It’s no secret that with Disney’s purchase of the Marvel Universe, the Walt Disney Company was banking on bringing superheroes to its many theme parks. Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris are getting superhero-themed lands, and Hong Kong Disneyland is getting a Marvel-themed ride.
But even with copious development in Walt Disney World, the only major Marvel Comics-related growth is Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster. There’s no Spider Man, Iron Man, Captain America, or big green Hulk in sight.
So why no love for Marvel at Walt Disney World? Believe it or not, the answer goes back about twenty-five years and all hinges on a licensing agreement loophole.
Universal Studios, as you may have guessed if you’re a fan of their hero-themed rides and entertainment, retained the rights to the Marvel characters in an agreement signed in 1994 between Marvel and MCA (which would eventually become part of NBC Universal). But there were two caveats. One: Universal had to actually use the characters to retain control over them, and Two: the agreement split the country down the middle, and the rules applied separately to the areas east and west of the Mississippi River.
Long story long, when Disney inherited this licensing agreement, they also inherited a dilemma. Florida’s Universal Studios — east of the Mississippi — uses many Marvel characters, and that means Disney can not. (Universal Studios Hollywood — west of the Mississippi — does not use Marvel characters, which is why Disneyland is free to do so.)
The net result is that Walt Disney World is severely limited in how it can use Marvel characters. To this point, the only major use of Marvel in the Florida parks is Guardians of the Galaxy in Epcot, where a roller coaster is in progress in the park’s Future World and where Guardians of the Galaxy — Awesome Mix Live! will take the stage again in World Showcase this summer.
Classic characters like the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America won’t be saving the day at Walt Disney World any time soon, but Marvel does have a place with Disney Cruise Line, which features the characters in its Marvel Day at Sea. International waters are apparently not part of the East/West agreement.
But the licensing dilemma doesn’t end completely at Disney World’s doorstep because there is one more interesting restriction: the Disney parks (and Universal) can not use the name Marvel in an attraction name or in an attraction’s marketing. This restriction is expected to remain in place and apply to the California Adventure Park’s land itself, meaning we shouldn’t expect to see Disneyland’s superhero-themed land called Marvel Land as it’s been nicknamed by the media.
So will we ever see these popular Marvel characters at Walt Disney World? For now, “we [don’t] have a Hulk”… but never say never!
And when you’re kids are confused as to why they’ll see Spiderman in Disneyland and also at Universal Studios Orlando…that’s why!