At this weekend’s Disney fan convention, the D23 Expo in Anaheim, you can make like Tony Stark and wave your hands like wands in front of a digital wall to trigger an interactive display. Place your hands about an inch or two from the screen — don’t touch it — and with the flick of a wrist, zoom, twist or rotate an image of, say, a superhero suit or spaceship. If you want, make it spin as if it were a ballerina.
It’s an effort to mimic the holographic-like display used by Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in the Marvel films. And if all goes according to plan, said Walt Disney Imagineering representatives at a media preview on Thursday, this device will make its way to the Avengers Campus, the name given to the Marvel-themed land in development at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim and Disneyland Paris in Europe. The area, which in Southern California will include the already-existing Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout!, is expected to start rolling out next year at California Adventure.
A centerpiece of the land, which is replacing an area previously themed to “A Bug’s Life,” will be a Spider-Man attraction. Disney teased the ride, currently under construction, on Thursday, including the reveal of a “spider-bot,” a red-and-blue robotic-looking creature that’s said to act as something of a sidekick. The spider-bot has a toy-like sheen, but its claws imply less playful attributes as well. “He’ll be able to rebuild or repair anything you might need in the field,” read a placard. More details of the attraction will be unveiled at D23 on Sunday during a parks-focused panel discussion at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Like the recently opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, the Avengers Campus will encourage guests to take a more participatory role. It’s expected that the Spider-Man attraction will have some game-like elements, and D23 Expo displays appeared to make it clear that guests — “amateur inventors,” in this case — will be able to digitally construct their own superhero suits as part of what the company is calling the Worldwide Engineering Brigade (WEB).
Avengers Campus will also follow in the footsteps of Galaxy’s Edge in that, in contrast to topic-focused lands such as New Orleans Square or Adventureland, it will be laced with a bit of a plot. In Galaxy’s Edge, for instance, the story goes that the Resistance is hiding out in a nearby forest, and the evil First Order has just landed in an attempt to sniff them out. Guests enter the conflict, which can be explored via the Play Disney Parks mobile app, where there is a game for control of the land itself.
Avengers Campus, too, will come with a dedicated back story. “Our world needs more heroes,” reads a mission statement for the land, and the Avengers Campus will be set up as a place where Iron Man, Black Panther and others can “share our technology, skills and knowledge with our Avengers Campus recruits.”
The Marvel areas in Anaheim, Paris and Hong Kong, the latter of which is already home to Iron Man and Ant-Man experiences, will acknowledge one another, said Scot Drake, the Imagineer leading the Marvel charge at Disney Parks. Think of them as essentially an interconnected Marvel theme park universe. As guests explore one ride, there may be nods to other attractions around the globe, each of them appearing to happen in real time.
Still, while the theme-park lands will be related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they will have their own stories. This will help explain, for instance, why the Avengers in Disney California Adventure aren’t constantly trying to rescue the Guardians of the Galaxy, who are trapped in the tower on the edge of the land.
‘When you think about the Snow White attraction, she doesn’t know that Dumbo is right next door. We’re now playing in a new territory.’
“Whether it’s been the comics or the films, the interconnectedness of them makes everything feel like it’s part of something bigger,” said Drake on Thursday evening. “That’s what we want to do. It may be one attraction that you’re on — for example, the Ant-Man and Wasp: Nano Battle! attraction we just opened [in Hong Kong] — but when you’re in that attraction, there are Easter eggs and different nods to the Iron Man experience next door and other things around the world.
“And also when that S.H.I.E.L.D. facility gets in trouble, they try to call on Iron Man because he’s next door, but he’s caught up in his old Hydra attack. That’s some of the fun interconnectivity that we’ve never been able to do before. When you think about the Snow White attraction, she doesn’t know that Dumbo is right next door. We’re now playing in a new territory.”
Shown as part of Anaheim’s Avengers campus was an Avengers-branded facility with a militaristic Quinjet airship sitting atop it. Disney did not reveal on Thursday the role the Avengers building will serve, but the concept art indicated some sort of performance. Though it’s long been hinted that there would be an Avengers-focused attraction eventually coming to the land — noted with a hidden Avengers seal near the Guardians of the Galaxy ride — it was expected that further details about a potential Avengers ride or show would be forthcoming at Sunday’s presentation.
One thing appears certain: Ant-Man and his size manipulation technology will have some say in how the land’s food is presented. On display at D23 was a giant pretzel from Ant-Man’s associated Pym Technologies. “From sustainable shipping and recycling programs to innovations in food sciences and miniaturized farming, Pym Technologies is on a mission to find new ways of using Pym Particles to help the world,” read a placard.
The Avengers Campus is an attempt to solve a relatively tricky Imagineering puzzle. Disney lands have often been romanticized versions of real-world places, or in the case of Galaxy’s Edge a heavily realized fantastical place, but the Avengers reside in a conflict-ridden version of our own world.
While we may love watching the Avengers on film, with the exception of the Black Panther’s Wakanda, they often aren’t filled with locations we’d want to be dropped in the middle of. With nods to high-tech wizardry such as the interactive wall and light, science-focused back stories, the Avengers Campus is pitched as a place dedicated in part to play and gadgetry.
“What we love about the campus is we’ve seen different Avengers headquarters and bases, but for the first time we’re welcomed in,” Drake said. “Through the events of Hong Kong and this Hydra attack, and obviously as we’ve seen in the films, the Avengers have realized that Earth needs more heroes. So this is a place that’s very much open doors to recruit, to train, to inspire, to learn and to grow so that we all can become part of this larger universe.
“I think for us, it’s an optimistic way to look at this world and allow us to step in.”