Spaceship Earth and then circling Innoventions East & West before it then entered the station and allowed its passengers to disembark. So should the "Marvel's The Avengers"  -skinned Monorail Red ever travel that route and actually enter a Disney theme park ... Well, The Walt Disney Company would then clearly be in violation of Marvel's master licensing agreements with Universal in regards to their exclusive theme park rights for the use of characters Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man and Thor.

So to avoid that from ever happening, Monorail Red (as least until its "Marvel's The Avengers" skin is removed) is absolutely forbidden to service the Epcot monorail route, sticking exclusively to the Magic Kingdom loop for the foreseeable future.

So -- as you can see, Bond in Upstate -- at least when it comes to its Central Florida resort, Disney is basically handcuffed by all those master licensing agreements that Universal has with Marvel Entertainment in regards to the theme park use of specific characters. Mind you, California is a somewhat different situation. In that -- just six months prior to Disney's August 2009 decision to acquire Marvel Entertainment for a cash / stock swap worth $4 billion -- Universal Studios Hollywood opted not to renew its contract with Marvel for use of Spider-Man et al as walk-around characters at that theme park. So Disney -- if it chose to -- could be using the Marvel characters in rides, shows and attractions at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure right now.

Universal Studios Hollywood used to have a pretty sizable Marvel presence. Does anyone
else out there remember the late-and-not-so-great Marvel Mania restaurant at that theme

The only problem is that -- at least as far as The Walt Disney Company's two California theme parks are currently configured -- there's just no "land" that the Marvel characters would logically be dropped into.

"And why is that?," you ask. Well, you have to remember that the Disney theme parks (at least as the Imagineers see them) are story driven. Which means that characters are specifically slotted for the particular "land" where Guests would most logically expect to see them (EX: The "Toy Story" franchise is split right down the middle, with Woody, Jessie and Bullseye doing their meet-and-greets in Frontierland while Buzz Lightyear & Zurg pose for pictures and sign autographs in Tomorrowland).

And given that neither of Disney's California theme parks have a New York City-like / urban themed "land" where the Marvel characters would be a good, logical, story-driven fit ... Their Disneyland Resort debut is currently on hold.

Or -- rather -- it was. But what with the (as you put it, Bond from Upstate) kajillion dollars that "Marvel's The Avengers" has made so far from both its domestic & international release to theaters, I'm told that the Imagineers and Disneyland Entertainment are now attempting to fast-track some sort of Marvel-themed show / character meet-n-greet for their California properties. Which would likely go live just as the Blu-ray & DVD version of "Marvel's The Avengers" hits store shelves later this Summer / early this Fall.

Photo by Jim Hill

So if you've ever dreamed of picking up a shield and/or screwing on a breastplate to play Captain America or Thor respectively, my advice to you is to keep a very close watch on the Disney Auditions webpage. Where -- tomorrow, for example -- Disneyland Park is looking  to cast several brave souls to play Mountain Climbers on the newly furbished Matterhorn.

But as for Disney's Central Florida theme parks, Bond from Upstate ... Unless Disney's attorneys can hash out some sort of deal with Universal's lawyers (which could happen. Remember, Disney got the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back from Universal in February of 2006 as part of a talent trade with MCA Universal. Which then allowed sportcaster Al Michaels to leave ABC and ESPN and go to work NBC Sports. So anything's possible), that "Marvel's The Avengers" -themed monorail is the closest thing that WDW's theme park will have to a Marvel-themed ride, show or attraction at least for the foreseeable future.

Your thoughts?

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  • Jim, can you tell me what Marvel  characters Universal does not have exclusive "southern US" rights to. Could a SHIELD attraction be created or some other character be integrated (ant man, etc.) sooner?

  • When does the contract with Universal end?

  • The contract doesn't end. Universal has the characters as long as they want them.

  • I like a good superhero comic or movie as much as anybody else - but I still feel that the Avengers and Disney parks simply don´t fit together. When I board a plane to WDW, I´m looking forward to sth entirely different from what Marvel stands for.

  • Something in Tomorrowland, perhaps? Obviously the stories don't take place in the future, but Marvel has many properties that extend out into the cosmos. Other Tomorrowland attractions don't necessarily take place in the future, but have a sci-fi feel. Any ideas for something that could replace Innoventions at DL?

  • With the situation regarding the Marvel licensing with Universal, Disney's best approach is to make the best of an awkward situation.  Disney's top priority should be to preserve the luster of the Marvel brand--even if it helps Universal.  They may be competitors, but the public isn't interested in the war.  What Universal doesn't own is the right to license Marvel consumer products.  So the sale of Marvel toys at UIOA could put money in Disney's pocket.

    Disney, through Marvel, should make sure that the Superhero Island experience is as good as possible.  Considering some people (including me) think the Spider-Man ride is the best dark ride in the world, they aren't doing too badly.

  • I speculate that another part of the reason why Disney isn't planning any major Marvel character E-ticket is because of the "One Disney" philosophy and the cost saving technique of developing one E-Ticket and then building it for both coasts.  Families who hear about Iron Man being in Tomorrowland on the internet might be disappointed to travel to MK and find out that the Iron Man meet and greet in Tomorrowland is only in Disneyland.  Its going to be awkward to promote a major Marvel attraction in Disneyland Resort without fans asking endless questions about MK/Disney Studios and when do they get their version.

    That being said, given the desire to boost DCA attendance and visibility prior to and during the Carsland launch, I think that some of the Marvel characters could do meet and greets there, they'd fit in ok in the Hollywood areas of the park, as would a ride.

  • I know Star Wars and Disney did not fit, but Marvel and Disney REALLY does not fit.

    I was really hoping the Avengers would follow the same path as John Carter at the box office, but I guess the world is too full of obsessive fan boys for that to happen. It angers me how Disney is cashing on the success of other properties (Marvel characters are not theirs, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor were already established through other studio, etc.) This reminds me of exactly what Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park:

    "You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you, you've patented it, and packaged it, you've slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you're selling it!"

  • Universal has a license contract, it isn't perpetual. Since very few have seen the actual contract, it's hard to tell when it expires. Deadline Hollywood had to rely on Universal insiders who knew "something" about the contract. My guess is that Spider-Man will be changed to Transformers within 5 years. It's the exact same ride with a different film. I'd love to see the fit Universal would throw if Disney bought Time Warner.

  • Disney should try to trade Avatar for Marvel. Disney gets the Marvel characters in the Florida parks, Universal gets another hit movie franchise, and Animal Kingdom fans don't get stupid, stupid Avatar as a lazy knockoff of the Beastley Kingdomme.

  • Susan ---

    Put them on New York Street at the Studios, since Cap is from Brooklyn and Stark Tower is in Manhattan.

  • Yeah, the theme parks part of this sounds like a mess with the rights and how to integrate them into the parks.  What I really want to know, though, is how much is Disney making from the movie.

  • @FettFan

    Those are great ideas, but I was just thinking of Disneyland, since for the moment they can't use Marvel in Florida.

  • "I guess the world is too full of obsessive fan boys ".

    LOL.  I always love how one geek group of "obsessive fan boys" will make fun of another group.  It is like when someone in full Stormtrooper gear calls a person in a Star Trek uniform a nerd.  Guess what?  If you are posting on a website that closely follows the Disney corporation, you are an "obsessive fan boy".  

    PS, I do not want Marvel shoe-horned into Disney parks either, the Marvel Universe deserves better than that.

  • I'm no obsessive fanboy, but I loved the hell out of The Avengers. Good story, great dialogue, even good acting, a lot of fun and very entertaining.

    I loved John Carter, too. Fun, good storytelling, horrible promotion.

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