Disney unveils model of upcoming Star Wars land
Epcot, which has received little attention while other Walt Disney World parks have benefited from a building spree in the last five years, will get major new rides based on the “Ratatouille” movie and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” plus some other upgrades.
In addition, Magic Kingdom will get a new Tron roller coaster in Tomorrowland like the one at Shanghai Disneyland. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Great Movie Ride will be replaced by Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride, the first ride at any Disney park based entirely on Mickey Mouse.
Disney World will also get two new hotels, including a luxury, Star-Wars themed hotel and one connected to two parks by skyway gondolas.
The plans were announced Saturday by Disney executives at D23 Expo, the Disney fan convention going on this weekend outside Disneyland in Anaheim, California. At least some of the attractions are timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disney World in 2021.
Epcot will be the biggest beneficiary of the new work, bringing it back on a par with Disney’s other Orlando parks that recently have gotten expansions, makeovers and new attractions.
Families want a little bit more of that Disney wow factor.
Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts
The upgrades will “keep it true to the original vision while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family friendly, more Disney,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, in announcing the new attractions. “Families want a little bit more of that Disney wow factor.”
▪ A Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster will open in 2021 where Universe of Energy is currently located in Future World, said Tom Fitzgerald, an Imagineer — one of Disney’s creative engineers. While Fitzgerald gave few details, he said Peter Quill — the fictional superhero leader of Guardians of the Galaxy known as Star-Lord — visited Epcot as a child, while Disney produced a photo of Quill as a child with Spaceship Earth’s sphere.
That story and other brief comments indicated it will be a very different Guardians attraction than the one that recently opened at Disneyland Resort in California. The new California attraction is essentially a re-theming of that park’s Tower of Terror ride, but Orlando’s Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios will be unaffected.
Universe of Energy, home to Ellen’s Energy Adventure featuring Ellen DeGeneres, will close Aug. 13.
▪ Ratatouille the Adventure will be built between the France and Morocco pavilions in World Showcase. Ratatouille will be the same ride that opened at Disneyland Paris in 2014, where Chapek said it is the park’s No. 1 attraction. It is a dark, trackless ride, on which riders are “shrunk” to the size of Remy, the rat, and the story is shown from Remy’s point of view. The cars cross the roofs of Paris, dive into Gusteau’s restaurant and run across the floor, past scenes of 3D animation, under tables and ovens. It will open in 2021.
▪ Epcot’s Mission: Space simulator attraction, which closed in June for unspecified refurbishments, will reopen in August with a new Green Mission that will take guests on a tour around the Earth and an undated version of its Orange Mission to Mars. A new space-themed table-service restaurant will be built next to Mission: Space.
▪ The China pavilion will get a new 360-degree film to replace “Reflections of China.”
“Epcot has always been, from Day One, an optimistic celebration of the real world, brought to life by the magic of Disney,” said Tom Fitzgerald, an Imagineer — one of Disney’s creative engineers. “It’s a place where the real becomes fantastic and the fantastic becomes real.”
Epcot opened in 1982, the second of the Disney World parks. It is part world’s fair (World Showcase), part a celebration of technology (Future World) that has fallen behind. Its most recent new attraction was the transformation of the Maelstrom flume ride in the Norway pavilion into a “Frozen”-themed ride on the same track. Frozen Ever After opened a year ago.
Meanwhile, the three other Orlando parks have been getting major additions. The expansion of Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom brought new attractions that opened in phases 2012 through 2014. Animal Kingdom’s Pandora: the World of Avatar — a whole new land — opened in May, preceded by a new show and modifications to other attractions that help Animal Kingdom draw visitors at night. A new Toy Story land is under construction at Hollywood Studios and scheduled to open in summer 2018, and Star Wars land is slated to open in 2019 at Hollywood Studios.
Some of the other parks are getting new attractions as well.
▪ Tomorrowland will get a Tron-themed roller coaster called Tron Lightcycle Power Run, which debuted last year at the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. The ride vehicle looks like a motorbike, on which riders lean forward and hold onto handlebars. The coaster hits 60 mph, about the same speed as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Hollywood Studios. The ride will go next to Space Mountain.
“Tron” was an 1982 Disney science fiction adventure film that spawned video games, comic books, an animated television series and a sequel.
▪ In addition, a live entertainment theater will be built on Main Street U.S.A, based on the Willis Theater in 1920s Kansas City, where Walt Disney lived at one point.
Opening dates weren’t announced for either of the Magic Kingdom projects.
▪ Walt Disney liked to remind people that his fictional empire all began with a mouse. Yet Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride will be the first attraction at any Disney park based on Mickey, and so creating that ride is a daunting task, said Kevin Rafferty, an Imagineer.
Runaway Railway takes place inside “the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short,” like those shown on the Disney Channel, Rafferty said. “When the unexpected does happen — and you know it will — Mickey and Minnie are there to help keep you out of trouble.”
The story is that Mickey and Minnie, going on a picnic, get into their little red car and start driving. They’re next to a train, and when they look inside, they see that their friend Goofy is the engineer. “You will step into the movie screen and onto Goofy’s train,” said Rafferty. “With Goofy as your engineer, what could possibly happen?”
The animation will be 3D, Rafferty said, but without the glasses.
The Mickey ride replaces the Great Movie Ride, which also will close Aug. 13. Opening date for the new ride was not announced.
▪ Also at Hollywood Studios, Chapek revealed more information about Star Wars land, under construction in Orlando and California. The land will be called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Disney had already said the land is set on a never-before-seen planet, “a remote trading port and one of the last stops before Wild Space.”
Chapek said both parks will be completed in 2019, the California version before the Orlando one.
Thursday, Chapek unveiled a scale model of the 14-acre land, carved out of stony, hilly land, with giant spikes of rock towering above trees. The buildings feature domes and gentle curves that contrast with the landscape, and a variety of warships and other aircraft, including the Millennium Falcon.
Disney also released new renderings of the new land’s two major attractions: a ride on the Millennium Falcon, with guests as the crew, and a spot in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance where guests will feel like they are in a hangar bay on a Star Destroyer.
The newly announced plans include two new hotels. Neither hotel’s opening date was announced.
▪ One is a Star Wars-themed hotel near Hollywood Studios, which a Disney press release described as “the most experiential concept ever in an immersive [hotel]. … Dedicated entirely to the galaxy of Star Wars, it will be a one-of-a-kind experience where a luxury resort meets a multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away.” It will involve costumes.
▪ Disney Riviera Resort, a Disney Vacation Club hotel, is expected to open in fall 2019 near Epcot. Riviera Resort will have about 300 units in a mix of types of lodging. It will be connected to several Disney hotels, Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s International Gateway by the Disney Skyliner, a system of gondolas suspended from cables similar to the old Disneyland Skyway, which once connected Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.