Hong Kong Disneyland just unveiled a comprehensive multi-year expansion project, encompassing major new lands attractions based on Frozen and Marvel, with the aim of bringing the struggling resort to profitability.
Though DLP Today doesn’t normally cover international news, the announcement is so big — and so close-to-home for fans of a fellow struggling Disney resort, that it’s impossible to overlook.
Not least when this will absolutely be the most visible transformation project Disney has ever conducted. In a worldwide first, Disney is actually rebuilding one of its famous castles.
Hong Kong Disneyland‘s existing, diminutive Sleeping Beauty Castle, a near-replica of the Anaheim, California original, will be completely redeveloped into a brand new icon, towering much further into the sky.
The castle has long been a point of contention for the park, which opened in 2005 as one of the final blunders of the late-Michael Eisner era, when cost-cutting for a cheap buck became the norm at The Walt Disney Company. See also: Disney California Adventure and our own Walt Disney Studios Park.
While remaking Walt Disney’s original landmark might have seemed like a neat tribute, it has only ever given the park the image of being a “cheap imitation” — not least when its surrounding lands contained far fewer, and far less impressive, attractions.
A previous multi-year plan added a successful trio of lands around the park’s perimeter, including the heralded Mystic Manor dark ride. Today’s newly unveiled plans build on that, with a large-scale Frozen land at the back of Fantasyland and a major Marvel expansion taking over part of Tomorrowland.
Based on these first concepts, the castle takes more than a few nods from Paris’ own Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, but also contains elements of Cinderella Castle and even the resort’s own, Eastern-influenced Mystic Manor.
Much discussion has already taken place about how much the new castle will retain of the old. The lower walls and front towers certainly look familiar, and it’s unlikely it could be built from the ground up in just two years, so we have to imagine this is more of an overblown remodelling than a raze to the ground.
The castle’s actual footprint also appears unchanged.
When the new castle and hub area goes live in 2019, it will also include a brand new stage show space right in front; like a mini Shanghai, with seating facing a stage across the moat. Access into the castle itself will then be via bridges curving up either side.
Two additional concepts promise both daytime stage shows and a new nighttime spectacular, following the familiar formula of projection-mapping, fountains and fireworks.
One of the first fruits of the expansion will be a new “Show Place” in Adventureland, premiering with a Moana’s Village Festival experience. The press release suggests “a series of daytime entertainment offerings anchored around a lively stage show in a new interactive entertainment environment”.
While Iron Man Experience debuts on 11th January 2017 as “Disney Parks’ first Marvel-themed ride”, Hong Kong now has far bigger plans for the first major integration of this profitable universe into a Disney theme park.
Starting in 2018, the park’s Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters will be completely transformed into an Ant-Man-themed interactive dark ride.
Since the Buzz Lightyear attractions also have a place in California, Florida and Paris — where Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast sits particularly uncomfortable in Discoveryland — this is an interesting development.
Given the choice, and given that Disneyland Paris now has Toy Story Playland across the esplanade, doesn’t this Ant-Man experience suddenly look so much more compelling, and fitting, for Discoveryland?
Concluding the whole expansion plan in 2023 will be a major Marvel Super Heroes attraction taking over the park’s current Autopia space.
The brand new attraction looks to be housed in a huge showbuilding based around The Avengers, though further details are sketchy.
This looks like a seriously impressive project. Since our own Backlot has long been rumoured for a Marvel re-theme, could this give a clearer idea of what that might entail?
Autopia already closed back in June this year; a shame, in a way, since this was the first version to feature fully-electric cars, with on-board lighting and audio effects. Wouldn’t it be nice if these improved cars could be shipped over to Disneyland Paris instead?
Hong Kong looks set to get a head start on its Tokyo cousin with this full new Frozen-themed area to open in 2020.
Tokyo Disney Resort had previously announced a new Scandinavian-themed Frozen port for Tokyo DisneySea, but this now appears to have a much longer timescale, if it happens at all, stretching beyond 2021.
Expanding behind its current Fantasyland, Hong Kong Disneyland will instead add two brand new attractions based on the film, with a fully immersive land replicating the Kingdom of Arendelle complete with its own lake.
An indoor sleigh ride based on Oaken looks to be using the same ride system as Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, while a much larger showbuilding will likely house a signature dark ride. Elsa’s ice palace appears almost Hogwarts-like on the mountainside above.
A video was also released bringing some of the concept art to life:
With this announcement, Disneyland Paris is now the only Disney resort without any major attraction expansion plans.
Could we see some kind of multi-year investment drive like this one day? There’s no doubt Walt Disney Studios Park is still the Disney park in most desperate need of investment, expansion and direction.
If Hong Kong Disneyland is struggling to entice visitors, what is there about Walt Disney Studios Park to actually encourage potential visitors to spend hundreds — if not thousands — on a trip to visit it?
Sure, it has some admirable attractions within its gates, but the whole package — the immersive Disney glue between them — just isn’t there and doesn’t work. The park has a great potential to be a celebration of popular Disney movie franchises, with an old-time Hollywood core that appeals greatly to Europeans.
If Disney is now prepared to rebuild one of its actual castles to turn a park around, what would they be willing to do to Walt Disney Studios Park?
The $1.4 billion slated for Hong Kong will actually be coming almost half-and-half from both The Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong government, who own 47% and 53% in shares respectively.
That actually makes for only about $660 million in investment from The Walt Disney Company, or 620 euros at today’s exchange. Quite a long way short of the €1.3 billion debt restructuring the mouse completed on the Euro Disney Group in 2012. So perhaps Disneyland Paris has already had its fair share?
• What’s Next for Paris — Disneyland Paris 25th Anniversary announcement: new attractions, shows & parade confirmed
Yet now, with an enormous 81% shareholding in its Paris resort for the first time ever, it has never been so necessary for The Walt Disney Company to take action, to genuinely turn Disneyland Paris around. Though taking on the historic debt was a shoulder of support for Paris, today’s Hong Kong announcement makes evident that the only way to truly turn a Disney resort around is to inject it with an energy, excitement and imagination that represents Disney to the core.
Like Paris, Hong Kong has relied heavily on seasonal entertainments to draw customers in; but shows and parades alone clearly are not enough to drive a struggling Disney park to profitability. It has to have something more dimensional, more tangible: these are holiday destinations, after all. They can’t survive on brief distractional shows and parades; they have to offer a wealth of places, real worlds, where people actually want to be.
Our resort isn’t someone else’s problem any more; it’s Disney’s problem. The longer they now fail to make Disneyland Paris work, the more embarrassing this 25 year (30 year if we go back to 1987) misadventure looks. Sooner or later, we have to be sharing a major multi-year announcement like this for our resort, too, and Disney knows it.
The only questions are when… and how.