My Disney Top 5 - Takeaways from D23 Expo's Boundless Future Panelby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
Whenever I return from a Walt Disney World vacation, it takes me a while to recover both from the utter exhaustion of it all and the eventual letdown of coming back to the "real world." It's been about three weeks now since we've been back. School started up again, so I'm back in work mode. We moved one son back into college for his Junior year. We left the other down at Disney for his semester in the Disney College Program. He seems to be having quite the good time down there working at Flight of Passage and living so close to the magic. Still, it was hard to leave him behind and I'm sure his twin brother is feeling the separation. So, it's been a bit of a whirlwind since we've been home and it's hard to leave the magic behind and settle back into the regular day to day kind of stuff. Now that things are starting to regulate a little…the best thing to do would be to…plan a trip back, of course! Trust me, with one twin son living down there, we'll be back in no time! So there's that to look forward to. Not to mention that the twin brother who is up here, Alex, just got accepted into the College Program for the 2023 spring semester, so it's truly going to be a Disney filled year for this family!
Being the fan that I am, I was paying very close attention to this past weekend's D23 Expo out in Anaheim. One of these days I will make it out there. I have been a loyal member of D23 since its inception. I love the magazine and, being the collector that I am, I really love the annual gift that they send me each year. Still, it never seems that I'm able to make that pilgrimage to the west coast for D23. I know I'm missing out. But this year, I was thrilled to hear that they would be live streaming all of the big panels. I had a busy weekend, but I made sure to carve out some time on Sunday afternoon for the one presentation that so many of us Disney fans were waiting for, "A Boundless Future hosted by Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D'Amaro." As a Walt Disney World fanatic, I'm always waiting to see just what the Imagineers have up their sleeves for the future of the resort. Since I'm just coming down off of my Disney high from our recent trip, I thought it'd be a perfect opportunity to keep the magic going as I was finding out just what's coming up next for Disney down in Florida. That said, let's take a closer look at the announcements with my Top 5 takeaways from D23's Boundless Future Panel.
5 - Happily Ever After is Coming Back
It needs to be said up front: when it comes to Magic Kingdom fireworks, I will always have the softest spot in my heart reserved for Wishes. I adored every moment of that show and it perfectly summed up just how I feel when I'm at Walt Disney World. Years ago, my wife and I had one incredibly romantic moment right there in the rose garden seconds before Wishes began as we renewed our wedding vows to the applause of the surrounding crowd. Couple that with the fact that our dear departed friend Robert was not only was a huge Disney fan but was also a huge Jiminy Cricket fan, and you could understand why Wishes was such a special moment for us. That said Happily Ever After was a more than suitable replacement for my beloved Wishes. It was the next level of Disney fireworks extravaganzas. From a technical point of view, it was absolutely mind-blowing just how far they had come, but the beauty of it all was it still had a heart, in all the right places and moments.
Disney Enchantment is a wonderful show, especially the newest version that we saw on our recent trip with the addition of Walt, Roy and Mickey Mouse himself. Disney consistently blows my mind with the artistry that is so profoundly evident in their castle projections. The music is great; the colors are amazing; and a major thumbs up for this Disney fan for including one of my all time favorite animated characters, Merlin from The Sword and the Stone. As wonderful as Enchantment is, I'm thrilled that Happily Ever After will be coming back once the 50th celebration ends in Spring 2023. It's absolutely exhilarating and I can't wait for its return.
4 - Figment is Returning
OK, so Figment hasn't actually left Epcot and thank goodness for that. But, I doubt there are too many recent guests that remember actually meeting him and getting your picture taken with him right next door to his attraction. My family and I have fond memories of meeting a full size Figment walk around character and getting some memorable photos with him. Despite his popularity as a character – he is essentially Epcot's mascot – the meet and greet never had a line so you always got to spend some time with him. My kids LOVED meeting Figment. We're all big fans of this purple dragon who encourages us all to use our imagination and his attraction is still a must see for us on every trip.
Now, I know what some of you are saying out there. If you were watching the live stream of the event, when Mr. D'Amaro mentioned Figment, your heart stopped for a moment. Were they actually going to announce a reimagining of Figment and his pavilion? I know I thought so. I was texting with MousePlanet's Gregg Jacobs as he was watching the stream over in Prague, and he thought the very same thing. But it was not to be. Figment is not getting the desperately needed upgrade to his attraction. But…he is coming back in what we're told is a "new way." Will this be another giant walk around Figment? They more than likely still have the costume, so why not? Or will it be an animatronic Figment like the ones in the ride and you'll get to meet him in his appropriate size kind of like how you meet BB-8 over in the Launch Bay? Will there be a cast member doing his voice like Crush over in Turtle Talk? We'll just have to wait and see. To me, the most important thing is that he is in fact coming back for a meet and greet, which means they are not abandoning Figment as a character or an entity at Epcot and that will hopefully mean some good things for him in the future. So when the Figment meet and greet returns in 2023, I'm begging all of you out there…go see him! Make him popular! Show him some love and maybe we'll finally get that new and improved Journey into Imagination that we've all been waiting for.
3 - Villains
The preceding entries in this list are facts. Some sort of Figment meet and greet is coming back to Epcot and Happily Ever After will reclaim its spot as the nightly fireworks extravaganza at the Magic Kingdom. After that, things got a little vague as we stepped into what Disney has always referred to as "Blue Sky" territory. It's the Imagineers jobs to think up all of the cool stuff that may or may not come to life in the Disney parks and resorts. If you've paid attention to this company at all over the last 50 years, you'll know very well that ideas are fostered, brought to life in concept art, sometimes even full models are built and then never see construction or the light of day again. Sometimes things do come to life and are extraordinary. I, for one, never had any faith in the whole Pandora concept. I guess that's my shortsightedness because we all know how amazing that turned out. So, when Josh D'Amaro mentioned the word "villains," the audience of die-hard Disney fans perked up and cheered out loud.
I can remember not so long ago, a rumor began circulating that Disney was considering a 5th park in Walt Disney World and it was to be centered around the baddies that we all love to hate. A villains park? It was rumored to just be a nighttime park and have its own separate admission fee. I never saw any concept art for this, but that doesn't mean it was never created. Disney fans do love the Disney villains. I should know. I'm a huge Disney fan and I'm a huge fan of the Disney villains. They have an seemingly endless amount of inspiration to choose from. Disney essentially has almost a hundred years of villains to choose from, starting with Pete and working all the way up to Namaari in 2021's Raya and the Last Dragon and all sorts of bad guys and girls in between. They could easily do a whole park of villains, or they could do an entire villains land. It seems like they were hinting at this being a part of a Magic Kingdom expansion behind Big Thunder Mountain. There is a decent size plot of land back there, so let's hope this thought becomes more of a concept and then becomes reality.
2 - Animal Kingdom's DinoLand Becoming Zootopia…or Moana?
On my trip in August we spent some time in DinoLand during our visit to Animal Kingdom. I'm a big fan of the Dinosaur attraction. I think it's a total blast. And everyone in my family has always loved the theming inside Restaurantosaurus. I've always thought that the Imagineers outdid themselves in this quick service restaurant which is supposed to be the dining hall and rec room for the paleontology students studying at the nearby Dino Institute. If you've never wandered around this place and checked out all of the awesome props, make sure you do so on your next visit. The food is decent, but the details and the whole theme of the place is Imagineering gold. That said, I'm not usually a negative person, but if they walled off the rest of this land and tore it all out, I wouldn't be disappointed. My kids always loved the Boneyard and justifiably so; it's pretty awesome. And we would also typically hit TriceraTop Spin because…well it's a "Dino Dumbo" and a kid favorite so why not? But that's it. I could never stand Primeval Whirl and I'm a huge coaster guy. I rode it once alone. Terrible idea. I kept getting flung around the car and banging into the sides. Then when I rode it with a full car of family members, I still didn't like it all that much. As far as the rest of Chester and Hester's Dino-rama? No thanks. Never been too interested.
So, while I would be pretty upset by losing Dinosaur and Restaurantosaurus, I'd be all for it if they could do something really worthwhile in that corner of the park. I adore Animal Kingdom. I think it's an amazing place and it deserves something really beautiful back there. D'Amaro was, once again, pretty vague when bringing up these Blue Sky projects. Are both Zootopia and Moana going to claim real estate in DinoLand? Is it a battle to see which one gets more Imagineering votes and the winner takes over? Impossible to tell. I find it a little unusual that Moana would get a fairly sizable chunk of Future World in Epcot and then still get a whole land in Animal Kingdom. Personally, I'd go all in on a Zootopia land.
I love the movie. The theme fits and I think there's endless possibility to incorporate real live animals into a Zootopia based section of the park which would be very, very cool. Once again, we'll have to wait and see.
1 - Beyond Big Thunder Mountain
When the head of Disney Parks, the Chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Creative Executive for Disney Imagineering all get together and tease the idea of the biggest expansion of the Magic Kingdom since New Fantasyland, Disney fans should take notice. That's some heavy company brass there talking about expanding the very heart of Walt Disney World. The possibilities of an Encanto themed land mixed with a Coco themed land seems like an amazing concept. Both films created their own brilliant little worlds and I can see them translating beautifully into fully fleshed out Disney theme park lands and attractions.
As I said before, there is a nice patch of land back there behind Thunder Mountain and I would love to see a major expansion in the Magic Kingdom. Coco could bring with it a whole music themed area, Mexican food, and just imagine if the Imagineers put their creative minds to it just how awesome a real life Land of the Dead could be. When I first saw Coco in theaters on a giant screen, I clearly thought to myself, "Oh man, they need to build this into an attraction somehow." Same thing goes for Encanto. Just think how cool it would be if they actually built Casa Madrigal, the magical casita from the film? Remember, Walt himself wanted you to walk into the stories that he was telling in his films. That's the goal. I think Encanto and Coco would be awesome additions to that story telling history in the Magic Kingdom. I'd love to see them build this back there beyond Big Thunder Mountain.
A lot has been said in the various Disney online communities about this particular Disney Parks panel being a bit of a letdown for Walt Disney World fans. When you take a good look at it, there really wasn't anything too concrete announced. It's not like Josh D'Amaro got up there and confirmed a brand-new land in one of the parks or a huge new attraction. He confirmed openings of things like Tron and Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which were things we already knew about. We found out about Figment. We learned that the Hatbox Ghost will finally be in Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion, which is a pretty cool addition if you ask me. Harmonious will be replaced after the 50th celebration ends, and, as I said above, Happily Ever After will return to the Magic Kingdom. I think what really got fans excited was the Blue Sky stuff, but there's no guarantee that any of that will come to fruition at all. We all hope it does, but who knows if it'll ever leave the drawing board.
I'm, rather unapologetically, always the eternal Disney optimist. Consider the fact that I last went to Walt Disney World in 2019 and then just returned in August of 2022. We all know what happened in between those two dates, the world shut down. All things considered, I still had 4 brand new major attractions to experience. A hotel based on Star Wars opened. The Space 220 restaurant opened. A huge chunk of Epcot's Future World is behind walls being reimagined. The 50th anniversary began. Two new fireworks shows debuted. Tron is getting closer and closer to being finished. My point is, I'm not so sure just what people expected from this panel when it came to Walt Disney World announcements? A whole lot has happened in the past three years since the last D23 Expo including a global pandemic. Did I think the Parks panel was a little light on big surprises? Yes. Was I really surprised about this? No, not really. Despite the company being shaken to its core during COVID, some cool stuff still happened when they reopened and continues to happen. Count me in as someone who's excited about the possibilities for DinoLand in Animal Kingdom and hopefully a nice sizable expansion to the Magic Kingdom. As Walt himself said, "…keep moving forward." I'm giving Disney that chance to do so. Only time will tell if it pays off, but, as always, I'm feeling pretty positive.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.