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When did the Imagineers first dream of bringing a Marvel character into a Disney theme park?

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When did the Imagineers first dream of bringing a Marvel character into a Disney theme park?

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Given that the highly anticipated "Iron Man Experience" won't actually open at Hong Kong Disneyland 'til the Fall of 2016 ...


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... I thought that it might be interesting to look back at how the Marvel movies and characters first began filtering into the Disney theme parks and resort. Because it didn't happen overnight, folks. Though The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in the latter part of 2009, it wasn't 'til the Spring of 2012 that that Marvel's "The Avengers" -themed monorail began rolling around the WDW Resort.


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West Coast Marvel fans had to wait 'til April of 2013 before that "Iron Man Tech Presented by Stark Industries" exhibit opened at Disneyland's Innoventions.


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The Disney Magic got a bit more Marvel-ous in October of that same year when Captain America began greeting DCL passengers in Marvel's Avenger Academy.


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The very next month, the "Thor: Treasures of Asgard" exhibit opened at Disneyland Park's Innoventions.


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Five months later, the God of Thunder was joined by the First Avenger at the Happiest Place on Earth. Meanwhile at Disneyland Paris, that same month (i.e., April 2014) Spider-Man began doing meet-n-greets at Walt Disney Studios Park.


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And speaking of Spider-Man, I came across a fascinating bit of Disney-related trivia as I was paging through the hardcover version of "Figment" (Marvel, May 2015).


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The back pages of this Disney Kingdoms book feature some early concept art for Epcot's "Journey into Imagination" attraction. These include Andy Gaskill's first attempt to get a handle on what the Dreamfinder & Figment should look like.


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But the piece of concept art that genuinely fascinated me was this piece by Andy which showed the Literature section of this Future World attraction.


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You see, if you look close, you can see where the images that Gaskill came up with ...


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... were translated (in somewhat mutated form) into actual "Journey into Imagination" sets & set pieces.


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Mind you, the Imagineers didn't exactly copy what Andy had drawn.


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But they did do a great job of capturing the spirit of Gaskill's concept art.


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And it's not just Figment you'll find if you look closely at this particular piece of concept art. The Dreamfinder's in here too ...


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... pounding away at a creepy old organ's keyboard as he writes a mystery.


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But you know who Andy wanted to place between the Dreamfinder & Figment as a way to remind WDW Guests that not all of the great literature of our age can be found in leather-bound books? Your friendly neighborhood Spider-man.


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Seriously. Inbetween the Dreamfinder pounding away at that organ keyboard and Figment shifting those building blocks so that they could go from "Cat" to "Bat" and back again, Gaskill wanted to have Spidey bursting out of a comic book with a "Pow!" and a "Zap!"


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So as you can see, if WED had had its way back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, Spider-Man would have made his Disney theme park debut more than a quarter-of-a-century before The Walt Disney Company actually bought Marvel Entertainment in late 2009.

By the way, if you like these sorts of behind-the-scenes stories, you should definitely check out the "Disney & Marvel" talk I'll be giving this Friday at Dayton Disneyana. Which is this terrific three day-long event that the Plane Crazy Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club will be holding at the Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn June 12 - 14th.


Disney Legend Bill Farmer

Mind you, I won't be the only guest speaker at this event. Disney Legend Bill Farmer will also at this year's Dayton Disneyana talking about the nearly 30 years he's been voicing Goofy. Likewise Senior Character Artist Alex Maher will be meeting with Disneyana Fan Club members to talk about the work that he does with the Disney Design Group.


Senior Character Artist Alex Maher

This year's Dayton Disneyana promises to be a real treat for theme park & animation enthusiasts (And not just because I'll be giving a talk on the development of New Fantasyland at WDW's Magic Kingdom on Saturday and a look back at Disney's many versions of "Alice in Wonderland" on Sunday). So if you'd like to learn more about this three day-long event, go check out the Dayton Disneyana website. Or -- better yet -- just come on by 2800 Presidential Drive in Fairborn, Ohio this coming weekend.


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I promise you that you'll have a Marvel-ous time.  

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  • It is unclear when the concept art was created. Was the concept art created for Imagineers to create the attraction? Was this book new or reprint? You have it dated 2015, so this is just weird that there's no clarification. ["Figment" (Marvel, May 2015)]. It is odd that Spiderman was inserted into the concept art when Disney had not licensed it. Was this why it wasn't published previously? Or was it published previously?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: If you'd clicked on the link that I'd provided, you would have found out that "Figment" is a hardback that Marvel published last month which then collected four of the Disney Kingdom comic books that were published last year. As for the concept art featured in the article, that was drawn by Andy Gaskill during the development phase of Epcot's "Journey into Imagination." Which -- according to what Tony Baxter told me -- was roughly 1978 through 1980 / 1981. As to why this concept art hasn't been published before, I suspect that you're correct. That given that Disney hadn't actually paid for the theme park rights to use Spider-Man in this Future World attraction, it wasn't wise to reprint this art prior to Disney's acquisition of Marvel back in 2009. That said, I've been told that -- while there is a lot of concept art already out there for Disney theme park rides, shows and attractions -- we've only really seen the tip of the iceberg. That -- truth be told -- there are tens of thousands of pieces of concept art squirreled away in WDI's research library that the public has never seen. And given that Imagineering will often circle back on a 20 to 30 year-old idea if the right IP comes along to make a particular ride, show or attraction finally viable ... It's likely that members of the public will ever see the majority of this concept art.

  • Didn't Innoventions at Disneyland close a couple months back?  I have been hearing rumors of a Star Wars themed attraction.  I have also herd clamor from someone in the imagineering department that Toon Town may be next to go in order to bring in more of the recently acquired characters from Lucas Films and Marvel.  There does not seem to be any real credence to that latter statement of yet but something to think about since Toon Town has been losing attraction after attraction with no replacements.  I could see some time down the line there being an update to that real estate.

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