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.
Happily Ever After. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
My daughter Samantha and Figment many moons ago. Photo by Chris Barry.
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.
It stands to reason that Maleficient would figure prominently in a new villains themed land. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
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.
Please, please, please bring this Zootopia concept art to life in Animal Kingdom. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
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.
Could all of this possibly be coming to the Magic Kingdom out beyond Big Thunder Mountain someday? Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
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.
I have watched and read a few summary videos (from generally respected Disney fan YouTube channels) and comments about the general announcements, but did not watch the actual live streams of the panels in their entirety myself, so perhaps a few of my observations/comments may be off, but here goes .
5) While I don't know for sure, some of the reactions I saw to this announcement varied a little from thinking the HEA show is returning in it's previous form. I've heard that the SONG Happily Ever After will be returning as part of it, and the new show will be something to commemorate the 100 Years of Disney celebration. It will most likely have a lot of elements from the previous HEA show, but not be the exact thing we've seen before. Not that that's a bad thing, but just a possibility that it won't be HEA too close to as it was known originally.
I guess I may possibly never see Disney Enchantment up closer to the Castle, depending on when I decide to return. I did see it one time from the Flag Pole area, but that was it.
4) I'm not a huge meet and greet participant, but this is great news for all the Figment fans out there. I agree that is very odd that he is such a prominent character for the park and has not had a meet and greet for so long.
3) Interesting, I suppose. My initial reaction is that all of this would be outside the berm, but then again so are Space Mountain and now Tron. And of course they have both Toon Town and GE outside the berm in Disneyland. Just taking a quick look at Google Maps, there seems to be a fair amount of water management canal work back there (and of course Rivers of America is right there), along with the surrounding roadway. So I guess it will be an interesting project to see how it evolves if they ever do break ground for anything behind Big Thunder. It certainly would be popular if it's one Villains themed area! Some interpretations I saw regarding this seemed to believe that it was this and also the Encanto and Coco stuff all in that one space simultaneously. That would seem to be putting the proverbial 10 pounds of stuff in the 5 pound bag (and as a few on a MP D23 thread have commented on, the Villains concept probably doesn't mix well with Encanto and Coco as part of one area/land). A fifth gate focused on Villains would be welcomed if it may spread out the crowds more. But with Disney's drive to micro managing their staffing prediction capabilities as they are via park reservations system, I really can't see them deciding to pony up to do a 5th park any time soon.
2) They definitely should do something with that area. I always thought the Dino-Rama area was incredibly out of place for a Disney Park. I like Dinosaur, but the whole Dino-Rama thing has always looked cheesy, IMO. It' s of course worse now that the former Primeval Whirl location is empty. (I was not a huge fan of the ride, but I went on it a few times. It was normally not a huge wait, at least ). I agree on Moana being both in Epcot and DAK would seem like a bit of overkill for representation of one movie. While the Epcot attraction looks like it will be visually impressive, it does look like it might have been a better fit at DAK.
Zootopia could be interesting, but might change the feel of the park a bit much (though it would be hard for it to seem more out of place than Dino-Rama). I always remember the Joe Rohde interviews where he referred to the "no pants on the animals" rule for DAK(classic characters like Mickey excepted, of course). Since he of course has moved on to a different company, he no longer has a say, so Disney can do whatever they want, but he was probably/possibly right on that idea, I think.
If they did do Zootopia, it might be OK if they keep it in the footprint of the existing Dino Land (or possibly up to taking over the Finding Nemo Theater space, that would probably not bother me to much if they found a better use for it). With the challenges Disney has had with the shows (Rivers of Light and now Kite Tails) designed for the new stadium seating around the water in front of Everest, it's not hard to think that they might want to expand a new land out to that area as well to take advantage of the space. (though that may not be possible, that huge body of water may be critical for the rain management of the park... it would certainly be a big deal to convert it, I'm sure) Anyway, my point is IF that area also was transformed to Zootopia, I would feel like it was pushing in and intruding on the look of the Asia section of the park too much. (and I'd miss the great views of Everest from across the park while dining at Flame Tree )
1) I have to admit I've not yet seen either of those films, but everything I hear is pretty good about them and how well they could translate into park areas. I really need to take some time to check them out someday, I suppose.
It's not too surprising that there were no huge announcements. In fairness, Disney is still after all trying to clean up and recover from the alteration of many of their plans due to pandemic slowdowns and or cash flow loss due to same.
Yes it's taken 5+ years to build Tron (though with it being a clone, only so much of that can be blamed on the pandemic). Yes it's a shame the walls will still be up for much of the front of Epcot for it's 40th birthday. It does seem like they cheaped out in a big way with the Splash make-over into Tiana, the elimination of the huge "weenie" element of Mama Odie's boat and the large tree at the top of the mountain reduces the impressiveness of the make-over greatly. It's essentially a bunch of new types of simulated vegetation with a water tower now based on the model I saw pictures of.
The Hatbox Ghost while a relatively small thing is something originally planned prior to pandemic(I think), so it's good to see that will cross the finish line to be reality. Also like you stated, Figment meet and greet should be good for lot of people. In a similar area, the announced meet and greet with The Mandalorian and Grogu should be pretty popular too.
Harmonious didn't get much of a run. I'm fairly certain a lot of the fan rejection of that show is due to the eye-sores of the barges that are out on the lagoon permanently. If the replacement means the elimination of the barges, that may be great. If it is just something new that re-uses those barges (which would seem probable?), then it may not be accepted/embraced by the fans any better than Harmonious was. I didn't see you comment on this, but a video I watched mentioned Epcot Forever would be returning in between the conclusion of Harmonious and the new show. I guess with Kite Tails ending, the jet skis are available again .
I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but the park reservations and new hopping rules are not IMO "moving forward". They were accepted by the public as part of the re-opening effort as necessary (at the time, which I can agree they were) so people got used to it. Then Disney decided to keep those changes even though it has nothing to do with the pandemic at this point. I guess it doesn't bother enough guests that there is any chance (unless attendance drops once some of the "revenge travel" slows down) of it ever reverting to the old ways though.
I can't imagine it would have been received well if not for the pandemic if Disney had just announced one day they were changing those rules "just because, to predict staffing needs". There would have been mad guests with the proverbial pitchforks and torches everywhere.
The only announcements I liked from D23 were the new Duffy D+ show, getting rid of Harmonius and Enchantment, and the Figment Meet & Greet. I cringed or was indifferent to the other announcements.
Dave1313 I have been wondering for a while now why you haven't been offered a role at Mouseplanet? Or maybe you have. While I don't agree with everything you write, I do enjoy reading your posts. I don't remember, have you ever done a trip report?
Thanks for the feedback, Chuck. I'm glad to hear you enjoy some of my posts. I definitely don't consider myself even a semi-professional level writer, I'm an engineer (not all of us are known for our writing prowess ) , so what eventually gets posted sometimes evolves a little before I hit the post button!
Being an engineer, you can understand many of the angles of my thoughts are definitely on the technical analysis side of things, since that's sort of what I do (though not for theme parks, of course). As to a role at MousePlanet, I've never considered my musings interesting enough to think I could generate much brand new content like Chris and the other writers do, so that thought would have never crossed my mind. (I feel I mostly reply to topics that come up and/or pull at a thread here or there for things that are current items of discussion). And to be honest, (I know you've noted this as well) the board seems to be shrinking in amount of activity over the last few years.
I admit I've never written a trip report (though I've considered it). I have in the past taken some detailed notes (on paper - I know, how old fashioned is that! ) with the intent of documenting what I did each day. But I never took the time to fully translate my notes into the computer for posting a report (I might have started once, but then something came up in life that time so I dropped the effort). I also did this regularly for my own research/understanding of how long it would take me to get from place to place and cover all the wait times I experienced (note the engineering/data analysis theme there...though I really never have formally compiled those records thoroughly even for my own use).
Now that I think about it, I did participate in something "trip report like" that a few of us did back in the early COVID forced cancelled trip days of the first half of 2020. I can't take credit for the idea though. Sean, ssmerdel proposed in the normal "Today I wish I was..." thread of that time that those of us with trips automatically cancelled by the closures cover what we had intended to do on our trip days that got cancelled.
So I did that for my 6 day trip that was cancelled due to the closure : "Today I Wish I Was (That Wasn’t)". The first entry can be found here (they are pretty short, maybe a paragraph or 2 for each day).
Realized a few minutes past the editing window I spelled ssmerdel's name Shawn wrong... sorry about that!
Hey Dave1313, I am just going to take a wild stab in the dark and say as a Pennsylvania Engineer you may work on helicopters? And I challenge you the next time you go to WDW write an in-depth trip report.
And another question, why is Disney doing all these specials for people that belong to Disney +? Are people leaving Disney + in droves due to the content that has nothing to do with family or Walt Disney values? I know we got sick of it. Little Demons right.
Little Demons doesn’t belong on a Disney Channel aimed at families. There’s a petition circulating against it.
Another great one - and LOL - we did have that little letdown together via text during the Figment part of the presentation:-)
5) Yes! Yes! Yes! So happy about the return of Happily Ever After. I always got choked up watching that one - perfect mix of show elements and it had a lot of heart. Enchantment is......ok. I enjoyed it, but for me, it lacked the emotional punch of its predecessor. I also saw it before they added the Walt piece, and my main reaction on seeing it was "why is a special show for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World only about the films and not about the park at all?" - glad they addressed that.
4) Our letdown moment:-) They need to address the ride (which I actually don't hate as much as many - I just think they could do more), but for now, will be happy to see the little purple guy walking around in whatever form he takes.
3) I've been wanting this one for a long time. They could do so much with a villains themed land or park (land would be fine), and as you pointed out, there are so many great baddies to choose from - Cruella, Ursula, Jafar, Hades - the possibilities are endless. With modern technology, can't even imagine what great rides they could come up with. Really hope this one happens.
2) Like you, I do enjoy Dinosaur (though I think it pales compared to Indiana Jones, it's Disneyland cousin) and I actually liked Primieval Whirl. What I hate is the big parking lot that land has become. There's a big piece of real estate that's obviously not being used and it's out in the open for all to see. I think Zootopia and Moana would be great jumping off points for a new land, and either could fit the theming of the Animal Kingdom. Hopefully it won't take too long, because this area of the park really needs some TLC.
1) I will admit, my initial reaction to this part of the presentation was that they haven't announced anything new of substance, so they're going to throw some "Blue Sky" concepts out to us in an attempt to keep fans placated, and that anything they talk about here would come circa 2030. That said, I'm going to join you in being optimistic, because what they described does sound pretty awesome - not one, not two, but three new lands for the Magic Kingdom!! The theming sounds great for all three, and Lin Manuel Miranda recently said in an interview that he was pushing Imagineering to come up with an Encanto that people could experience in person. Especially with a third Universal park about to hit Orlando, here's hoping Disney wants to try to top them, and that these new lands will come sooner rather than later.
So, thanks again for a great article! I join you in your optimism for WDW's future. Development there comes in waves. We've just had a few new E-Tickets added, so many the next wave is coming sooner than we think!
Considering the overall theme of Dino-Rama anyway, it would from the outside seem like a relatively easy thing to do to just create some more cheap game booths to go with those already there. That would seem better than leaving it empty. Then again, maybe those game booths are engineered/themed to just look cheap. It could be a complex (even if small) structure for those to survive the weather of central FL.
You are the man Kid!
Hey Dave 1313 I have been to Busch Gardens one time and I really liked it. I will be going back too. Universal is ok, they sure are trying to up there game.
Glad to hear the positive vote for Busch Gardens.
I've been to both Sea World and Universal in the past (most recently Universal last fall). Back pre-COVID changes, my routine used to consist of a trip in the spring and a trip in the fall, with my main focus being hitting all 4 Disney parks, and then occasionally taking a day to hit either Sea World or Universal some of those trips. While I enjoyed Universal every time I went, I had only done it probably 3 or 4 times over 10 years. Sea World probably more, I would try to go at least every other year during one of my trips.
All the Disney changes have made me consider arranging a trip with the priorities inverted, focusing on the other non-Disney attractions, then maybe just one or two days for WDW. I'm not really into the idea of going to Epcot multiple days in the hopes of maybe being lucky enough to get either a virtual queue or ILL for Guardians. (same for MK and TRON when that opens next year).
I haven't actually scheduled such a trip focusing on other attractions yet, but I may try to do so before wintertime.