The big golf ball stays, but Epcot will be getting a "Disneyfied" makeover.
A roller coaster and a Ratatouille-themed ride are among the new attractions that will be added, part of Walt Disney Co.'s efforts to infuse the 35-year old future-and-culture theme park with more of its character brands.
Major "storytelling and "immersive" experiences are also planned at other domestic parks in its bid to keep gate turnstiles turning by maximizing fans' familiarity with its movies, according to a slew of announcements by the company on Saturday at the D23 Expo 2017 in Anaheim, a convention for Disney fans. A majority of the new projects are scheduled to be completed by 2021.
Heavy investment in Walt Disney's parks and resorts unit underscores its growing importance in the future of the media and entertainment giant. The unit has been a stellar performer in recent years, helping to fuel the company's overall bottom line at a time when growth at its largest business — operating media networks — has slowed because of sluggish advertising sales and TV viewers' ditching cable.
Among the changes announced.
• Epcot: Expect more Disney characters in the park.
Epcot opened in 1982 with the vision of running a permanent world's fair, and it has a share of devotees who admire its unique devotion to learning and internationalism. But some Disney observers say it has also gotten stale for younger fans.
While it's twice the size of the Magic Kingdom, Disney's main park in Orlando, Epcot gets far fewer visitors. Disney executives got a glimpse of the park's potential when fans flocked to Frozen, a water ride attraction based on the hit movie, after it opened last year.
"Epcot's been lacking some really good attractions for a while," says Matt Roseboom, editor and publisher of Attractions Magazine.
Ratatouille, a ride at Disneyland Paris based on the 2007 movie about a chef rat in Paris, will be built at Epcot's France pavilion.
Ellen's Energy Adventure, a theater show about energy sources, will be replaced by a new roller coaster themed after Guardians of the Galaxy, the 2014 movie based on the the Marvel Comics superhero team.
Mission: SPACE Green, a spacecraft simulation ride, will be updated with "a stunning tour around the Earth," Disney said.
• Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Calling it "a game changer," Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be a ride-through attraction "that transform(s) the flat (Mickey Mouse) cartoon world" into a "dimensional experience," it said. It will replace the Great Movie Ride.
The new Star Wars-theme lands, the previously announced projects scheduled to open in 2019 at the Hollywood Studios and Disneyland Anaheim, will be called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the company said. "An immersive Star Wars-themed hotel" is also planned in Orlando.
Disney also said the much anticipated Toy Story Land, a theme-park zone based on the hit movie, will open in the summer of 2018.
• Magic Kingdom. A roller coaster based on Tron, a 2010 film about virtual reality, is coming to the main Disney park in Orlando, near Space Mountain. A live entertainment theater, based on Willis Theater in 1920s Kansas City, is also planned at Main Street, U.S.A.