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How Disney plans to fit a new Marvel Galaxy into California Adventure Park

How Disney plans to fit a new Marvel Galaxy into California Adventure Park
Marvel superheroes Captain America (Chris Evans), from left, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) will be featured in a new land at Disney California Adventure. (TNS)

With plans confirmed for a new "immersive" land full of Marvel superheroes at its California Adventure Park, Walt Disney Co. must now pull off a magic trick worthy of that rival boy wizard: Build a major expansion at a theme park resort hemmed in on all sides by major thoroughfares.

The announcement by Disney's parks and resort chairman, Robert Chapek, included few details, sparking speculation by Disney watchers that the Marvel project will take over a parking lot just outside the boundaries of California Adventure Park. The expansion may also eat up a portion, if not all, of A Bug's Land, a nearby attraction geared to young children and toddlers.

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"What they have there now is nowhere near what they could do with it as a Marvel land," said Robert Niles, editor of the online blog Themeparkinsider.com.

Disney representatives declined to offer more information about the proposed project.

The new Marvel project was among eight new attractions that Chapek unveiled Saturday at D23, the biennial Disney fan expo at the Anaheim Convention Center. In addition, he announced new hotel projects, a shuttle van system at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and a new cruise ship.

The new investments include a ride based on the old-time Mickey Mouse film shorts at Disney's Hollywood Studios and an attraction at the Epcot Center in Orlando that is based on the Pixar Animation movie "Ratatouille."

Exterior view of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout ride in Anaheim.
Exterior view of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout ride in Anaheim. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The announcement of so many new attractions, to be built over the next several years, is unusual, but Disney representatives say the company is simply trying to meet growing demand in the parks while taking advantage of hugely popular intellectual properties, such as Marvel.

Dennis Speigel, an industry expert and president of International Theme Park Services, said he believes the surge in spending comes primarily in response to the competition Disney now faces from Universal Studios theme parks.

He noted that Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood have reported big bumps in attendance with the opening in both parks of new Wizarding World of Harry Potter sections, with rides, food and merchandise based on the popular books and movies.

"Disney does not like to be out-Disneyed," Speigel said.

Naveen Sarma, an analyst with Standard & Poor's, agrees that Universal Studios has pushed Disney to keep upgrading the parks. But Disney has also learned from the opening of Cars Land at California Adventure Park in 2012 that big investment in the parks can result in a jump in visitors and revenue.

"This makes a lot of sense from a returns standpoint," he said.

Chapek said he expects most of the attractions in the Orlando park to be open in time for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2021.

A ride for all ages, Tuck and Roll's Drive 'em Buggies at A Bug's Land at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.
A ride for all ages, Tuck and Roll's Drive 'em Buggies at A Bug's Land at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

At the resort in Anaheim, Disneyland is expected to open its new Star Wars land, dubbed Galaxy's Edge, in 2019, followed shortly afterward by the opening of a similar Star Wars attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando.

The focus will then turn to the new Marvel land at the 16-year-old California Adventure, which enjoys less than half of the attendance of its adjacent sister park Disneyland.

Disney watchers predict that the new land will include a roller coaster and at least one indoor "dark ride" surrounded by superhero-themed restaurants and retail outlets.

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By announcing the new Marvel land, Chapek confirmed rumors that have swirled for months and intensified in May when Disney redesigned its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at California Adventure into a Marvel superhero attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.

"Soon the Guardians will be joined by Spider-Man and the Avengers in what will become a completely immersive superhero universe at Disney California Adventure," he said without offering a timeline or a price tag for the project.

Chapek said designers at Marvel Entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineering are now collaborating to create the new land. Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion.

The location of the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, in the southeast corner of California Adventure, is on the border of the park, adjacent to a parking lot used by employees and contractors. It is also adjacent to A Bugs Land and Hollywood Land.

One of the attractions next to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout is a bumper car arena called Tuck and Roll's Drive 'em Buggies.

A ride based on Marvel superheroes is sure to draw more visitors than the bumper cars, said Todd Regan, founder and chief executive of MiceChat.com, a blog that follows Disney parks news.

"Almost everyone seems happy about A Bug's Land becoming Marvel land except families with children who say the park lacks things for small children to do," he said.

Once the Star Wars land opens in 2019, Disney will need a major attraction to draw visitors back to California Adventure to even out traffic flow, he said. A superhero expansion is likely to help in that regard.

"They really need to find a way to redistribute the number of people in the resort," Regan said.

More visitors will also be drawn to California Adventure Park next year when it becomes the new home of the Paint the Night Parade, a high-tech spectacle that was launched to celebrate Disneyland's 60th anniversary in 2015 but ended last year.

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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